In the computer lab at Warren Central High School in mid-May, Craig Butler, a junior, squinted at the question on his screen, paused to ponder his answer and began typing.
Craig was one of 48,500 Indiana juniors gathering in high schools across the state to take the end-of-year online English essay test. Unlike most essay tests, however, this one is being graded not by a teacher but by a computer.
Craig has already decided he prefers computer grading. "Teachers, you know, they're human, so they have to stumble around telling you what you need to do," he said at a practice session. "A computer can put it in fine print what you did wrong and how to fix it."
But his English teacher, Richard P. Dayment, wonders whether the computer is up to the task. "For the computer to do the subjective grading that's necessary on an essay, I'll want to see it before I have faith in it," he said.
Indiana is the first state to use a computer-scored English essay test in a statewide assessment, and its experience could influence testing decisions in other states. Eighteen states now require students to pass a writing test for high school graduation, and, starting next year, both the SAT and the ACT will include writing in their college admission exams.
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