Open Letter to Ohio Department of Education from English teachers. Concerning: Computer-graded exams.



TO: Paolo DeMaria

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Ohio Department of Education


CC: Office of Curriculum and Assessment:


FROM: English teachers of Shaker Heights High School

September 7, 2018


Dear Superintendent DeMaria and the Office of Curriculum and Assessment,

We are English teachers at Shaker Heights High School, and we would like to voice our profound dismay over the direction that the Ohio Department of Education has taken with the End of Course exams.

In the nation’s unthinking rush to test, test, test, we have reached a new low: We are now expected to teach our students how to write for a machine to read.

We have been given a document called, “Machine-Scored Grading: Initial Suggestions for Preparing Students,” produced by the Westerville City Schools “in consultation with the ODE.” According to these guidelines, “When composing text to be read by a computer, the writer cannot assume that the machine will ‘know’ and be able to interpret communicative intent.”

Imagine for a moment how humiliating it is for students to hear that what they write will be read by a machine, not by a human. Can you think of anything as pointless? Would anybody be inspired to do their best work?

The message that we send students is this: Your inner self, the ground from which all writing springs, has no value, no relevance. We do not care about the content of your mind, only that you have the mental machinery to decipher and generate informational text.

Writing for a computer is antithetical to everything that led us to become educators. Our overseers in Columbus, however, have a very different attitude. In support of machine scoring, this is from an official statement from an Associate Director of the Office of Curriculum and Assessment:

“This is the only way to get to adaptive testing and to return results faster, with the goal to be eventual on demand results, which has been an extremely vocal issue by the field to legislators, ODE Leadership, etc.”

First of all, this is an appalling sentence. But once we get past the errors in syntax, grammar and capitalization, and the sloppy, confusing phrasing, we are still left with an absurdity. We teachers are supposed to set students before a computer and then wait breathlessly for the machine to tell us how well or poorly the student writes? That is the ultimate goal? And the person in charge doesn’t even know how to write? How much are Ohio taxpayers spending on this?

There are always the same three justifications for computer grading:

  1. It’s fast.
  2. It’s cheap.
  3. It’s objective.

But we can point to a system that is faster, cheaper, and maybe even more objective. There just happens to be a group of trained professionals handy: people who are dedicated to the wellbeing and growth of Ohio’s schoolchildren, people who love writing and literature, people who are trained to the standards of the Ohio Department of Education, people who continually strive to improve their ability to provide meaningful evaluation of student writing:


We can do the job fast because we’re with the students every day. We can do it cheap, in fact at no extra cost to Ohio taxpayers, because it’s what we’re paid to do anyway.

You might assume that machines have us beat when it comes to objectivity. But computers are only as objective as the humans who program them. And we have good reason to distrust multinational corporations when they invoke proprietary trade secrets to hide the systems that determine the fates of millions of public school children.

But objectivity may be the wrong criterion. As English teachers, we love writing because it is one of the most subjective things taught in school. We love the teaching of writing because we love to see students develop their unique voices, their sense of themselves as the subjects of their own lives.

If we begin our thinking with the assumption that standardized tests are a sacred imperative, then, surely the fastest, cheapest, most objective thing is to grade them is with a machine. However, if we begin our thinking with the belief that students should learn how to write well, then we see that artificial intelligence is not just irrelevant, but counterproductive.

Superintendent DeMaria, what is truly being tested here is the ODE itself. Are you so captive to the testing-industrial complex that you throw millions of taxpayer dollars into an unnecessary technology? Or are you so committed to educating students that you are willing to use your available human capital to do it for free?

Yours sincerely,

English teachers at Shaker Heights High School

5 thoughts on “Open Letter to Ohio Department of Education from English teachers. Concerning: Computer-graded exams.

    1. Ohio is disappointing! What can we do to stop this “polite rudeness in your face” ? Ohio way is appalling and undiscribaly shameful! Teachers, thank you for all your hard work and the faith you put in our children.


  1. Ohio is disappointing! What can we do to stop this “polite rudeness in your face” ? Ohio way is appalling and undiscribaly shameful! Teachers, thank you for all your hard work and the faith you put in our children.


  2. Ok, here are a few things you need to know if you don’t already. These programs are being coordinated through Knowledgeworks, based in Cincinnati. So, Ohio is at the epicenter of the “hackable” education model. See your state’s credit flex system.

    The plan is to eliminate school buildings as physical spaces within say the next decade and replace them with learning ecosystems which are a hybrid of online learning (mostly) and community-based / project-based / work-based learning in out of school settings. That’s where they will capture most of the social competencies.

    The rigid machine grading you reference is part of a slow-motion preparation for this shift. Standards-based education is about reducing “learning” to data in a very binary way. They are doing this to inform speculative markets in student data. The fuel for this is the growing social impact investment sector, of which ed-tech and many community-school oriented wrap around services are a part. See this video on social impact bonds:

    The transitionary model is a program called Cities of LRNG funded by MacArthur Foundation / Collective Shift. In Ohio that’s in Columbus. Educational “competencies” documented via the Internet of Things and xAPI protocol will be uploaded to online learning lockers as discrete badges. Badges will be for academic knowledge and mindsets. They will be used for human capital management “lifelong learning” purposes. Payments for services will be issued via automated digital vouchers, probably on Blockchain once they have that scaled.

    The goal is the elimination of schools and grades and diplomas-it will be badges all the way up. This shift is happening at a state-level scale in North Dakota now, led by their Governor a former Microsoft VP:

    Much of this hinges on bringing Blockchain Digital Identity systems to scale. Southern New Hampshire University created a test case this summer of blockchain education credentials:

    My overview on DID. The impact sector applies not only to education but the outsources of ALL public human services. It’s about reducing said services to data-driven metrics on which global investors can speculate. They need to aggregate all the data to evaluate “impact” of interventions on lives:

    These devices are surveillance devices that capture more biometric data and meta data than many people can imagine. It is incredibly disturbing:

    I appreciate you all coming together to write this letter, but you have to understand the larger context. It’s imperative. More information here:

    A talk I gave in Seattle:

    Feel free to message me at Wrench In The Gears if you need more information. I realize this is a lot to absorb.

    Liked by 1 person

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