Mar 11, 2007

everybody's taking the WASL

Sophomores, of course. It's required. Juniors, for sure. Quite a few didn't pass it last time. And freshfolks. Gotta get a jump.
Almost 9,600 students in the class of 2008 signed up to take a WASL test this spring. But the state has distributed enough WASL booklets to local school districts to accommodate any 11th-grader who failed one or more sections. That means the number tested could be higher, said Molly O’Connor, a spokeswoman in the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In addition to this year’s sophomores, about 14,000 ninth-graders voluntarily signed up to take the 10th-grade WASL, or more than double the 6,100 freshmen who took it last year.
Buried in the article is an interesting new strategy:
Timberline High School juniors in teacher Kristina Wilkinson’s U.S. history class say they're feeling prepared to take the writing WASL. They’ve been using a Vantage Learning computer program called “MY Access” to practice their expository and persuasive-writing skills.

After students finish responding to a writing prompt, the program gives them an instant score in six areas, including content, focus and organization.

“It’s so much more feedback than I could give with 30 students in a class,” Wilkinson said. “It frees me up to be able to walk around and provide individual attention.”

The program also offers suggestions on how to improve.
It certainly does:
To score essays, IntelliMetric is "trained" with a set of responses with known scores as determined by experts. These papers are used as a basis for the system to "learn" the rubric and infer the pooled judgments of the human scorers. The IntelliMetric system internalizes the characteristics of the responses associated with each score point and applies this intelligence to score essays with unknown scores.

IntelliMetric analyzes more than 400 semantic, syntactic and discourse level features to form a sense of meaning.
Ironically, sophisticated algorithms lead to recommendations that are generic, crappy (Exclamation points! They're okay!), banal, and, ultimately, totally in line with what the WASL demands. There's no criterion on the WASL for truly good writing.

I'm not yet obsolete.


Ellen R said...

Somehow this sort of writing by rubric makes me think of dog training. You can train a dog to do all sorts of things by breaking the desired sequence down to small bits and consistently repeating/rewarding until the sequence is successfully (and repeatedly) known. Cool to see but it ain't Aismov or Tolstoy.

Jim Anderson said...

Nope. Different Russian, he.