The New York Times recently reported on the introduction of software that is able to grade student essays and give instant feedback. It is currently being used in a number of universities; many others are likely to follow suit.

The student submits an essay and instantly receives a graded response from a computer. The student can then revise in hopes of improving the grade.

The software inevitably will be adopted for use in schools as well as colleges and universities.

Actually the Educational Testing Service already has an essay grader that can grade 16,000 essays in 20 seconds. Michael Winerip wrote about this in another article in the New York Times, back when he had a regular education column.

In both articles, the chief critics of machine grading of essays is Lew Perelman of MIT, who teaches writing. He says that it is easy to game the system, to prep for it; he also says that the system cannot identify good writing. It does not like short sentences or short paragraphs. Worse, as he says about the ETS system, it cannot tell truth from falsehood:

“He tells students not to waste time worrying about whether their facts are accurate, since pretty much any fact will do as long as it is incorporated into a well-structured sentence. “E-Rater doesn’t care if you say the War of 1812 started in 1945,” he said.”

Brave New World, indeed.