Teaching Profession

Essays on New Teachers’ TestTo Be Graded by Computers

By Julie Blair — September 03, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

An organization criticized for purportedly trying to shortcut the preparation of teachers now plans to bypass the human factor in grading the essays in its exams.

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence is believed to be the first accrediting body in the nation to assess prospective teachers using artificial intelligence.

The Washington-based organization announced a partnership with Vantage Learning, in Newtown, Pa., last month. The company has devised and will score the essay portion of the ABCTE’s Passport to Teaching exam, which was launched in August and is now being taken by a handful of future teachers in Pennsylvania.

“The benefit of using this type of technology ... is that it ensures consistency,” said Kimberly B. Tulp, a spokeswoman for the Education Leaders Council, which formed the ABCTE together with the National Council on Teacher Quality. “Second, it is time- efficient.”

Human assessors first set up guidelines to distinguish high- quality work from essays that are deficient, Ms. Tulp said. Then, the computer system is programmed to recognize those features.

“We’re really digitizing the human experience,” added Harry Barfoot, the vice president of marketing for Vantage Learning.

That is not necessarily a good idea, some experts say.

“I’m very skeptical that any artificial-intelligence program could do a good job evaluating essays,” said Richard Alan Peters II, an associate professor of electrical engineering and the director of the robotics lab at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Such a program, he said, “could probably be used to detect really egregious misuse of language or terrible grammar, ... but you can’t develop meaning unless you start as an infant and interact with a number of humans for a number of years.”

Better Than Human?

The new partnership fits in with the ABCTE’s decision to rely heavily on computers to assess prospective educators on both aspects of the exam, Ms. Tulp said.

The organization, established in 2001 and financed with a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, aims to offer a national, portable credential for new and veteran teachers. To earn the credential, aspiring teachers must pass two exams—one in pedagogy that includes a written portion, and a multiple-choice test in the subject they wish to teach. Experienced teachers will take only the pedagogical exam.

In addition, both groups of teachers will be required to show proof of preservice instructional experience, which may include work in a preschool, a college, or the military, or online courses.

The ABCTE has been criticized for adopting a certification method that permits people to enter the classroom without formal training by taking what are seen as less-than-rigorous exams. (“New Teacher Board Parts Ways With ACT,” April 23, 2003.)

The essays will be graded on six factors: overall analysis, focus and meaning, development and content, organization, language use and style, and mechanics and conventions, Ms. Tulp said.

A sample question requests test-takers to write a letter to parents and caregivers informing them of the school’s attendance policy and of the importance of children’s regular presence.

“We’re not sitting here claiming that we can grade poetry,” Mr. Barfoot said, “but when it comes to writing with components to it, [computers] provide the ability to grade much faster, with more consistency, and more accuracy than humans.”

Many within the education community aren’t sold on the development.

“If one is looking for a cheap, superficial way to assess composition, then one might use computer scoring,” said David Bloome, the president of the National Council of Teachers of English, a professional organization based in Urbana, Ill. “But if one is seeking something more in the assessment of composition, at this point, it is truly going to require human eyes and human experience.”

Computers are so predictable that test-takers may simply aim to beat the system rather than prove their worth, added Stephanie Hirsh, the deputy executive director of the National Staff Development Council, a group based in Oxford, Ohio, that emphasizes high-quality professional development for educators.

“We have,” Mr. Barfoot countered, “over 120 studies we’ve published or used internally that talk to both the consistency of our scoring and accuracy.”

Related Tags:

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion How I’m Keeping Ahead of Burnout: 4 Tips for Teachers
An English teacher shares her best advice for battling the long-haul blahs until spring break.
Kelly Scott
4 min read
Young woman cartoon character making step from gloomy grey rainy weather to sunny clear day.
iStock/Getty + Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion Why Is the Nation Invested in Tearing Down Public Education?
Education professor Deborah Loewenberg Ball argues that panic over test scores keeps us from building on the strengths of our children.
Deborah Loewenberg Ball
5 min read
Illustration of school text books and wrecking ball.
F. Sheehan for Education Week / Getty
Teaching Profession Teachers Censor Themselves on Socio-Political Issues, Even Without Restrictive State Laws
A new survey from the RAND Corporation found that two-thirds of teachers limit their instruction on political and social issues in class.
4 min read
Civics teacher Aedrin Albright stands before her class at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The class is debating whether President Trump should be impeached. The House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine has become a teachable moment in classrooms around the country as educators incorporate the events in Washington into their lesson plans.
Civics teacher Aedrin Albright stands before her class at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The class was debating whether President Trump should be impeached. A new national survey found that a majority of teachers are now limiting instruction on political and social issues in class.
Allen G. Breed/AP
Teaching Profession 10 Major Challenges for Substitute Teachers
Substitute teachers want more support to do their jobs well. One state has identified their top concerns.
4 min read
Illustration of people climbing stacks of books. There are 3 stacks of books at different heights with people helping people climb up.
iStock/Getty