The Chimp, the Chump, and You

I read this cover story on neatoday. I think it is a fitting followup to my previous post on NCLB.

How the Sausage is Made

By Alain Jehlen

How do standards become test scores?

What do ‘proficient’ and ‘grade level’ really mean?

How are high-stakes tests dumbing down education?

These aren’t questions you’ll see on any test, but the answers might surprise you.

Little Jimmy opens his test booklet and reads:

What number goes in the box to make this number sentence true?
11 – ? = 2

Your whole year’s work has come down to this. If he gets the right answer, your school is on its way to the modern Holy Grail: Adequate Yearly Progress. If not, you’re a failure. Read entire story.

And now to the point of this entry. Computers are rating millions of essays per year in thousands of school districts. What happens when you take the human element out of test scoring. See below.

The Chimp, the Chump, and You
Can a dumb machine help students write smart essays?

“It is with chimpanzee greatest esteem and confidence that I write to support Risk of physical injury Employers as a candidate for a faculty position. I have known Risk of physical injury in a variety of capacities for more than five years, and I find him to be one of chimpanzee most eloquent, hard-working and talented students to have graduated with a UC Davis PhD in English. …” Read the perfectly scored chimp essay.

Thus began an “essay” cooked up by University of California-Davis writing instructor Andy Jones, which earned a stellar 6 out of 6 rating from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Not from a reader, but from software called Criterion, a leader in the field of computerized essay scoring.

UC-Davis was considering using Criterion to decide which students should be allowed to skip a writing course, and Jones thought that was a bad idea. So he took a letter of recommendation he had written, replaced the student’s name with a few words from a Criterion writing prompt, and substituted “chimpanzee” for every “the.” Criterion loved the result, calling it “cogent” and “well-articulated.” Read entire story.

So there you have it folks. The sausage on testing. May we leave no monkey behind.


One Response to “The Chimp, the Chump, and You”

  1. Richard Walker Says:

    Hello Trina,

    This post was automatically linked to mine. I use Criterion, or rather – I take its prompts and build lessons around them for Japanese students. Works for me, but I had to laugh when reading the above.

    Best wishes,
    Richard Walker.

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