New Florida Writing Test Will Use Computers To Grade Student Essays
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Florida writing tests will be graded by a human and a computer program, according to bid documents for the new test. And just 2 percent of students will take a pencil and paper exam in 2015.
A computer program will grade student essays on the writing portion of the standardized test set to replace the FCAT, according to bid documents released by the Florida Department of Education.
The essays will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, the documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.
Florida writing tests are currently graded by two human scorers and the state has never used computerized grading on the exam.
The Florida Department of Education announced Monday it chose the non-profit American Institutes for Research to produce new tests tied to Florida’s Common Core-based math and language arts standards. Spokesmen for the agency and AIR said they had yet to sign a contract, were still working out the details and declined to comment about the specifics of the new test.
“It’s speculative at this point to think about what is on the assessments,” said Joe Follick, communications director for the Florida Department of Education.
But the bid documents show using computers to grade the state writing test will save $30.5 million over the course of the six-year, $220 million contract with AIR. The change was part of a list which trimmed more than $100 million from AIR’s initial proposal.
The documents also indicate Florida will license its test items from Utah in 2015, the first year the new Florida test will be given. AIR will create Florida-specific questions by the time the test is administered in 2016, saving $20.4 million in licensing fees.
Florida would also save another $14.5 million by limiting the number of pencil and paper tests in favor of online exams. The documents call for just 2 percent of tests to be delivered by pencil and paper the first two years, and 1 percent in future years.
That would put more pressure on school districts to ensure they have the bandwidth and computers necessary to administer the new test.
And Florida will eliminate all paper reporting of test results, saving $14 million.
The use of computer-graded essays may become a necessity, said University of Akron researcher Mark Shermis, because Common Core-tied exams will expand the number of students taking writing exams each year.
Currently, Florida students in grades four, eight and ten take the FCAT writing exam. Under Common Core, students take a writing exam every year.
Florida and 44 other states have fully adopted the Common Core. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade.
“Even if you had the money,” Shermis said, “you wouldn’t have the people to do the vast amount of grading required under the Common Core State Standards.”
Shermis found computer programs — including AIR’s AutoScore– performed at least as well as human grading in two of three trials that have been conducted. His research concluded computers were reliable enough to be used as a second reviewer for high stakes tests.
But while the technology is improving, Shermis said districts need to study whether computer-graded essays put any class of students at a disadvantage.
Other researchers are less bullish on the technology.
“Of the 12 errors noted in one essay, 11 were incorrect,” Les Perlman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told our colleagues at StateImpact Ohio in 2012. “There were a few places where I intentionally put in some comma errors and it didn’t notice them. In other words, it doesn’t work very well.”
Many states and the two multi-state consortia developing Common Core-tied tests said they are watching computerized essay grading.
Utah has used computer essay grading since 2010, said Utah Department of Education spokesman Mark Peterson. The state trusts the technology enough that computers provide the primary scoring for the state’s writing exams. Peterson said state reviews have found fewer biases in computer grading than human grading.
Utah uses Measurement Incorporated technology to grade essays and will switch to AIR when the current contract runs out, Peterson said.
Smarter Balanced spokesman Jackie King said the test would use only human grading on the writing portion, but that the technology is promising. Officials with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, said they have not yet made a decision about the use of computerized grading.
You can read Shermis’ paper on the research below:
You've gotten back your SAT scores. On your score report, there's information about how you did on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, compared to students in the previous year's graduating class who took the SAT.
But what about your essay? How does your essay score compare to everyone else? There's no percentile information for that in the score report.
Find out what an average SAT essay score looks like (and how you stack up) in this article!
feature image credit: FLL Small, Medium, & Large Trophies by David Luders, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.
What’s an Average SAT Essay Score?
First, a quick reminder about how SAT essays are scored: two graders score each SAT essay on a scale of 1-4 across three different dimensions:
Summed together, this means your score can range between 2 and 8 for each area. There is no longer one single "total" SAT essay score, just Reading, Analysis, and Writing essay scores.
Logically, it would seem that the average SAT essay score in each domain should be a 5 (since that's halfway between 2 and 8). The most recent SAT essay score data bears this out except when it comes to the Analysis dimension.
The average SAT essay score for students graduating high school in 2017 was 5 out of 8 for Reading, 4 out of 8 for Analysis, and 5 out of 8 for Writing (source: CollegeBoard 2017 Total Group Report).
To get a better idea of how frequently different essay scores were assigned, I created several different SAT essay score distribution charts that show how many students got each essay score for Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
The data in this first chart shows the distribution of scores across all three dimensions for students who graduated high school in 2017.
Distribution of SAT Essay Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
(data source for all graphs: CollegeBoard)
From this chart, we can see that there's the same general trend for the numbers of students who got various Reading and Writing scores, while there's something quite different going on with Analysis scores. Let's separate these scores out into separate graphs, starting with Reading and Writing essay scores.
Distribution of SAT Essay Reading Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
Distribution of SAT Essay Writing Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
If you compare the graphs for the distribution of Reading and Writing scores, you'll see a striking similarity between them when it comes to how many students got each score on Reading and Writing. There's a huge drop-off from the middle range of scores (4-6) to the upper and lower ends of the scale.
Because so many people score towards the middle on SAT Essay Reading and Writing scores, it's safe to say that if you score a 3 or below, your essay score is definitely lower than average; if you score a 5-6, your score is pretty average; and if you score a 7 or above, your score is significantly higher than average.
Things are a little murkier when it comes to the Analysis essay scores. Let's take a look.
Distribution of SAT Essay Analysis Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
In contrast to the trend for Reading and Writing scores, Analysis scores are heavily skewed toward the bottom of the scale. Even though the average Analysis score for 2017 was a 4 out of 8 (which is towards the middle), the Analysis score the most students received was 2 out of 8.
Why did so many students score lower on Analysis, while still managing to do okay on Reading and Writing? The most likely answer is that the Analysis dimension is the part of the SAT essay task that is most different from what students have had to do on other standardized test essays.
Instead of giving their opinion on the passage in the SAT essay prompt, students are asked to analyze the author's opinion. While this analysis is pretty straightforward once you manage to wrap your mind around it, it is very different from what students had to do on the old SAT essay (and what students are still asked to do on the ACT essay) and other standardized essays like DBQs.
Because of the different trends for Analysis scores on the SAT essay, an Analysis score of a 6 or above puts you well above average; a score of 3-5 is solidly middle of the pack; and a score of 2 is low. If you did get a 2/8 Analysis score, the good news is that you can most likely boost it to at least a 4 (if not a 6 or higher) by reviewing these 15 SAT essay tips.
When colleges look at your SAT scores, however, they usually won't look at your essay scores all by themselves. Most schools look at your overall SAT score first, your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores next, and your essay scores last (if they care about your SAT essay scores at all). This leads into my next point...
How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?
Because your essay score no longer affects your Writing section score on the SAT, the importance of the SAT Essay has decreased significantly. More and more schools are dropping the requirement for students to submit SAT with Essay scores entirely, and schools that do require the SAT Essay often place much less importance on your essay score than on your other SAT scores.
Still, there are highly competitive programs and schools that use SAT scores to place students in the appropriate level classes that require students to submit SAT Essay scores. For these kinds of schools, while your SAT essay score still won't matter as much as almost any other part of your application, you'll still want to aim for a high enough score that you're not immediately disqualified (or so that you don't get bumped down into remedial writing).
So what's the average SAT essay score you should target for more competitive schools?Our advice is to aim for at least a 6 out of 8 on Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
Higher essay scores (particularly on the Analysis dimension) are even better, but a 6 out of 8 shows that you have above-average writing skills on a standardized essay written at the end of a multihour-long test. In cases where admissions offices might wonder if your application's personal statement was a fluke, your SAT essay scores can confirm that you do have a certain level of writing ability. And the SAT essay rubric requirements to get a 6 out of 8 on each section are a pretty reasonable minimum standard for colleges to expect students to meet.
What If My SAT Essay Scores Are Below Average?
If you're struggling to get a 4 or above on each SAT essay section, don't despair—you're not alone, and there is hope.
Start by reading our collection of SAT essay blog articles. I recommend starting with our introduction to the new SAT essay prompts, our SAT essay tips article, and our explanation of the SAT essay rubric. Next, follow along as I write an SAT essay, step-by-step. With these four articles, you'll learn just what is required to excel in each dimension of the SAT essay and how to approach reading the prompt, analyzing the passage, and writing the essay.
For further help, you can take a look at how to create your own SAT essay templates and how to get a perfect 8/8/8 score on the SAT essay. If you're struggling with identifying how the authors of SAT essay prompts build their argument, we also go into the six most common argumentative essay devices.
Finally, if you think you'd benefit from more personalized feedback on your essay writing, you might want to try out PrepScholar SAT. You'll get to write essays on official SAT essay prompts and receive feedback from graders on what you're doing well and how you can improve and boost your score to the next level.
Now that you know what an average SAT essay score is, what should be your target? Learn more with our article on what a good SAT essay score is for you.
Discover what the relationship is between SAT essay length and essay score here!
Do you need to submit an SAT essay score for the schools you're applying to? Find out if your schools are on the list of schools requiring the SAT with essay here.
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