Software can grade handwritten essays

Researchers at the University of Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences say they have created software that allows computers to grade students essays.

The scientists have been working with their colleagues in UB's Graduate School of Education to develop a computational tool which dramatically reduces the time it takes to grade children's handwritten essays. "This is the very first attempt at scoring hand written essays by machine," said UB Professor Sargur Srihari. "It learns from examples and tries to score these essays from what it has learned".

The research focused on handwritten essays obtained from 8th graders in the Buffalo Public Schools who responded to this question from a New York State English Language Arts exam: “How was Martha Washington’s role as First Lady different from that of Eleanor Roosevelt?”. Papers were graded on a scale of 0-6. 300 essays were scored by humans, and 96 by computers. According to researchers, in 70% of cases, the computer graded essays within one point of a human grader.

“We wanted to see whether automated handwriting-recognition capabilities can be used to read children’s handwriting, which is essentially uncharted territory”, said Professor Srihari. “Then we took it one step further to see if we could get computers to score these essays like human examiners. It surprised us that we were able to do as well as we did, especially since this was our first attempt”, he added.

Handwritten essays are an important part of every standardized reading comprehension test given in every state. Grading them, however, requires many hours of work by human examiners, so if it could be properly done by a computer, examiners should be more than happy.

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