Automated Essay Scoring in Australian Schools: Collective Policymaking
- Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC), University of Sydney.
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This summary outlines critical issues associated with the use of Automated Essay Scoring (AES) technology in the Australian education system. The key insights presented in this paper emerged from a collaborative, multi-stakeholder workshop held in July 2022 that explored an automated essay-scoring trial and generated future possibilities aligned with participant interests and expertise. Drawing on the workshop and our expert understanding of the wider landscape, we propose recommendations that can be adopted by various stakeholders, schools, and educational systems. There are compelling reasons for Australian schools and education departments to investigate the use of AES. AES could potentially alleviate aspects of teachers’ workload at a time when teacher attrition is historically high and teacher recruitment historically low. At the same time, AES also has the potential to de-professionalise and deskill of teachers. Educationalists are acutely aware that quality feedback can help students improve their learning across multiple subjects and domains, however parents and many are reluctant to hand that responsibility over to AES. In 2018, concerns among teachers, teachers’ unions, principles, and parents became apparent when the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment attempted to implement a form of AES in The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). These concerns primarily registered around three issues: − de-professionalisation of teachers, − inequitable infrastructure in Australian schools, and − lack of transparency from examination authorities as to how marking decisions are made. The use of AES in NAPLAN ultimately proved to be politically unpopular, leading to its suspension. However, the growing implementation of AES in schools across the globe means that the use of this technology is likely to re-emerge as a controversial issue in Australia. Without political leadership in this area, it is ultimately up to educational institutions and agencies, policymakers, and school communities to assess the benefits and pitfalls of AES and navigate the way forward. Our recommendations will assist the emergence of good governance in this area. To begin, it is crucially important to identify whether AES will be used in high-stakes or low-stakes tests. High-stakes tests are defined as those with consequential outcomes for students or educators, such as the determination of progression of students or rankings of school institutions. If AES is to be used in Australian schools, the following issues must be considered: − the capacity of stakeholders, including principals, teachers, and parents, to understand how AES systems work − the infrastructure required to support the use of AES − the potential impacts of AES on assessment and workload practices which requires adequate professional development resources − competing interests and values between schools, departments, and institutions associated with using AES − how the use of AES relates to and integrates with broader policy frameworks. The investigation of these issues requires information sharing, dialogue, and negotiation among diverse stakeholders, including teachers, parents, students, leaders, and policymakers. In addition to this engagement, schools and other educational institutions must also discuss the implementation of AES tools with AES system developers and commercial vendors, so as to better understand the functions and limitations of the AES tool, as well as its implications for professional and assessment practices. Only then can decision-makers evaluate whether a specific AES system is worth the investment of funds and resources, including teacher workload, in both the medium and longer term. Although it appears as yet another drag on teacher time, the participatory and collaborative development of AES guidance, policy, and regulation is crucial. It ensures that pluralistic views and shared values are reflected in any innovations or reforms across the education sector. To ensure a collaborative foundation, the introduction of AES must be informed by stakeholder expertise across multiple locations and decision-making levels, including classrooms, schools, organisations, and state, territory, and national jurisdictions. For Australia, we recommend multi-scalar policy development informed by educators, policymakers, and representatives from educational technology companies engaging in cooperative learning and action.
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