Your excellent story (“Automated essay scoring catches up with humans,” April 13) on the value of automated essay grading inspired concern and at least one published letter that was misinformed (“Grading inside the box,” April 18).

It is important to understand the technology behind the grading.

The newer technology transcends the spelling and grammar error checking featured in the most popular word processing software.

The statistical models underlying the grading of essays are based on a large number of essays written on the same topic and at the same grade level and evaluated by at least two human raters.

While the software doesn’t “understand” what is written, it does quickly identify patterns of expression that human raters reward and penalize.

Our hope is that teachers see the technology as an additional tool to help students improve their writing. When most high school writing teachers give an assignment, they may have upwards of 150 papers to grade (five periods times 30 students in each class).

It is no surprise that the average number of writing assignments in a semester is only three.

And one thing we do know after 50 years of educational research is: If you want to be a better writer, you have to write more.

The technology can provide greater opportunity for more writing, but it is the teacher who still is the facilitator of instruction and the coach to help students target what needs to be improved, how to incorporate creativity and voice in writing and fluidity.

The automation provides a mechanism for consistent and continuous feedback and data to show students’ writing progressions.

The feedback provided by the web-based software is both quantitative and qualitative.

That is, in addition to an overall rating, students may receive scores on individual attributes of writing and the software may summarize or highlight a variety of errors ranging from simple grammar to style or content.

Some of the software packages also provide a discourse analysis of the work.

Certainly, a writer could conclude: “Clearly the computer doesn’t understand the brilliance of my prose.” But our hope would be that the writer would respond, “Wow, if the computer doesn’t understand what I am trying to write, how can my teacher?” Students will work diligently to modify their writing.

When GPS devices first came out, they were often confusing, provided shortcuts that didn’t make sense and were not particularly adaptable when you knew a better route.

The experience certainly wasn’t as good compared to having a native guide take you to your destination.

But take a look at GPS devices today — many of the old problems have been addressed. They are still not perfect, but I wouldn’t take a business trip without one.

Mark D. Shermis, Ph.D.

Akron

Editor’s note: The writer is a University of Akron dean and principal investigator for a national study on automated essay scoring.

Tax relief?for the rich

Vincent Picone wrote arguing against increasing taxes on the wealthy because the money they make on investments was already taxed at 28 percent when they earned it the first time (“Paying their fair share,” April 26).

Last election cycle, the GOP was saying an increase in capital gains taxes would affect millions of people’s retirement accounts. Hopefully, the majority could see through that smoke screen because retirement accounts are tax exempt until you withdraw.

Does Picone seriously think people who have millions to invest in stocks, futures, commodities or whatever got that money by earning a paycheck? Highly paid executives are paid by other means besides salary to circumvent the tax code.

They get stock options. After holding them, they would be taxed at a 15 percent rate for capital gains.

Picone has other statistics that he tossed out about how the top 10 percent pay 70 percent of the taxes in America, and that 48 percent of Americans pay nothing.

That’s because 48 percent of Americans are under the poverty level, thanks much to the class warfare that has been perpetrated by corporate and individual greed.

Every time there is talk about raising the minimum wage, there is a loud cry from the right about how it will cost jobs and increase inflation. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Dow Jones is back over 13,000, but unemployment is still over 8 percent.

Picone also managed to leave out the fact that if an investment earns a capital gain, it is the gain that is taxed at the lower rate, not the investment itself. That is the smoke screen, making it sound like the government is double-dipping when the truth is the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor.

David Rose

Green

Drive by lights

They drive at dusk and at night without lights, they drive in the early morning before the sun comes up without lights, and they drive in rainstorms and snowstorms without lights.

Ohio now has a law that states if you are running your windshield wipers, your headlights must be on, too. Besides being very dangerous, it should be common sense to use your headlights at these times of day, but I guess I am asking too much of people.

Maybe the state should spend a little money on a campaign to inform people of the law and the danger. Just coming through the valley tonight, there was a car ahead of me without any lights on. Luckily, it was a white car, but then I encountered a dark blue van coming in the opposite direction without lights, and this one was difficult to see.

I hope some people see this and recognize themselves, but what I fear is that it will be the same old story of thinking it is always the other guy. Turn on your lights. Remember, the life you save might just be your own.

Christine Mohr

Stow