Essays Graded by Computer

By Deane Barker on May 9, 2005

Professor believes software can determine quality work: A college professor in Missouri has developed software to grade essay papers. It seems to use some kind of Bayesian analysis.

Developed with National Science Foundation funding, SAGrader is so far used only in Brent’s classroom. Like other essay-grading software, it analyzes sentences and paragraphs, looking for keywords as well as the relationship between terms.

Other programs compare a student’s paper with a database of already-scored papers, seeking to assign it a score based on what other similar-quality assignments have received.

My very own state is involved:

South Dakota is one of several states that has tested essay-grading software. Officials there decided against using it widely, saying feedback was negative.

Not all districts had the same experience. Watertown, S.D., students are among those who now have their writing-assessment tests scored by computer.

Lesli Hanson, an assistant superintendent in Watertown, said students like taking the test by computer and teachers are relieved to end an annual ritual that kept two dozen people holed up for three days to score 1,500 tests.

“It almost got to be torture,” she said.