Machines Grading Student Writing?

I sent this letter to all Louisiana State Legislators today.  The National Council of Teachers of English published a Policy Statement regarding the grading of student writing assessments by machines.  It was an opportunity to address the whole shebang! 
Ladies and Gentlemen:
There has been much controversy surrounding Common Core State Standards, with strong opposition building, not only to the content but the concept of expectations that every student will conform to a one-siz-fits-all curriculum and the subsequent high stakes standardized test that was never designed for that singular purpose.
Federally mandated NCLB legislation has run its destructive course. The requisite standardized tests that were "sold" as the only way to measure student learning have not only proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be invalid, unreliable and unsuitable for public consumption, but nevertheless have been adopted as a "high stakes" weapon used by so-called education reformists in their self-proclaimed takeover of our democratic public education system. Clever marketing and political power fueled by billions of $$$ dollars provided by corporate powerhouses like Bill Gates, Walton Family Foundation and Eli Broad (to name a few) have brought the education establishment to its knees.
Professional educators who should be "borrowed" from their classrooms to participate in the essential tasks of making policy, writing curriculum and creating 21st century tools to inform and improve classroom instruction are instead buried in testing regimes, silenced as partners in the making of policy, and demonized as the result of false measures of student "progress" used to determine their "effectiveness." The NCLB identifier for teachers as "highly qualified"  that required credentials, training and certification for accountability and that revered the knowledge earned with experience, has been covertly replaced with the false label of "highly effective," while the need for verification of expertise that ALL professions require has been deemed invalid. "Certified" and properly trained and experienced teachers are no longer valued - on the contrary - they are demonized.
When will we come to our senses and admit that we have been HAD by a mantra of Free Enterprise and Choice that serves the world of commerce well (except for the small business owner on the corner - if there is a corner left that hasn't been sold to the big box store). It seems that the corresponding warning Buyer Beware should now be our guiding principle.
I am an English teacher. Therefore, I offer to you the following clear and definitive statement by the organization that all highly qualified English teachers have considered for many, many years to be their guide and support for policy, research and professional classroom practice - The National Council of Teachers of English. This organization is a teacher led organization. This particular position statement is but one offered by NCTE in addressing some of the reform policies developed by Non-Educators. This position statement speaks to the rollout of computer scoring of student writing. Writing is the ultimate "test" of the English student's learning in the language arts curriculum. The ability to communicate is premier after all. NCTE makes a clear case against the ability of computer scored standardized writing tests. I offer an excerpt here. Please read the entire report and note the extensive research behind it.

Please understand that while this statement addresses writing, its principles extend to all high stakes standardized testing. I ask that you reject the status quo of the NCLB testing regime and the making of policy by unqualified, inexperienced personnel like our Superintendent John White and return leadership and sanity in this state to highly qualified educators.
LDOE soldier Erin Bendily has testified in committee that federal law mandates a punitive measure of accountability. That is NOT the intent or effective application of accountability in the education world nor does it bring about improvement or positive action in the real world. Putting criminals in jail does not itself cause rehabilitation. Our children are not criminals who should be punished for poor test scores. Likewise, our teachers and parents should not be punished for their students' or children's test scores, particularly when those tests are not suitable for the high stakes measurement that produces the outcome. The policy of PUNISHMENT is produced by Supt. White and promulgated by his rubber stamp BESE. At the same time that LDOE is punishing students, teachers and parents, long accepted and mandated effective education policy for educators requires Positive Behavior Intervention. Punishment for some behavioral actions has always and will probably always be a component to bring about change, but Punishment for academic "behavior" does not address the need for interventions such as remediation, study, changes in delivery, psychological assistance, etc. A Teacher's goal is not to identify failure but to identify its source and remediate it. And yet, our LDOE no longer serves as a support organization but instead focuses on doling out punishment and distributing limited dollars as seed money to start up charters using test results based on skewed and manipulated school performance scores, and in providing high salaries to its young, unqualified TFA grad personnel.
You don't line children up after a test and pass out candy to those who attained a prescribed score while those who missed the mark by one or more points stand by with empty hands and broken hearts. Those who did well share their skill, and teachers pay attention to their needs. With our state standardized testing regime, that is not possible because neither students nor teachers ever see the graded tests. It is similar to getting a traffic ticket produced by a camera with no ability to refute "the machine." In legal terminology - no due process.
It is time to admit our mistakes, hold those truly accountable who have misled you, and stop the fast moving train of false reform that is destroying schools and lives. I am available any time for further discussion. Contrary to the prescribed argument that anti-reformists offer no viable alternative, there are many. Here is an excerpt from the NCTE Position Statement on machine scoring with a link to the entire article. Please read and consider.
Machine Scoring Fails the Test
Approved by the NCTE Executive Committee, April 2013
[A] computer could not measure accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity in your essay. If this is true I don't believe a computer would be able to measure my full capabilities and grade me fairly. -- Akash, student
[H]ow can the feedback a computer gives match the carefully considered comments a teacher leaves in the margins or at the end of your paper? -- Pinar, student
(Responses to New York Times The Learning Network blog post,
"How Would You Feel about a Computer Grading Your Essays?", 5 April 2013)

Writing is a highly complex ability developed over years of practice, across a wide range of tasks and contexts, and with copious, meaningful feedback. Students must have this kind of sustained experience to meet the demands of higher education, the needs of a 21st-century workforce, the challenges of civic participation, and the realization of full, meaningful lives.
As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) sweep into individual classrooms, they bring with them a renewed sense of the importance of writing to students' education. Writing teachers have found many aspects of the CCSS to applaud; however, we must be diligent in developing assessment systems that do not threaten the possibilities for the rich, multifaceted approach to writing instruction advocated in the CCSS. Effective writing assessments need to account for the nature of writing, the ways students develop writing ability, and the role of the teacher in fostering that development.

Research1 on the assessment of student writing consistently shows that high-stakes writing tests alter the normal conditions of writing by denying students the opportunity to think, read, talk with others, address real audiences, develop ideas, and revise their emerging texts over time. Often, the results of such tests can affect the livelihoods of teachers, the fate of schools, or the educational opportunities for students. In such conditions, the narrowly conceived, artificial form of the tests begins to subvert attention to other purposes and varieties of writing development in the classroom. Eventually, the tests erode the foundations of excellence in writing instruction, resulting in students who are less prepared to meet the demands of their continued education and future occupations. Especially in the transition from high school to college, students are ill served when their writing experience has been dictated by tests that ignore the ever-more complex and varied types and uses of writing found in higher education.

Note: (1) All references to research are supported by the extensive work documented in the annotated bibliography attached to this report. In addition, the annotated bibliography serves as the research base for the Professionals Against Machine Scoring Of Student Essays In High-Stakes Assessment Petition Initiative.
These concerns -- increasingly voiced by parents, teachers, school administrators, students, and members of the general public -- are intensified by the use of machine-scoring systems to read and evaluate students’ writing. To meet the outcomes of the Common Core State Standards, various consortia, private corporations, and testing agencies propose to use computerized assessments of student writing. The attraction is obvious: once programmed, machines might reduce the costs otherwise associated with the human labor of reading, interpreting, and evaluating the writing of our students. Yet when we consider what is lost because of machine scoring, the presumed savings turn into significant new costs -- to students, to our educational institutions, and to society. Here's why: (See entire article using the link provided above)

I add this statement by NCTE regarding Common Core Standards. Note that educators offer MORE than opposition to policy. They have solutions to address policy.

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