Electronic grading services make education a formula

The Educational Testing Service presented evidence on Feb. 19 that found electronic grading services for college placement exams to be just as reliable as human graders, and the reverberations sparked debate in the education world.

Controversy flared between the technological-progressive side of academics and the more classically-oriented camp, according to a Feb. 21 article from Inside Higher Ed. Should computers be responsible for grading students if the reliability is the same and resources saved?

For four important reasons, the logic and impacts of computer grading at the college level make it harmful and undesirable to knowledge, democracy and socialization. TCU students would do well to consider the importance of university relationships and stand against outsourcing of education practices to computers.

First, the logic behind e-grading supporters who claim it “[correlates] highly with human grading” is flawed. If both e-grading and human grading are equally reliable, why default to e-grading?

Furthermore, if improvements are to occur in grading systems, the choice between two equals must tip toward the human side because human research is the propellant behind better education practice. Routing this process through computer programming is unnecessary.

The value of human grading becomes more apparent when considering the series of relationships that are important in a college environment: faculty-to-faculty, student-to-faculty and student-to-student.

As those familiar with the Advanced Placement program attest, the essence of human grading of standardized testing is that thousands of teachers and professors assemble around a common purpose.

While not groundbreaking by itself, the intermixing of professors in college grading environments is a critical step toward interdisciplinary cooperation.

Both at TCU and around the country, interdisciplinary work, or collaboration between departments, is gaining recognition.

The Computing Research Association describes many “great research triumphs,” such as space flight and the green revolution, as results of this type of work. Eroding professor-to-professor interaction harms the academic community and global advancement.

Between students and faculty, the cycle of learning and evaluating learned material is always central.

While standardized tests are important in an interconnected and competitive world, the exams should never distort student work toward “teaching to the test.” E-grading does just this through making students work toward a known formula. Professors are the key variable in changing this process.

If education becomes a formula, not just something evaluated by a formula, the harm goes beyond a less enjoyable time in class.

Author Martha Nussbaum argues that the great American democracy relies on the critical inquiry of students willing to challenge and evaluate the world in which they live.

A “flexible, open and creative” conversation between student and material is of paramount importance. Professors dissatisfied with grading hoards of entry-level exams should consider the key relevance of these exams to their mission of nurturing students to careers and livelihoods from the start to the end of college.

Student-to-student relationships are the final piece of the human grading puzzle. E-grading systems encourage students to check their writing against the computer formula.

While the ETS sees this as a positive, it does not assess the opportunity costs. The more students use a computer to edit, the less they will use the peer review method.

Students who have worked with classmates on essays have probably seen the benefits of the peer review system. Technology must only help connect and enlighten, not substitute for activities people most effectively accomplish together.

Through e-grading systems as studied by the ETS, the American education system stands on a wave pushing forward toward the erosion of knowledge sharing, democracy and collective student inquiry. Upholding the three classic relationships in education will preserve and progress the college environment known and loved by so many for so long.

Pearce Edwards is a sophomore political science and history double major from Albuquerque, N.M.