Teachers hit computer-scored writing exams

New tests aligned to the new common standards will ask students to do more writing and provide quick feedback to teachers on their students’ skills. But that’s only cost effective, if students’ writing is scored by computers, writes Catherine Gewertz on Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters. Not surprisingly, the National Council of Teachers of English think machines can’t evaluate writing.

In its statement, the NCTE says that artificial intelligence assesses student writing by only “a few limited surface features,” ignoring important elements such as logic, clarity, accuracy, quality of evidence, and humor or irony. Computers ability to judge student writing also gets worse as the length of the essays increases, the NCTE says. The organization argues for consideration of other ways of judging student writing, such as portfolio assessment, teacher-assessment teams, and more localized classroom- or district-based assessments.

If essays are scored by humans — usually teachers working over the summer — the costs will go way up, tempting states to require less writing.

Who will teach informational reading?

Students should read more non-fiction and “informational text,” say Common Core State Standards adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. The new standards say half of elementary school reading assignments should be nonfiction, growing to 70 percent by grade 12. Who should teach informational reading?

Already, English teachers are cutting literature units to make room for recommended texts, which include Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration, reports the Washington Post.

But David Coleman, who co-authored the standards, say educators have it all wrong.

Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.

Social studies teachers, for example, could have students read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” while math students could read Euclid’s “Elements” from 300 B.C.

. . . The standards explicitly say that Shakespeare and classic American literature should be taught, said Coleman, who became president of the College Board in November.

. . . The specifics are spelled out in a footnote on page 5 of the 66-page standards.

Across the country, English teachers say their principals have told them it’s their job to teach students to read non-fiction. Social studies, science and math teachers are not sharing the responsibility.

Pay teachers more — and less

Pay some teachers more and others less, writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic.

Not all teaching jobs are alike. In fact, one could say there’s no such thing as “a teacher” at all. There are math teachers and English teachers. There are fourth grade teachers and high school teachers. There are gym teachers and…well you get my point. But while it might seem obvious, it’s also important. Because as two new studies out this week highlight, some kinds of teachers may simply be more influential on students’ educations and lives than others. The way we evaluate and pay them should reflect that.

The first study, an NBER working paper on The Long Term Impacts of Teachers, concluded that students assigned to a high value-added teacher any time between third and eighth grade were “more likely to go to college, were less likely to have children as teens, and made more money as adults” than their peers.

Good English teachers actually had a greater long-term impact on their students’ lives than talented math teachers. But they were also rarer. On the whole, math teachers were just more capable of raising their students’ test scores.

A second study, also an NBER working paper,  Do High-School Teachers Really Matter? concluded “only sometimes.”

Looking at data from schools in North Carolina, Northwestern Professor C. Kirabo Jackson found clear evidence that high school algebra teachers were able to regularly lift their students’ test scores. When it came to English teachers, though, the proof wasn’t there. Meanwhile, good high school teachers’ saw the amount of improvement in their students’ test scores vary much more from year to year than top elementary school teachers.When I spoke with Jackson, he said there were any number of explanations for his findings. Perhaps chief among them: English is considered a harder topic to “move the needle on,” especially in high school. Students learn language inside and outside the classroom.

“Performance bonuses might be more effective for math teachers, who are more likely to see results from their teaching, than English teachers, who might be facing an impossible task,” Weissmann writes. Or perhaps good English teachers should be paid more, because their job is so difficult.

Performance-pay schemes designed for elementary teachers, who have a decent chance at improving their students’ scores, may not be a fair way to evaluate high school English teachers, he adds.