Author Topic: Writing Is Lost in Computerized Algorithms  (Read 1114 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Writing Is Lost in Computerized Algorithms
« on: March 10, 2014, 09:54:15 pm »
Writing Is Lost in Computerized Algorithms

Trey Ellis is a novelist, screenwriter, playwright and Associate Professor at Columbia University.

MARCH 10, 2014

Nonfiction writing can be assessed, however, only using the broadest of categories: Does it make sense? Is the argument clearly stated, supported and concluded? In that way I think it is possible for someone to judge a senior in high school’s nonfiction essay on a scale of about 1 to 4.

By the end of high school, writing evaluations should be hunting for subtleties that no standardized test – by definition – will ever be able to uncover.
As a writer and graduate-school writing teacher, this subject is important to me. As the parent of a 15-, 12- and seven-year old, all in the mire of two weeks of infuriatingly time-sucking public-school standardized testing, mass-scale essay grading turns my stomach. Two years ago, when my son was in the fifth grade, he had to log on to a website, type a test essay, press a button and wait for a computerize algorithm to give him a score. He was devastated when the operating system didn’t like what he wrote, elated when it did. Quickly researching (on, yes, the very same computer he had), I quickly discovered that the easiest way to con the teacher-bot was simply to type more words. Apologists and profiteers of these robo-critics say the technology is still in its infancy. I say keep it there. I’m sure someone could write a mathematical formula to give a grade to paintings, musical compositions and interpretative dance. Does that mean that the endeavor has merit?

The sad part is that so much of middle and high-school essay grading and especially that of the SAT, seems like it already is being graded by an operating system. Teachers and test evaluators have their standardized rubrics, their “norming tutorials,” their boxes that need to be ticked. I understand that you have to start teaching essay writing somewhere, and that by middle school, mastering the lockstep of the five-paragraph essay is necessary in the development of the young nonfiction writer. However certainly by the end of high school, when students are being evaluated for admission to university, we have to ask so much more of them. We have to hunt for subtleties that no standardized test – by definition – will ever be able to uncover.