Moral AI in the News: AI Grading Systems

Developments in natural language processing have come together over recent years to produce automated essay grading systems. The systems identify the characteristics of writing that human readers tend to grade highly and can generally grade essays similarly to how a human grader would. Unlike machine-scored multiple-choice tests, these machine graders provoke controversy over the potential loss of human value in writing and education. Proponents of the technology argue that these programs can grade accurately according to human standards, provide written feedback, and grade almost instantaneously, so automated grading should be widely adopted in order to be able to give students more and faster feedback while allowing teachers and graders of standardized tests more time for other work. Opponents counter that providing feedback on essays is an essential component of teaching jobs, such that reducing the time teachers spend reading essays is unneeded and perhaps destructive. Further, essay grading systems can be tricked by certain lexical and grammatical characteristics: Les Perelman notably developed Babel, a program that writes nonsense essays with complex sentence structures to which automated grading systems assign good scores because they cannot follow the reasoning in the essay, only the sentence characteristics. The scoring systems are gaining in popularity in MOOCs and in standardized test essay assessment, and seem likely to grow in popularity.

4/22/12 Article includes an interview with Perelman and more details about what criteria automated graders use that humans might judge differently:

4/23/12 Article explaining ways that automatic grading systems can be confused into giving good grades because they cannot follow reasoning or check facts:

3/13 ETS formal, thorough essay on numerous aspect of automated grading:

3/13/14 Article describes various methods used in automatic essay assessment and some ways that the technology will need to get smarter to help students write better – not just to get a good grade from the computer:

4/4/13 Article provides an overview of essay grading software, issues with essay grading software, and reasons that the software can be beneficial despite its shortcomings:

4/10/13 Article offers a first-person perspective exploration of the existing and potential uses of automated grading:

4/10/13 Article critiques automated grading for “freeing up” teachers’ time by arguing that the most important component of a teacher’s time is giving thoughtful feedback on students’ work:

4/25/13 Article describes the shortcomings of automated essay graders with a focus on standardized tests and the social ethics of implementing automated grading:

4/26/13 Article describes automated grading and some of the controversies surrounding it:

5/24/13 Article advocates pairing automated grading with human graders to maximize efficiency and effectiveness for students:

1/7/2014 Article describes the problems with using automated grading in computer programming courses, as well as its uses in MOOCs:

4/29/14 Article about Perelman’s Babel Generator, a system that automatically generates nonsense essays that score well when processed by automated grading systems:

6/2/14 Article provides thorough summary of the existing technology and opinions in the field of automated grading:

7/8/15 Article weighs the pros and cons of quick automated grading that lacks comprehension versus slower teacher grading that gives more thorough analysis, and how the two might be able to be integrated:

4/18/16 Article describes the role of big data in automated grading (especially Gradescope):

5/5/16 Article addresses automated scoring practices and policies in standardized testing:

8/24/16 Article lists and explains various uses of AI in education and gives examples of specific software for each:

9/2/16 Article reports on grading software designed for multiple choice and short answer (not essay) that groups responses and determines if they are correct or incorrect:


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