Texas Launches AI Grader for Student Essay Tests But Insists It’s Not Like ChatGPT

Mike Powers
Texas Launches AI Grader for Student Essay Tests But Insists It’s Not Like ChatGPT

Kids in Texas are taking state-mandated standardized tests this week to measure their proficiency in reading, writing, science, and social studies. But those tests aren’t going to necessarily be graded by human teachers anymore. In fact, the Texas Education Agency will deploy a new “automated scoring engine” for open-ended questions on the tests. And the state hopes to save millions with the new program.

The technology, which has been dubbed an “auto scoring engine” (ASE) by the Texas Education Agency, uses natural language processing to grade student essays, according to the Texas Tribune. After the initial grading by the AI model, roughly 25% of test responses will be sent back to human graders for review, according to the San Antonio Report news outlet.

Texas expects to save somewhere between $15-20 million with the new AI tool, mostly because fewer human graders will need to be hired through a third-party contracting agency. Previously, about 6,000 graders were needed, but that’s being cut down to about 2,000, according to the Texas Tribune.

A presentation published on the Texas Education Agency’s website appears to show that tests of the new system revealed humans and the automated system gave comparable scores to most kids. But a lot of questions remain about how the tech works exactly and what company may have helped the state develop the software. Two education companies, Cambium and Pearson, are mentioned as contractors at the Texas Education Agency’s site but the agency didn’t respond to questions emailed Tuesday.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) was first introduced in 2011 but redesigned in 2023 to include more open-ended essay-style questions. Previously, the test contained many more questions in the multiple choice format which, of course, was also graded by computerized tools. The big difference is that scoring a bubble sheet is different from scoring a written response, something computers have more difficulty understanding.

In a sign of potentially just how toxic AI tools have become in mainstream tech discourse, the Texas Education Agency has apparently been quick to shoot down any comparisons to generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT, according to the Texas Tribune. And the PowerPoint presentation on the Texas Education Agency’s site appears to confirm that unease with comparisons to anything like ChatGPT.

“This kind of technology is different from AI in that AI is a computer using progressive learning algorithms to adapt, allowing the data to do the programming and essentially teaching itself,” the presentation explains. “Instead, the automated scoring engine is a closed database with student response data accessible only by TEA and, with strict contractual privacy control, its assessment contractors, Cambium and Pearson.”

Any family who’s upset with their child’s grade can request that a human take another look at the test, according to the San Antonio Report. But it’ll set you back $50.

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