Essay fail


Who should we trust more to mark Alberta students’ Grade 12 diploma essays: a seasoned teacher or a computer program?

A recent study conducted by LightSide, a Pennsylvania company developing computer software for automated essay marking, on behalf of Alberta Education, is claiming the latter after the study found the computer program could outperform a single teacher by approximately 20 percent. However, by the company’s own admission, LightSide’s system cannot evaluate critical thinking. This is concerning considering making comprehensive arguments and connecting literary motifs to real-life issues are normally the basis for whether an essay is good or bad.

But schools may be forced to use it if the amount of teachers willing to grade essays doesn’t rise. This past year, Alberta Education had difficulties recruiting enough teachers to grade diploma exam essays—but given Minister of Education Jeff Johnson chopped the grading honorarium teachers receive from $200 to $100, that’s not surprising. The full amount, however, was reinstated this week.

Organizations such as the Alberta Teachers’ Association have voiced their opposition to computer grading of essays, and rightly so as it is the responsibility of the education system to ensure that students receive a quality education and that means leaving programs like LightSide by the wayside.

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