Indiana is the first state to use a computer-scored English essay test in a statewide assessment, and its experience could influence testing decisions in other states.

Eighteen states now require students to pass a writing test for high school graduation, and, starting next year, both the SAT and the ACT will include writing in their college admission exams.

“In five years at least 10 more states will be at or beyond the pilot stage” of automated essay scoring, predicts Richard Swartz, executive director of technology products and services at the Educational Testing Service, designers of Indiana’s online essay-grading software.

While Indiana’s essay test is not a pass-fail “high stakes” test, it is part of an assessment of student achievement in the 40-credit state curriculum, known as Core 40, recommended by Indiana educators and business leaders as preparation for success in college and the work force. Scores on the Core 40 tests, offered for the first time this year in English and algebra, will help determine college readiness and course placement for students and the performance ratings of high schools.

With the increasing number of mandates to test student writing, “there’s a certain inevitability to computerized essay grading,” said Stan Jones, Indiana’s commissioner of higher education. Indiana’s computerized essay scoring, he said, will reduce by half the cost of administering a pencil-and-paper test and will free teachers from distributing, collecting and, above all, grading thousands of test booklets.

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