In 2016, around1.6 million students took the SAT (either old or new) at least once. If every student submitted an essay, the College Board needed to grade 1.6 million essays. Since the essay was first offered with the writing section in 2005, the College Board has relied on human graders to evaluate the student work. Assuming that a grader reads one essay every 3 minutes, 800 essays a week, and is paid$15 per hour, one grader can grade 40,000 essays in a year at a cost of $30,000. Put another way, each essay costs $1.50 for two graders to evaluate each student essay. Using these metrics, the College Board spends $2.4 million each year paying graders to evaluate essays, not considering the cost of administering, transporting, scanning, and storing essays, or paying a third grader if the scores of the first two differed significantly. If only there were another way to grade essays and use the $2.4 million for other meaningful purposes…
Enter the automated essay scorer, a mere theory in 1966 that has grown into a reality for many institutions. In 1999, the ETS (Educational Testing Service) offered one of the first automatic essay scorers, called e-rater, and testing companies have had more than 15 years to improve upon that earlier model. More recently, the GMAT published a 2009 study affirming the fairness of its automated essay scorer, IntelliMetric. The analytical writing assignment is scored by a human as well as a computer, and the two scores are averaged together. By incorporating a computer into the grading process, the GMAT not only saves half the cost of grading the essay, but also is able to perform an objective analysis of sentence structure, word count, and complexity that a human reader would not have the time to complete. With a human reader assessing the coherence of the argument and the computer comparing the essay with its database of essays, the GMAT can enjoy the best of both worlds.
It makes sense, then, that the College Board and ACT would be eager to follow in GMAT’s footsteps. If they could replace one reader with a computer, there is the potential to save the hypothetical $1.2 million per year and invest it elsewhere. The fact that both tests have expressed a desire to move to a digital format in the coming decade makes the transition that much simpler: if a test taker types an essay rather than writes it, a computer could deliver a tentative score instantaneously. Only one human reader would be required to follow up and ensure that the computer graded the essay appropriately.
In a preview of that world, the College Board teamed up with Khan Academy to grade electronically the practice essays available online. Currently, students can input essays for SAT Tests 1 and 2 on Khan’s website and receive automated feedback based on the College Board’s essay rubric: 3 scores for reading, analysis, and writing, each out of 8 points.
Naturally, we had to test out the automated essay grader for ourselves.
0, 0, 0
Simply copying and pasting an unrelated article resulted in zeroes across the board.
0, 0, 0
Writing one relevant paragraph and copy/pasting it several times also resulted in zeroes.
7, 4, 7
Five well-written but shorter paragraphs yielded high marks for reading and writing, but low marks for analysis. The computer grader, like its human predecessors, knows the limits of a short essay.
8, 6, 7
Adding an additional paragraph to create a longer essay boosted analysis as well as reading.
Thus far, we noticed that the essay grader does a good job of identifying irrelevant, repeated material. It also evaluates the length when determining its score. To test the program further, we asked ourselves how the grader would respond to a nonsensical essay that used all the right words and sentence structure, even referencing rhetorical devices and making quotations of the passage. Try and make sense of the following introduction, written by one of our more linguistically creative tutors. (The essay asked students to evaluate the rhetorical devices used by Bogard, who in a persuasive essay laments the diverse and damaging effects of light pollution on humans and animals.)
Darkness can symbolize a protean notion of absolute nihilism, floating endlessly in a void without any smattering of perception or purpose. Bogard embraces this absence and sees darkness as a lofty pursuit necessary for absolute harmony within our fractured post-modern existence. For when we lose the dark, we become absorbed by the light and the nocturnal chimeras of our subconscious cannot take flight. Using alliterative juxtapositions, carcinogenic conceits, and allusions to fiscal collapse, Borgard persuades the audience that we need to embrace the abyss in order to keep balance in an increasingly fractured and oppressive world.(click here to continue reading).
This essay used very high-level vocabulary and sentence structure, relevantly addressed the rhetorical devices within the author’s passage, and even supplied quotations from key parts of the passage. Surely a human would be required to recognize the ingenious absurdity of this author’s writing!
The computer gave 7’s for reading and writing, fairly evaluating the author’s ability to read Bogard’s argument critically and craft well-written paragraphs. Much to our surprise, the computer gave the writer a 2 for analysis, easily recognizing that the author’s essay, however well it was written and however well it interacted with the rhetorical passage, was absurd to the extreme. Nicely done, automated grader.
In addition to the essay grader which provides scores for Tests 1 and 2, Khan Academy also provides more personalized feedback. To serve the students looking for more in-depth analysis, the College Board partnered with TurnItIn to give specific line-by-line suggestions for the practice essay section. Students can write essays and receive comments on particular sections of their essays based on their reading, analysis, and writing abilities.
The College Board and ACT have their work cut out for them to persuade colleges and universities that their essays are predictive of college success for applicants. Despite the initially lukewarm reception to the redesigned essays, the College Board is investing resources into electronic essay grading, demonstrating its belief that the exercise provides a valuable metric for colleges. We can expect at least one set of human eyes to continue grading student essays in the short term, but if the Khan Academy essay grader is any indication, even that role may be close to retirement.
Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 866-789-PREP (7737) or email@example.com.
SAT® Essay Writing Scoring for the Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy Now Powered by Turnitin
Nearly seven million students took either the SAT® or PSAT/NMSQT in the 2015-2016 school year.1 Of those test takers, 2.5 million prepared for the SAT exam using an innovative program that was launched by the College Board and Khan Academy in June of 2015.
Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy – developed through a partnership with the College Board and Khan Academy – supports and reinforces what students are learning in the classroom by helping them focus on the knowledge and skills essential for college readiness. All students can access, at anytime and anywhere, free, personalized practice for the SAT based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT or previous SAT results.
As part of the practice program, students also have the chance to take six full-length practice exams that include the optional essay–two of which are automatically scored using Turnitin Scoring Engine, right now. Never before have students been able to practice and prepare for the essay portion of the exam and get both immediate as well as consistent scores back.
Score consistency is important, because the accuracy of the score speaks to its relevance for helping students improve. Incorrect scoring can lead to improper preparation. Likewise, accurate scores can help guide students to better writing.
Turnitin Scoring Engine® is more than just a scoring program. Most essay scoring systems consider only text complexity (length of sentences and words) to assess student writing. Scoring Engine looks not just at complexity, but also at the substance of the writing, assessing students ability to read, analyze, and write. This is what the SAT essay portion is really intended to assess.
Looking ahead, students will be able to not only receive scores for their essays, they will also be able to engage in targeted practice with specific and actionable feedback. This formative feedback will be provided through Turnitin Revision Assistant®, another Turnitin program that leverages the same technology that powers the essay scoring, but towards the goal of providing feedback and not just a score.
The key to writing success is practice and timely, actionable feedback. Revision Assistant was designed to specifically address this need. Evlyn, a student in New York, said: “It bettered my writing. When I see feedback, it helps me.”
Revision Assistant will also be integrated into the Official SAT Practice and give students a chance to get feedback that will support their essay writing preparation.
Providing both Turnitin Scoring Engine and Turnitin Revision Assistant within the Official SAT Practice program gives students the chance to improve their writing–the one factor on the SAT that has been highlighted as the “best indicator of academic success.”2
With the College Board and Khan Academy, Turnitin recognizes and supports writing success, whether to prepare students for a test, for the classroom, or for their futures overall.
Turnitin Integrates Formative Writing Tools into College Board Programs to Support Student Practice (Press Release)
Turnitin Scoring Engine is available on a customized basis for writing assessment needs.
Turnitin Revision Assistant is available as a standalone program and also available as part of the College Board’s SpringBoard®, a comprehensive 6-12 math and English instructional program.