Peter Greene recognizes one of the great education heroes of our age, Dr. Lester Perelman, who retired a few years ago from MIT, where he taught writing. Les Perelman carefully and thoroughly debunked “robograding” of student essays. ETS had a robograder that allegedly graded thousands of essays in a minute or less.

Perelman showed that students could write nonsensical paragraphs containing blatant inaccuracies yet get a high score from the robograder.

Greene points out that Perelman singlehandedly shot down Australia’s plan to adopt robograding for student essays.

Perelman reviewed the Australian writing assessment and summarized how to get a high test score:

Learn a bunch of big spelling words, and throw them in. Don’t worry about meaning, but do worry about spelling them correctly. Repeat the ideas in the prompt often.

Five paragraph essay all the way. Every paragraph should be four sentences; don’t worry about repeating yourself to get there. Start the last paragraph with “In conclusion,” then repeat your thesis from graph #1. Somewhere work in a sentence with the structure “Although x (sentence), y (sentence). (Perelman’s example– Although these instructions are stupid, they will produce a high mark on the NAPLAN essay.)

Use “you” and ask questions. Use connectors like “moreover” or “however.” Start sentences with “In my opinion” or “I believe that” (not for the first or last time, Strunk and White are spinning in their graves). Repeat words and phrases often, and throw in passive voice (whirrrrr). Throw in one or two adjectives next to nouns.

For narrative essays, just steal a story from a movie or tv show– markers are explicitly instructed to ignore that they recognize a story.

And the final and most important rule– never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN.

For his role in junking the Australian fascinating with robograding and helping to undermine its obsession with national testing, Perelman was honored by the New South Wales Teachers Federation as a “Champion of Public Education.”

In his acceptance speech, Perelman said:

Free public education is the cornerstone of a stable democratic and free society.

The main problem with edu-business [for profit entities in education] is that the most important products of education, such as critical thinking and analysis, are both the least tangible and the least profitable. They are expensive both in staffing and in assessment. Edu-business wants to MacDonald-ize education, make it cheap to produce and distribute, highly profitable and with little nutritive value. It wants, like Dickens’ Gradgrind, to focus on relatively unimportant facts and rules that can literally be mechanically taught and mechanically counted. Edu-business values psychometricians over practitioners, testers over teachers, reliability over validity.

Peter Greene observed:

It’s a little long for a t-shirt, but it might be worth the effort.