Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3: The Machines That Will Pass Judgment

Wow! My three readers chimed in! They want dispatches from the danger zone! Thank goodness for that, because I'm in it, the place is unjust, and it's part of my religion to oppose injustice.

Human beings have been judged by machines for a long time. Think of all the runners who have had their times clocked by a long string of increasingly complicated stopwatches.

Machines have been testing students for a long time as well. Who among us has never held a Number Two pencil and pondered multiple choice questions on the SAT?

Still, America is unprepared for the new wave of test-scoring technology. Forget being judged by the content of your character. That was so 20th century. In our Brave New World, students will write essays, even speak out loud into computers, and software will grade their efforts.

We will become a nation whose achievers are chosen by machine.

The Obama Administration's push for national standardized testing is pretty fuzzy on how millions and millions of "assessments" will be scored accurately within the space of a few months. Please feel free to do the math yourself. If every tenth grader in America has to take a test with two full-length essays on it, and there's been no call from any direction for people to be paid to score these puppies, what else will score them but Artificial Intelligence?

I'm not relying on speculation, readers. I attended a workshop last month at Kean University. The speaker, Carol Jago, admitted that within a decade, all national testing will be scored using Artificial Intelligence, i.e., computer software.

It won't matter what you say, so long as you use big words and correct grammar. Ideas will be decidedly secondary. And confounding all notions of propriety, one of the standardized tests will be narrative writing -- fiction.

Traditionally, the students at my Vo-Tech have done pretty well on state standardized tests, because these tests have been scored by human beings. Human readers can see through the grammar, the Spanglish, the ebonics, to the flair these students exhibit as writers and to their ideas.

Artificial Intelligence will be programmed to reject Spanglish and ebonics. It will be programmed to look for sophisticated vocabulary and grammatically correct sentence structure and punctuation. All of these are important, but what about ideas? Can a machine be a good judge of creativity?

Better yet: Do we want the future of our American student body to rest on the judgment of Artificial Intelligence?

Oh. Brave. New. World.


Rita said...

Human grading is only marginally better given the cross checking against rubrics that make no sense. I worked grading school essays back in 2005 and had to give a 0 to a lovely essay, well argued and clearly written, because it did not answer the prompt. The prompt was to describe what the student would have a personal robot do for them. The essay expressed the idea that it is better to live one's own life than to have it lived by a robot. Sorry, you didn't list a task for your robot; you get a zero. ARRRGH. The job required a BA, paid $10 hr. and was, for the most part, insanely boring.

Stacy said...

I always hated standardize tests. Honestly, college rocked because we didn't have them! A few of my professors would have big class discussions and that's how your grade was determined. How can a computer even grade a paper when Microsoft screws up the grammar all the time?!?!

Anne, we're here and waiting for instructions. Is there a petition I can sign or something to stop this? lol

Cliff said...

Rita's comment above was very interesting in putting this in context. I'm not one to pine for the good old days, in education or elsewhere... think segregation, busing riots, gendered curriculum tracks for students, America-first propaganda in history and civics during the cold war, and on and on. But software scoring of fiction essays is really, really creepy.

Is there any occupation that will not succumb to deskilling and automation?

Brave new world, indeed.