Education Opinion

Grading Standardized Test Essays

By Walt Gardner — March 14, 2014 1 min read

When the College Board announced nine years ago that it was requiring test-takers to write a 25-minute essay on the SAT, the decision was hailed by some and denounced by others. As part of its latest revision, the College Board will make the essay portion optional (“SAT’s about-face on essay presents colleges with a tough question,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. 13).

What I don’t think most people understand completely is that standardized test essays are not scored by machines but by humans (“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Test Scorer,” Monthly Review, Dec. 2010). The problem is that those so tasked are temporary workers who are given brief training. They must have a bachelor’s degree, but that is about all that is necessary to qualify.

Each scorer is expected to read about 15 essays an hour. As a result, the average time given to each paper is about four minutes (“Graders Learn Fine Points Of Scoring College-Exam Essays,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 2, 2004). If scorers are paid by piece-rate, it’s quite natural for them to want to score as many papers as possible, reducing the time spent on each. I fail to see how it’s possible under those conditions to fairly evaluate what students have written. Making the entire process even more indefensible is that scores are supposed to closely match those given in previous years.

Clearly, there’s no place for creativity or original thought. In fact, test-takers who try to demonstrate such qualities run the risk of receiving a low score. Nevertheless, reformers persist in the fiction that the essay provides valuable information. But is the ability to write anything substantial in 25 minutes realistic? Professional journalists can crank out succinct and clear copy in short order, which is why journalism has been called literature in a hurry. However, we’re talking about high school students.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read