In 2012, the Hewlett Foundation sponsored a competition to see if computer scientists can develop a computer program that accurately scores students state testing essays (low stakes). There is a $100,000 in prizes. *

Hewlett Foundations prize was called the Automated Student Assessment Prize (ASAP). The winners were Jason Tigg, the British particle physicist turned high frequency trader, as well as “a data analyst for the National Weather Service in D.C., and a graduate student from Germany.” (Who are these people?)

The assignment for ASAP was to create software that would evaluate 16,000 student essays (of various lengths, types and with different rubrics), and to try to match the grades given them by trained, independent, (human) evaluators. The article notes that the software does not read or “assess the merits” of the essay, but only tries to match the score it would receive from a human grader (saving time and money.)

The article goes on to describe (in an optimistic, “believer” kind of way) the way that such a system will benefit teachers, allowing them to assign more essays, allowing students to do longer term research, and creating an educational system that once again values deep research and the cultivation of the mind.

(The essay does not say this, but brings to mind that this is different from the “teaching to the test” mentality where students learn to do multiple choice at the expense of coming up with new ideas or knowledge)

**Further research: Will Fitzhugh. Jay Matthew’s says that he is an advocate of teaching students research. He publishes student papers in the Concord Review journal, and spearheaded a research study by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at UConn to look into how much research paper writing students are doing in high school.

*Matthews, Jay. “Can Computers Teach Writing?” The Washington Post (1/06/2012).

**Matthews, Jay. “Class Struggle” The Washington Post (11/19/2009).

Getting Smart. (05/09/2012) “Hewlett Foundation Announces Winner of Essay Scoring Competition.” (Getting Smart is an education blog founded by Tom Vander Ark, who is also the Gates Foundation education executive director, who “proposed this competition” according to Matthews “Can Computers Teach Writing.”…

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