Les Perelman, who was in charge of MIT’sWriting Across the Curriculum program, wrote this opinion piece for the Boston Globe.

Perelman said that student essays written for the PARCC test, created by Pearson, would be scored by computers. Unfortunately, the computer scorers are unable to detect the meaning of language. Instead, they rely on length, grammar, and other measurable elements.

So, he says, the computer would give a high score to this gibberish:

““According to professor of theory of knowledge Leon Trotsky, privacy is the most fundamental report of humankind. Radiation on advocates to an orator transmits gamma rays of parsimony to implode.’’

A human scorer would recognize this as incoherent babble but the computer would be impressed.

He concludes:

“Education, like medicine, is too important a public resource to allow corporate secrecy. If PARCC does not insist that Pearson allow researchers access to its robo-grader and release all raw numerical data on the scoring, then Massachusetts should withdraw from the consortium. No pharmaceutical company is allowed to conduct medical tests in secret or deny legitimate investigators access. The FDA and independent investigators are always involved. Indeed, even toasters have more oversight than high stakes educational tests.

“Our children deserve better than having their writing evaluated by machines whose workings are both flawed and hidden from public scrutiny. Whatever benefit current computer technology can provide emerging writers is already embodied in imperfect but useful word processors. Conversations with colleagues at MIT who know much more than I do about artificial intelligence has led me to Perelman’s Conjecture: People’s belief in the current adequacy of Automated Essay Scoring is proportional to the square of their intellectual distance from people who actually know what they are talking about.”