Turnitin Launches Automated Writing Grading Service


Turnitin, an online plagiarism detection and prevention service, has launched Turnitin Scoring Engine, a new service that automatically grades essays and short-answer texts from students.

According to its developers, Turnitin Scoring Engine will be employed in online education environments to offer instant assignment scoring and to help assess students' writing at district, state and institutional levels.

The scoring engine by Turnitin is unique, as its technology:

"… analyzes the lexical, syntactic, and stylistic features of writing, such as word choice and genre conventions, unlike other automated essay scoring programs that rely on simple metrics like word count."

In other words, the scoring engine has the capability to offer a qualitative assessment of student writing by learning and then reproducing how teacher grading works:

"Turnitin Scoring Engine discovers the unique, content-based patterns in an existing set of hand-scored essays and learns to replicate that judgment as an accurate, reliable, on-demand assessment of student writing," the company said in a press release in April, 2015.

According to Joshua Bolkan, the multimedia editor for THE Journal, the grading system uses anonymized scored essays to teach the system how to evaluate a typical student essay based on what a human instructor would value and penalize.

The program also automatically compares instructor and system scores to ensure accuracy and reliability. Once machine learning is complete, the service can be integrated with institutional assessment environments. Elijah Mayfield, vice president of new technologies at Turnitin, said:

"The current process for mass assessment of student writing is appalling. Turnitin Scoring Engine changes the way we think about assessing student writing, while maintaining the high levels of accuracy and reliability that institutions demand. We want institutions to spend less time and energy on testing and placement."

Mayfield believes that Turnitin's automated grading service will free up instructor time and allow educators to focus more on supporting and teaching children to write better rather than spending their time on preparing tests and grading assessments.

This is not the first time automatic assessment has been used for student writing. Middle school students in Birmingham, MI take 30-minute online writing tests for which they receive grammar and mechanics feedback instantly. The writing assessment is facilitated by Criterion, an ETS online writing evaluation service.

Nancy Mann Jackson of District Administration says ed tech of this sort takes some of the grading workload off teachers and benefits students by offering them access to writing practice and feedback.

"Students learn best when they have immediate feedback on their writing. It is a learning tool for students and a teaching tool for teachers," Deborah Gollnitz, curriculum coordinator at Birmingham Public Schools, says.

Students elsewhere are also using automated writing assessment tools. The Cherokee County School District uses WriteToLearn by Pearson for students in several of its grades. The program offers instant feedback on student writing and highlights strengths and weaknesses. Like TurnitIn Scoring Engine, WriteToLearn doesn't simply grade grammar and spelling skill, but also offers an evaluation at a semantics level.

PEGWriting has been for the last fifteen years offering over two million student writing scores. PEG writing offers automatic scoring and instant feedback for students as well as custom writing prompts and writing tutorials.

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