After an extensive review process, three products that support writing instruction have been selected to participate in fall trials in seventh grade classrooms coast to coast — Criterion from ETS, PEGWriting from Measurement Incorporated, and Pearson’s WriteToLearn.

The Classroom Trials will provide fair and transparent demonstrations of the current capabilities of software designed to support the instruction of writing in a classroom setting.

The trials focus on software services that provide automated feedback to students and teachers. Many of the applicants are offering automated scoring of student written responses for prompts on state year end tests to support demands for more and better writing.  These instructional systems are designed to support new instructional demands on teachers associated with college and career ready assessments. The Classroom Trials have been designed to scrutinize those capabilities because of their likely importance over the next few years.

A Working Group, responsible for overseeing the design of the study, conducted the product selection and included Darion Griffin from the American Federation of Teachers and Michael Kaspar from the National Education Association. Carl Whithaus, UC Davis, and Norbert Elliot, NJIT, provided valuable assistance on research design.  Input was also solicited from the National Writing Project.

The Classroom Trials team — Jaison Morgan, Mark Shermis, Lynn Van Deventer, and Tom Vander Ark — led the study design and participated in the section process. In partnership with the Working Group, they reviewed a variety of products and offered specific comments and detailed feedback to the vendors who submitted their products for review, an early sign of the specific attention that the study will pay to the use those systems.

The study is an empirical and baseline investigation into formative uses of software systems to support the instruction of writing in a classroom setting. The project seeks to answer a central question: Can this new and emerging field of software support the instruction of writing in a classroom setting?

Class sizes have grown in many states along with the expectations for student writing and the need for structured feedback. Software can play a vital role to address those workload constraints, and teachers need more information to understand their potential. As a result, both the NEA and AFT are playing an active role in the study design.

A Q&A with 7th grade teacher Jeff Pence describes how he uses a writing platform to teach writing evaluation, organization, conventions, sentence fluency, word choice, voice and more.

“My students completed 28 essays – that was per student, and I taught 130 students per day. Each one of those was submitted for assessment an average of six times, so that’s well over 20,000 drafts that were assessed and graded, just for my classroom.”

The study will equip hundreds of teachers like Jeff to try writing assessment software in their classroom and will compare sources of evidence about the use of each product compared to control groups. See the Classroom Trials site for a detailed discussion of the study.

Disclosure: Pearson is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


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