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Robot graders.

A new wave of robotic writers could sprout along the corn fields of middle America, according to some experts.

While Indiana school officials work to fine tune a new program "allowing computers to grade English essays, some question the notion of having machines evaluate student writing.

Indiana is the first state to have a computer score student essays, and despite a few technical kinks in the system, officials are satisfied with the results. Recently, about 80 percent of eligible high school juniors opted for the computerized version of the moderate-stakes English test, which included an essay, says Wes Bruce, Indiana's director of school assessment.

Bruce says the new testing in English and algebra was implemented after a two-year pilot program and he is confident the essays are graded fairly. He says the computers have been specifically trained to mimic teacher assessments and the program assesses its own reliability when delivering a score, so teachers can pick out the tests that need to be re-examined.

Some, however, are worried it could undermine the teaching and learning of high-quality writing.

"In the quest to test more cheaply and quickly, teachers will drill kids on formulaic writing to get high scores, but not the kind of written communication that they'll need in college and in lithe," says Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass.

Computerized assessment is cheaper and quicken Bruce says computerized assessments will halve the cost of testing (one source puts the cost at $1 for every computerized test versus $5 for every test graded by a human) mid free up teachers from grading hundreds of essays each year. The state is even looking to expand computerized testing to open-ended questions next year in biology, U.S. history and Algebra II.

"Certainly, it's not the silver bullet," Bruce says. "The issue is not, can you do this; it's what will happen when you do?"

Pilot programs have begun in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Dakota, but as of June, none of those states have opted for the new assessment measures.

Indiana schools found some technical glitches in the computer program and logistical problems in having enough computers for every student in labs to offer the tests. "Though we've spent decades working out the pencil and paper side, we're just beginning on the electronics side," Bruce says.
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Title Annotation:Update: education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Tierney, Margaret
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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