If there’s one skill that everyone agrees all students must learn across the curriculum, it’s how to write well—and the move toward adopting the Common Core State Standards adds even greater urgency to this effort.
The rigorous Common Core standards for writing outline the skills that students should be able to demonstrate beginning as early as kindergarten. For example, sixth graders should be able to write arguments to support their claims “with clear reasons and relevant evidence,” among other standards.
“Obviously, the advent of the Common Core will shine a bright light [on writing instruction], and online technology offers a ray of hope and the potential for scalability,” said Ogden Morse, CEO of AcademicMerit.
For years, Morse noted, schools have been using software that scores students’ essays automatically using artificial intelligence technology, which allows students to practice writing and get constructive feedback more frequently than if teachers had to score all drafts by hand.
But these solutions “still must be grounded in sound pedagogy,” he said, “and that’s not easy.”
Most of the conversations about writing instruction, Morse said, focus on the abilities or limitations of automated essay scoring programs, or the struggles of teachers to assign more writing in the face of larger class sizes. “I would argue that, in doing so, we’re overlooking the obvious,” he said, which is “professional development. Student writing won’t improve if writing instruction doesn’t.”
To address this need, AcademicMerit created FineTune, which it calls a first-of-its-kind online professional development tool for supporting teachers in the rubric-based evaluation of student writing.
According to the company, teachers in a district can use FineTune to work toward calibrating their assessment of students’ writing to match up with a comprehensive rubric, the Common Core standards, and each other.
Teachers choose from a database of hundreds of actual student essays and evaluate each essay based on a five-category rubric aligned with the Common Core. They receive immediate, category-by-category comparative scoring and analysis for each essay they score. The, they take built-in assessments to measure the quality of their scoring from the company’s assessment product, Assessments21.
Once they pass these assessments, teachers become approved “readers” for common writing assignments and exams. Supervisors or mentors in the district can use the assessment data to provide focused professional development in support of teachers. The company also acts as a liaison to the district to analyze results and offer suggestions for additional training, as needed.