Teachers are using AI to grade students' work, which is more rigorous than teachers can.

Applications of AI


Generative artificial intelligence is spilling into classrooms, and not just from students looking for shortcuts.

Generative artificial intelligence is spilling into classrooms, and not just from students looking for shortcuts.

Teachers are embracing new AI grading tools, saying the programs give students quicker feedback and more opportunities to practice. Used properly, teachers say, the AI ​​helpers can provide consistency and remove bias from the evaluation of student work, but not everyone trusts AI grading.

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Teachers are embracing new AI grading tools, saying the programs give students quicker feedback and more opportunities to practice. Used properly, teachers say, the AI ​​helpers can provide consistency and remove bias from the evaluation of student work, but not everyone trusts AI grading.

Education-focused AI startups tend to offer grading services for text-heavy subjects like English and history, as well as math and science. The bots generate numerical scores and offer critiques on topic sentences, persuasive arguments and other elements. Teachers can choose to use the AI ​​feedback as a guide or pass it on directly to students. Teachers say they typically tell parents and students when they use the programs.

“Does this make my life easier? Yes, it does,” says high school English teacher Richard Vanden Bosch, “but that's not the goal. It's to improve my students' writing.”

But others say the technology isn't yet reliable enough for something as important as grading tests that could affect college admissions or life choices: Critics say today's tools can be flawed or too harsh in their grading.

“AI shouldn't be used to grade students,” said Alex Cotlan, co-founder of the AI ​​Education Project, which teaches AI literacy. “It undermines trust in the education system.”

Test the bot

To get an idea of ​​how the graders work, we ran the three tools on a 12th-grade English essay by a Wall Street Journal colleague. The essay, about the oppression of Ophelia in Shakespeare's “Hamlet,” received a score of 97% in 2013.

One site, AutoMark, gave the test a 97% rating, then a 100% rating. Two other sites were more strict, with Class Companion giving it a 62% rating and CoGrader giving it an 85% rating.

“Consider narrowing the focus of each paragraph and making every sentence directly support the topic,” the class companion urged. “Some sentences are quite long and can be effectively broken down into shorter, more understandable pieces,” CoGrader advised, citing a quotation from “Hamlet.”

The startup said the tool has grown in popularity over the last school year and is continually improving it. Class Companion co-founder Avery Pang said teachers can override grades to train the AI ​​or hide the numerical scores. CoGrader offers buttons to make feedback more helpful.

The essays' original grader, Steven Mounhall, a high school English teacher in Scarsdale, New York, said that while some of the feedback was believable as a teacher, the robot couldn't pick up on nuances in a student's progress.

“I'm just disgusted that something like this was invented,” said Mounhall, who was a teacher for 30 years. “I don't understand how a machine like this can take into account the human element of what might make us better writers.”

“I don't want to make them cry.”

Stephanie Galvani, a sixth-grade English teacher, said she is glad the AI ​​tools will help her avoid introducing bias into grading. She is one of the early adopters of AI tools in a small Massachusetts school district where other teachers say AI is dehumanizing.

“It's like, 'Hey, you know I do heroin? Do you want to try it?'” Galvani said. “Heroin is banned.”

After asking students to write a mystery in which a detective walks into a crime scene, Galvani asked graders to look for vivid verbs and multisensory descriptions. When an essay mentioned blood “dripping” down the wall, Bott suggested “cascading” as a more interesting verb.

Galvani said the AI ​​can be overly critical, so it removes suggestions for less important skills so students aren't overwhelmed.

“They're sixth graders. I don't want them to cry,” she said.

Andrew Gitner, a high school English teacher in Colorado, said he tailors the AI-generated comments to more closely resemble what he would write. “I would never use the word ‘dig in,’” Gitner said, but the AI ​​does so frequently. Other teachers say that once they become familiar with the AI ​​products, they share the feedback the AI ​​gives them directly with students.

Proceed with caution

AI startup founders and industry CEOs say teachers should always play an active role in the final grade, even as tools become more reliable for individual assignments. “We’re not trying to remove teachers,” says Andrew Goldman, co-founder of Writable, a writing and reading program now owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

MagicSchool AI, one of the most popular AI companies for teachers, says it purposely didn't develop grading for its technology.

Founder Adeel Khan supports AI giving writing feedback, but doesn't think we're ready to rely on it for grading yet. He likened AI grading to self-driving cars, saying the technology may be feasible, but not everyone will be comfortable with it.

Isaiah Green, a high school senior in California's Central Valley, said he loved using Class Companion for his AP U.S. History class. He credits the grading tool with making him feel more confident going into his AP exams in the spring because he had weeks to complete essay assignments within time limits and get immediate feedback.

The AI ​​program allows students to challenge grades they think are incorrect. He said he's seen his classmates' grades go from a 2 out of 7 to a 6 out of 7 from their teacher's grade. “It can make a dramatic difference,” he said.

Kelly Rodriguez, president of the National Parents Union, said parents can't expect classrooms to remain stuck in the analogue past.

Rodriguez recently asked ChatGPT to grade an essay her sixth-grader son was turning in, and the bot told him it would get a B-.

The actual teacher's evaluation exceeded expectations: her son scored 87 points.

Write to Sara Randazzo at sara.randazzo@wsj.com

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