Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Addressing Students' Concerns about MY Access Online Writing Program

Last February 3 students sent in comments via the district's website to complain about MY Access. Their number one concern was that teachers used MY Access to grade their writing. They were upset about this because they realize that the program isn't perfect in "grading" their papers. (After all, their friends said their writing was near-perfect.) 

The three also feared that their teachers NEVER even read their work to see if they agreed with the MY Access scores.

Although the district could not find the students in our system, I was still asked to reply to these mystery students' valid concerns. (Think they used aliases?) 

In my response, I promised that I would share their criticisms with our district's educators, and so I ask teachers who read this and who use the online writing program review this response and then reflect upon whether or not they are guilty of these practices.

So read on and tell me what you think. I'd love to hear from you! 

Dear H, S, and S,

First I commend you for sending your concerns about the MY Access Online Writing Program to our district. Your emails were forwarded to me because I train and support teachers who use MY Access in their classrooms. Secondly, I am concerned about the valid issues each of you raise, and I hope to address those concerns and correct some of the problems that you mention.

Your concerns are concerns of mine as well. I will bullet those concerns and my responses below.
  • Teachers should grade papers, not a computer.
    • MY Access is not intended to "grade" papers for teachers, but rather it is designed to serve as a tool to "score" papers as part of the feedback for student writers.
    • Because it is a student tool, teachers should train students in how to use the program to improve their writing so that writers aren't guessing or experimenting to improve writing scores.
    • Students should also be taught how to interpret the feedback to determine which suggestions are most helpful.
    • The program may "score" the papers for feedback purposes, but teachers should read and grade the papers. 
    • No scoring machine is completely accurate, but here are some reasons these machines are used.
      • Learning how to quickly analyze feedback suggestions to determine whether or not suggested revisions should be made is an important skill.
      • People do most of their job-related writing on computers.
      • Whether it is Microsoft Word's grammar check or another type of program, writers need to know which suggestions are accurate and which are not. 
      • Your fellow students may be qualified judges of your writing, but they may not. Whether or not their feedback is really helpful depends upon their writing experiences. Most students are still learning the many steps and details required to write well, and so their suggestions may not be helpful.
      • MY Access receives and analyzes thousands of papers. A minimum of 3000 essays need to be hand-scored and the results fed into the writing analysis program before scores are determined and the scoring engine takes over.
      • Feedback for revision can only "suggest" ideas and show examples, but your teacher can AND should share additional revision strategies to further improve your scores. 
    • Online writing programs are a growing part of our computer-driven world.
      • The Direct Writing Assessment (DWA), required for 5th and 8th graders, "machine scores" the essays.
      • A reliable study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) determined that there was little to no difference between the essays that were human scored and those that were machine scored.
      • Future CRT tests will be changed from multiple choice to writing tests that include information from history, science, and language arts. Those online writing tests will, in all likelihood,  be machine scored.
      • Businesses and industry use online writing programs with their employees, including the MY Access, to assess and to support their employees in becoming better writers. 
      • Programs for scoring machines are constantly being improved, and we see and will continue to see better results as this continues. MY Access is listed as one of the best because of the many features that other online programs do not have. Among the most important asset is the number of essays submitted for analysis which increases the accuracy of the scores.
    Because of your comments, the language arts departments plans the following:
    • generally share these student comments about MY Access with all teachers who use MY Access
    • train or re-train teachers as to how they could and should be using the program in their classroom
    • include specific lessons on how to help students revise their work in such a way that scores will improve
    • remind teachers that they need to read and grade required submitted papers
    Although you would like to have students vote on whether or not our district should use the MY Access program, we cannot do that at this time. There are several reasons for this decision; some of which include the necessity of testing student writing, the increased rigor of the writing curriculum our state and district is adopting, and the writing demands of careers and colleges that require schools do all they can to help students improve their writing.

    I hope this rather lengthy message addresses your concerns. If I have not, please email me, and I'll try again.

    Best wishes,
    Renae B. Salisbury