Hate grading long compositions for hours? Not anymore, my friends. My district, Chelmsford Public Schools, adopted the Holt McDougal Literature series aligned to the Common Core, and with it comes the most fabulous invention known to man (move over, Thomas Edison!): “Holt Online Essay Scoring.” For all you English teachers out there, it’s a dream come true.

In the past, I’ve taken days (or weeks) to correct papers to give feedback to students. By that time, they have lost interest in the prompt, and the collective groan is enough to make me want to put a pencil in my eye. It’s not that I don’t want to read students’ papers. I do, and always will. It’s just that sometimes the amount of grading impacts how much revision instruction I can provide, and since the best writing is re-writing, my students suffer. Now, I can provide mastery-oriented feedback while students are working, and help them to revise using the instant feedback they get on the computer.

You may be skeptical. I was too. On my “Holt Online Essay Scoring” maiden voyage, I graded students’ papers traditionally on the program’s rubric so I could correlate results. Their rubric assesses content and development, focus and organization, effective sentences, word choice, and grammar, usage and mechanics using Common Core language. In each strand, student writing is identified as advanced, competent, limited, or emerging. The rubric then translates this information into a six point scale. Compared to my 15 hours, the computer graded all 97 essays in a nanosecond. The grade correlation? .92  If you’re not a statistics person – that means that the computer generated a score equal to mine more than 90% of the time. Also, the computer provided analytic feedback for students, which I used to inform future writing instruction and RTI.

Students are obsessed with the program. They treat it like a video game. If they submit their essays and don’t like their scores, they have the opportunity to use the analytic feedback to revise and repost for a higher grade. One student called me over today and said, “Hey Doc, I need you to stand here, because I’m just about to submit and I know I’m gonna get a 6. I want you to be here when I do.”  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Now, I let the computer do the heavy lifting, while I am free to actually teach writing, provide 1:1 writing instruction, and provide students with the writing intervention that is most relevant to them. It’s a game changer.

Online Essay Scoring That Really Works

2 thoughts on “Online Essay Scoring That Really Works

  • June 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Katie, it is with great pleasure to know there are programs out there that teachers and students can benefit. I wonder how many other teachers are using this? I’m glad you are not one of those teachers that assign zero’s. It should be about learning, correcting and learning more.

    A big thank you from me to you for helping all our learners.

  • June 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    If a student gets a zero, that communicates that they learned NOTHING at all, and if that is true, the teacher has done something wrong. It’s a teacher’s job to design curriculum so students can access materials and express their learning. The Online Scoring Tool is so accessible and really engages the kids and it allows all students to receive a grade and feedback on every assignment. Then, they can revise as often as they wish. Some get addicted and don’t stop until they get a 6. I had one student who posted 8 times and then finally got a 6 and sent me an email with the grade report and the words, “Boo yah!” Love them.


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