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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ug, how can we solve anything if we confuse correlation with causation?

The headline reads: "School Absences Translate to Lower Test Scores, Study Says".

If you ain't in school, ya ain't gonna learn. That's obvious. But this article from Sarah D. Sparks implies causation--that missing school causes the lower test scores. Sparks argues that "The analysis contributes to mounting evidence that absenteeism puts students at greater risk of poor academic achievement and eventually dropping out of high school."

If it's true that absenteeism is a causal factor, the solution is very simple: make sure those kids get to school every day. So let's push for more government grant money to hire a whole army of truancy officers!

However, let's remember:

Any teacher will tell you that missing school is bad, but what really matters is why those kids are missing school. Correlations can be interesting but identifying causation is how you solve problems.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New Feature Proposal: Grammar marks

Teachers have requested that EssayTagger add support for marking grammar errors. Here's how I'm thinking of doing it.

Update 1/7/13:
The Error Mark feature has been built and is now released! Read about it here!

Teachers would like a streamlined way to note missing commas, spelling errors, and a wide array of other grammar errors. Most of us envision this as an "SP" icon for spelling, perhaps a "~" for a split infinitive, and so on.

Sounds easy, but...
There are a couple of challenges with this. First, there doesn't seem to be a standardized set of symbols or abbreviations for each possible error. Teachers tend to develop their own system and give students a decoder key at the beginning of the semester. It's not really practical for us to support any arbitrary collection of teacher-generated symbols. The flip side isn't any better; I don't want to create my own set of symbols and force all EssayTagger users to adopt them.

The other problem is that the list of possible errors is really long. It would be very difficult to organize and present all those symbols in a user-friendly manner. It wouldn't save you any time if you had to sift through a confusing list of 40+ symbols. Maybe we could help you pare down the list to just the errors that you care about most, but there are still complexities and tradeoffs.

Is it worth it?
But my biggest misgiving is that I question how valuable it is in the first place. How much are we really helping our students when we mark up and correct every grammar error on their papers? Do the students really look at those edits? Do they internalize them or learn from them in any way? Do we hold them accountable to learning from them?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Latest Update: More screen space for the grading app!

I do just about everything for EssayTagger on my MacBook Air. The default screen resolution of 1440x900 makes the grading app look great. There's plenty of space for everything.

But one of the more pressing items on my to-do list was to address the needs of users with more cramped screens. I set my MacBook's resolution down to 1024x768 and figured out how to make the grading app fit a bit more comfortably in that constrained space.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to get your administrators excited about EssayTagger

You (hopefully) want EssayTagger at your school. And we would both rather see schools and districts pay for the licenses.

To that end, we've developed a new slideshow presentation aimed specifically at administrators. It gives a quick overview of how EssayTagger works and then dives deep into what administrators care about most: data and Common Core!

View the slideshow

Share the slideshow with your administrator and encourage them to send any questions my way (all of my contact info is provided at the end of the presentation).

We see a trifecta of benefits for teachers, administrators, and -- of course -- students. If we can get administrators excited and onboard, we can all be happy campers!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pricing changes for 2013

With EssayTagger's growth and evolution it's time to revise our marketing emphasis and pricing model.

Reaching maturity
EssayTagger launched at the 2011 NCTE conference in Chicago as a bare-bones site that was built primarily around our innovative grading app. In the early days we were in "Open Beta" and all accounts were completely free. We then shifted to early adopter discounted pricing while continuing to expand our feature set at a nonstop pace. And because we are a cloud-based service every single feature upgrade we make is instantly available to all users (think how Google Drive constantly evolves vs installed software like Microsoft Word that forces you to buy upgrades).

The site is now a full end-to-end solution from configuring a Common Core-aligned rubric all the way to statistical analysis of your grading results and student-by-student Common Core-aligned progression tracking.

Instructors from nearly 1,000 different schools across 60 countries have graded thousands of essays in EssayTagger.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Latest Update: Rubrics can now be downloaded as Excel files!

We're doing everything we can to encourage more teacher collaboration within teams and across the entire web. One of the main ways we do this is through rubric sharing.

Instructors can already create their own rubrics; share them via email, Twitter, facebook, or hyperlink; print them (Macs can save the printable version to PDF); import any EssayTagger rubric into their own accounts; and edit those rubrics however they please.

Now you can also download any EssayTagger rubric as an Excel CSV file.

The CSV file format is very common and is supported by most spreadsheet programs (Excel, Google Drive spreadsheet, etc.).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Latest Update: Downloadable results data!

As part of our push for new and improved data reporting, you can now download all of your results/grading data for each of your assignments. This feature is fully reverse-compatible with all existing assignments.

We don't believe in vendor lock-in so we're happy and excited to offer yet another way for you to access your results data. It's your data; it shouldn't be trapped on our servers.

What's in the download?
All of the data in the chart shown below will be included in the data download as well as a few extra fields. Here's the full list:

Using EssayTagger to level expectations within teacher teams

Teacher teams should have a common vision for what "success" means for their students. EssayTagger collects and analyzes a ton of data which can be used to create consistent expectations across the teacher team.

Whenever you grade an assignment in EssayTagger you end up with an assortment of data reports that provide a deeper insight into how your students performed, based on your evaluations.

That's all well and good, but what is the relevance to teachers operating in a team-based approach? What does the rest of the Sophomore English team care about the results from my two Soph Eng sections?

At a minimum, compare results and discuss
Maybe I find that my sections are doing reasonably well on Thesis but are still developing their skills with Counterclaims. Are the other Soph Eng teachers seeing the same thing with their students?

If so, we can talk about strategies to improve their work with addressing the opposing viewpoint.

Or perhaps we'll find that my Thesis results look stronger than the other teachers' results. Now things get interesting. Am I doing something awesome that's really working with my kids or am I just grading their theses too generously?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Latest Update: New data reports!

With EssayTagger's core platform in place, it's time to turn our attention to the incredibly rich data that is generated when you grade your essays in our system.

UPDATE 11/3:
We've already updated the charts quite a bit and have updated this post to reflect the changes!

UPDATE 11/29:
Even more improvements and two new charts! Post updated again.

UPDATE 11/30:
You can now download your grading data to Excel!

We've reached the first milestone of our major push to enhance and extend the data reporting features of the site. Today's release opens the first new data reports on a beta test basis. "Beta" in programmer lingo means it's not yet finalized, but is mostly where it needs to be. There will likely be further refinements based on instructors' feedback as well as minor bugs to be fixed.

Quick highlights
  • "Section snapshot" overall section-wide aggregate performance graph
  • "Section details" chart of all students' performance on each rubric element
  • "Individual details" in-depth view of a particular student's performance on the assignment
  • Statistically-significant outlier identification to help you focus on the students who are furthest from the pack.

All of these data reports are amazingly useful tools for teachers, but I'm particularly excited about the statistical analysis we're able to provide. You don't have to know the first thing about stats, standard deviation, or z-values; we're computing everything for you and flagging the kids that need your attention the most!

You grade, we crunch the numbers. How awesome is that?!

(see the demo video here: http://youtu.be/WZsEoAJEkv0)

"Section snapshot" overall results
This is the new default view; you'll be routed here automatically when you click "exit grading app" when you're done grading. It's the broadest view of the data and includes two charts. The goal is to provide a rough "snapshot" look at how your class section performed as a whole on the essays graded thus far:

The stacked column graph displays how many of your students fell into which quality levels when you evaluated their essays in the grading app.

Put simply: the more green, the better.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Latest Update: Common Core progression-tracking!

Grades and GPAs are just rough estimates. It's more important to keep track of which skills your students have mastered. That's where Common Core-aligned progression tracking comes in. It's a big deal.

Most of us have had this skeptical suspicion: Am I aligning my curriculum to Common Core just because some bureaucrats said I have to?

If that were all that was behind Common Core, then it would absolutely be a waste of our time.

But curriculum alignment is just stage 1. Here's the full picture:

  1. Align curriculum to Common Core
  2. Assess within Common Core
  3. Report and track student data within Common Core
  4. Develop and share remediation strategies tied to Common Core
Only at this high-level view does it all start to come together. The overarching goal is to enable apples-to-apples comparisons that can then be used to drive stage 4 where every teacher in America is creating interchangeable exercises and materials.

Let's be more concrete. EssayTagger is focused on stages 1-3, culminating in our Common Core-aligned progression tracking that was just released:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Latest Update: Language and Speaking & Listening Common Core standards added!

Based on teachers' feedback, I've added the Language and Speaking & Listening standards to our Common Core Rubric Creation Tool.

The Language standards are necessarily quite mechanical (e.g. L.9-10.2a is the semicolon) and as such are often more suited to drill-and-skill type exercises and assessments, though certainly an instructor could construct an essay rubric that included a few specific mechanical elements.

The Speaking & Listening standards are, not surprisingly, even further afield from EssayTagger's emphasis on essay assessment. However, the Common Core Rubric Creation Tool isn't limited to just EssayTagger use and teachers did request that this standard be included. And, if you're a little creative, there actually are ways to make the Speaking & Listening standards work within EssayTagger (e.g. evaluating students' self-assessments after delivering a speech).

Both of these Common Core standards were added to the tool as a direct result of teacher requests. I had intentionally passed them up when I originally released the tool.

We are incredibly receptive to instructor feedback so keep the comments coming!

Friday, October 26, 2012

And... we're back!

Friday, Oct 26th, 2pm:
EssayTagger.com is back up and seems to be responding normally. See my earlier post and its live updates during the morning's downtime.

What happened?
Google App Engine suffered a worldwide outage around 9:30am (CST) Friday after which they slowly restored services. The outage knocked out major sites like Dropbox, Instagram, Khan Academy, and anyone else running on Google's infrastructure. During most of this outage EssayTagger.com was either inaccessible or experienced excruciatingly slow load times. The site reached stability around 2pm.

Is this normal?
Nope. An outage of this scale is unprecedented. Most tech folks view Google's infrastructure as being as robust and as close to invulnerable as you can get and their track history had borne that out, until this morning.

Are you going to drop Google App Engine now?
For the moment, no. This was an aberration. The realities of website hosting are that downtime happens, no matter which infrastructure you're running on. And, to be honest, I have much more faith in Google's engineers than I do in anyone else -- including myself. Yes, their system failed this morning, but in the brief 11 months of EssayTagger's life, Google App Engine has been remarkably stable and much more reliable than anything else out there.

Read Google's mea culpa, their analysis of what happened, and the new preventative measures they've put in place:

"We know you rely on App Engine to create applications that are easy to develop and manage without having to worry about downtime. App Engine is not supposed to go down, and our engineers work diligently to ensure that it doesn’t. [...] We know that hundreds of thousands of developers rely on App Engine to provide a stable, scalable infrastructure for their applications, and we will continue to improve our systems and processes to live up to this expectation."

Site down: Google's servers experiencing problems

Friday, October 26th, 9:53am: 
The site is currently down. We run on Google's "App Engine" (GAE) infrastructure and they are currently experiencing problems that render our site -- and other prominent App Engine sites like KhanAcademy.org -- inaccessible.

Google App Engine status can normally be viewed here, but even the status page is failing to respond.

Needless to say, this is inconvenient but also rare; Google's infrastructure is among the best in the world and they rarely ever see interruptions of their App Engine service.

Interestingly, google.com search service is still functioning (as is blogger.com -- as evidenced by this post being publishable!). Not surprising that they'd have a separate set of servers for their core business.

Follow the latest updates on #GAE via Twitter:

And my own Twitter account:

UPDATE 11:10am
EssayTagger.com has begun to respond again, but service is intermittent. Google App Engine is not yet stable.

UPDATE 11:35am
From Google's Max Ross: "At approximately 7:30am Pacific time this morning, Google began experiencing slow performance and dropped connections from one of the components of App Engine.  The symptoms that service users would experience include slow response and an inability to connect to services.  We currently show that a majority of App Engine users and services are affected.  Google engineering teams are investigating a number of options for restoring service as quickly as possible, and we will provide another update as information changes, or within 60 minutes."

UPDATE 12:51pm
From Google's Christina Ilvento: "We are continuing work to correct the ongoing issues with App Engine.  Operation has been restored for some services, while others continue to see slow response times and elevated error rates.  The malfunction appears to be limited to a single component which routes requests from users to the application instance they are using, and does not affect the application instances themselves.

We’ll post another status update as more information becomes available, and/or no later than one hour from now."

EssayTagger.com is now responding more consistently. Cautiously optimistic that we're through the worst of it.

UPDATE 1:45pm
The App Engine status board is looking better. The error spike is returning to more sane levels but the system is still in an "elevated" problem state.

EssayTagger.com performance is still a little unpredictable with intermittent reports of documents that couldn't be uploaded to the system. We rely on Google Docs under the hood to process incoming documents so even if our site is working, this integration point with Google might still see issues.

Update 2:07pm

From Google's Christina Ilvento: "At this point, we have stabilized service to App Engine applications. App Engine is now successfully serving at our normal daily traffic level, and we are closely monitoring the situation and working to prevent recurrence of this incident.

This morning around 7:30AM US/Pacific time, a large percentage of App Engine’s load balancing infrastructure began failing. As the system recovered, individual jobs became overloaded with backed-up traffic, resulting in cascading failures. Affected applications experienced increased latencies and error rates. Once we confirmed this cycle, we temporarily shut down all traffic and then slowly ramped it back up to avoid overloading the load balancing infrastructure as it recovered. This restored normal serving behavior for all applications. 

We’ll be posting a more detailed analysis of this incident once we have fully investigated and analyzed the root cause."

So in theory EssayTagger.com and all other affected websites should be back to full power.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Latest Update: New and improved free trial!

Let's jump straight to the good stuff:

The new free trial will allow instructors to grade up to 99 essays in one assignment!

Our original free trial allowed for only a single class set of essays (~25). The original idea was to encourage teachers to start small. As a classroom teacher I advocated for the small trial approach to minimize any possible classroom disasters.

Don't get me wrong, I think EssayTagger is a remarkably robust system, but anytime a new workflow or new technology is involved, there's always the risk of things going wrong. And as a frazzled teacher I'd rather see only one section crash and burn than all three!

But then came the feedback
That's all nice in theory, but in reality teachers were more unhappy about creating inconsistencies between their sections by singling out just one of them to try EssayTagger. It's too much hassle to have different sections in different places or systems; second period is over here, but fourth and sixth periods are over there.

So we changed it
Our new approach now lets the instructors decide if they want to have all of their sections switch to EssayTagger or just experiment with one or two sections.

The only new limitation is that free trial users can only have one assignment in the system at a time. And even if you delete and start over with a new assignment, the 99 essay limit continues to count down. I think that's a reasonable compromise.

Existing free trial users
Your free trial accounts have been automatically upgraded to the 99 essay limit. If you have more than one assignment in the system, don't worry, you get to keep them; they've been "grandfathered" in so you don't lose your existing data. You just won't be able to create any new assignments as a free trial user.

Your thoughts?
Being a classroom teacher myself, I try to bias all company decisions toward what's best for teachers and their students. I hope this improvement is further proof of that commitment. As always, I'm eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Signs of the Grammar Apocalypse: #1

Screencap from Sunday night's Chargers-Saints game after Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas' record of 47 consecutive games with a TD pass.

Just indescribably horrible. We are doomed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Announcing: Free Common Core Rubric Creation Tool!

We're super-proud to announce the release of our new tool that helps teachers create Common Core-aligned rubrics! Open to the public, totally free.

EssayTagger's Common Core Rubric Creation Tool

You are ahead of the curve and are working hard to align your curriculum to Common Core. But assessing and tracking your students' progress within Common Core is difficult -- and nigh impossible to do for essays.

I spent the whole dang summer wrestling with the standards, trying to figure out how to incorporate them into real-world, practical writing rubrics.

My initial approach was to try to coax the actual text of the standards into a more rubric-friendly format. But teachers shouldn't have to waste their time adapting the W.8.1a text just to be able to include "Thesis" on their rubrics.

Instead just evaluate "Thesis" like you normally would but add, "Oh, and by the way, 'Thesis' is part of W.8.1a." This is where the tool comes in to help you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On teacher accountability, pt1: The trouble with bad data

In Part 1 I lay out the case against teacher accountability measures via "value-added" analysis of standardized test score data. In part 2 I offer practical compromises.

Here in the Chicagoland area we are in the fourth day of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike that is making national headlines.

I did my Master of Education and teacher certification program at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Not surprisingly, a lot of my former classmates are current Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers. I spoke with them last night as they returned from a day out on the picket lines.

They made it clear that this was about fighting a flawed teacher evaluation system that puts undo emphasis on their students' standardized test scores. They also have serious concerns about the push to privatize the public school system. Then are the more tangible things they're fighting for like reduced class sizes (raise your hand if you think 38 teenagers in one room can be productive at anything).

The media and the average Joe on the street think this is about money or benefits or the teachers stubbornly refusing any form of accountability. This is incorrect.

Let's talk about accountability. It's important.
Accountability matters. Teachers should be held to high standards and should be judged by the quality of their work.

Understand that teachers aren't fighting accountability; they're fighting a particular form of accountability that is of dubious value and may indeed be deeply flawed.

On teacher accountability, pt2: Possible compromises

In part 1 I laid out the case against the current method of teacher accountability via value-added analysis. Here I offer what I think are reasonable compromises.

This focus on quantifiable standardized test scores is not going to go away. Some form of accountability linked to test scores is unavoidable. Period. I leave it to the statisticians to refine the analysis and reduce that 53% margin of error.

But here are some practical solutions to incorporate this data while controlling for its flaws:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Making Common Core work, pt2: The big picture

Teachers and administrators need to understand the big picture of where Common Core is headed. Here's your quick preview.

The long view
At a surface level the Common Core standards specify what students should know or be able to do. We're focused on how to integrate that into our classrooms. That part is straightforward and obvious.

But the big picture is much bigger than this. 

Establishing a common set of target skills is just step one. The Common Core standards are not a goal unto themselves but merely a means to an end. The real goals lay beyond. One of the major ones, not surprisingly, is all about data.

Knowing a student's GPA doesn't convey enough information. Knowing that she got a B- in Sophomore English isn't enough. But knowing that she's struggling with W.9-10.1d is useful.

The standards create a common reference point for learning targets that are otherwise ad hoc, disorganized, or nonexistent. Forget leaving notes to next year's teachers that "Johnny is weak on fractions" or that "Sarah struggles with citations." That world is coming to an end. Too much information is lost that way, too much time is wasted on reassessing students' abilities at the beginning of each year.

Instead teachers will have standardized reporting tools that use the Common Core framework to track a student's entire educational record on a skill-by-skill progression level. 

Common Core isn't just about what to teach, it's about tracking what has been learned.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Making Common Core work, pt1: Why it's awkward

Forget "aligning" with Common Core; how the heck do you even begin to use Common Core?!

This multi-part series will explore some possibilities for making Common Core relevant and actually useful in real-world classrooms.

I've been engaged in a number of great discussions lately about how best to incorporate the Common Core English/Language Arts (CC ELA) standards into the classroom. My vision for how to work with these standards is evolving quickly and I wanted to share my thoughts to stimulate further discussions.

And very soon I will be implementing some form of Common Core integration with EssayTagger. I'd rather have the idea be well-thrashed out before I build a half-baked solution.

But first we have to understand the Common Core ELA beast for what it is.

Basic tensions
Common Core is inevitable. It'll be on us faster than any of us are ready for and we best get prepared ASAP. Gripe and moan and cry all you want, it ain't gonna change a thing.

Worse: The language of the Common Core standards is not classroom-friendly or, more accurately, it is not student-friendly.

Worse(er) (hee hee! Relax!): The Common Core standards are not directly compatible with how we classroom teachers work with our students and provide feedback.

This all being said, the Common Core ELA standards are not bad. They are actually quite reasonable. They're just not a great fit; the administrators' standards-based data-tracking world does not align smoothly with classroom reality. Shocker.

Common Core - A closer look
Let's stop talking and dive in.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Every site is getting hacked! Will I (and my students) be safe?

In the last few days about 8 million user accounts from LinkedIn, eHarmony, and Last.fm were compromised by hackers. The users' passwords were posted in their protected, encoded form but many of them had already been cracked.

The reality is that hackers can probably work their way into any system if they put in enough of a concerted effort. That's scary.

But access is just the first step. They can steal all the passwords they want, but if the passwords are properly encrypted, your information might still be safe.

Unfortunately all of the hacked sites this week were horribly irresponsible in how they handled users' passwords.

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Rubric: Common Core Explanatory / Informative Writing (9-10) rubric

The first of many rubrics distilled from the Common Core State Standards.

Update 9/21/12:
In the six months since this post was originally published, my view of how to integrate with Common Core has evolved a considerable amount. This post is now old news. I've built a free, publicly-accessible tool to help teachers create their own customized Common Core-aligned rubrics. It's going to make life SO much easier for all of us!

Read about this new approach or jump straight to the EssayTagger Common Core Rubric Creation Tool

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Original Post:
The Common Core State Standards. Oof.

You've heard all the talk. You suspect they might get in your way and make your life a living hell. Just thinking about them makes you want to curl up on the couch in the fetal position and take a nap (my default reaction to moderately stressful things).

I'm not here to sell you on its merits or argue that there is a lack thereof. I'm here to make your life a little bit easier when you find yourself held accountable to the Common Core standards when teaching writing.

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Rubric: "They Say, I Say"

One of our first demo rubrics is now available for anyone to use in their own EssayTagger assignments!

Gerald Graff was one of my professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago during my M.Ed. program. And, I'll be honest, I was very wary of "They Say, I Say" when he first explained the concept of the book to my class. But TSIS quickly won me over. And the skyrocketing sales that he and his wife/co-writer have enjoyed certainly show that others appreciate its value as well.

But there was one thing I noticed -- the book does not address assessment. I love the guidance it offers for teaching composition and the structure it gives to developing writers, but I felt like there was a missing final chapter on how to evaluate the resulting TSIS-style essays.

So I began developing a TSIS-style rubric that would work within the EssayTagger system. I met with Prof. Graff to show him an early draft and his eyes lit up with enthusiasm.

Now that I've completed EssayTagger's rubric sharing and import features, I can post the rubric for anyone to use:

EssayTagger "They Say, I Say" rubric:

This rubric is listed as a "work-in-progress" because, well, it is. But it's a pretty dang good start. And keep in mind that any rubric shared on EssayTagger is meant to be a starting point. Teachers should alter and customize these rubrics however they see fit.

Let me know what you think!

New Rubric: Four-Strand/Four-Level

From what I'm told, the Four-Strand/Four-Level rubric is fairly common in Washington schools. I've adapted it for use in EssayTagger (you can import it straight into your own assignments!) but you'll still want to customize it to suit your needs.

EssayTagger version of the Four-Strand/Four-Level rubric:

And as I've said previously, because rubrics are so macroscopic, they inevitably undergo some changes when they are adapted for the much more fine-grained world of EssayTagger.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Changing how we think about rubrics

Traditional rubrics are too general and macroscopic to help students. The future is specificity. And it's here.

Sharing rubrics is a simple, but important, way for teachers to collaborate.

Unfortunately, traditional rubrics -- by their nature -- can only address general, overall trends in a paper: "Some evidence was insufficient." That's fine for a quick, high-level diagnostic, but it's not very helpful for the student.

My goal when I'm grading papers is to coach the students so they can learn from their mistakes and do better next time. Traditional rubrics are good for setting expectations before the attempt, but once the essays are graded, they're really just an assessment tool. They're not a learning tool.

In order to improve, students need more fine-grained feedback: Which specific piece of evidence was weak? Why wasn't it compelling?

Traditional rubrics simply can't address these questions (nor, to be fair, were they meant to). Traditional rubrics are macroscopic. But students need the microscopic.

Latest Update: Rubric sharing and rubric import!

Instructions for using our new rubric sharing and rubric import features!

You can -- and should -- share your EssayTagger rubrics with your colleagues and/or the whole world wide web!

Sharing a rubric
After you log in you'll notice the new top nav menu bar:

Here's a bigger view so you can read the options:

Click on "my rubrics" and you'll see the new My Rubrics page:

This page will list all of your rubrics. Pick a rubric you'd like to share and click on the "view / share" link. That will take you to the Sharing Info page for that rubric:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Accountability and Incentives: A Cautionary Tale, pt1


I understand the rationale behind the push for ever-increasing teacher accountability -- it's natural to want to insure that your kids are getting the quality education they deserve. Teachers can't just sit back and say, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing." Those days are over. Fair enough.

But we teachers need the rest of the country to understand that when we push back against how teacher accountability is being implemented, we are not just scurrying around trying to hide our incompetence or protect our "cushy" jobs.

We can handle the scrutiny. Most of us would be eager to let our students' successes serve as evidence of our effectiveness as educators. I don't think we fear accountability -- if that accountability is implemented properly, if success is defined properly.

It's not about rigging the game in our favor, lowering the bar, or any of that nonsense; it's about making sure that we're judged for the things that really matter, the things that we teachers do that actually improve students' lives.

The American public needs to realize that not all forms of teacher accountability are created equal. Worse, the most popular methods can be misleading or downright detrimental. Even "no-brainer" approaches like rewarding "effective" teachers with bonuses have already ended in failure. Just because greed-maximizing incentives (sort of) work for capitalism doesn't mean they work for education.

However, hearing these arguments and really feeling them are two different things. And somehow teachers have been turned into the enemy -- or at least that's how it feels to us -- to the point where no one seems much interested in listening to the people who have the most expertise on the subject.

But I think the power of satire and absurdity has a chance to get the message across. So, in that vein, I offer you:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Latest Updates: Going global + enhanced security for student info

We are now global! 
Everyone on the planet can now grade essays faster and more efficiently!

Users from anywhere in the world can register on the site and use the free trial to grade a class set of essays (full details on the registration page).

Enhanced security for student information
Part of our to-do list for going global was to make sure that we were doing everything in our power to secure and protect students' personal information. Here are the steps we've taken:

Students' personal information is encrypted in our database using industry-standard best practices to guide our selection of encryption algorithms and encryption strength. If a hacker were to gain access to our records, s/he would only see the encrypted values:

firstName lastName email
BsBzpBQkQIN9s6RwV7fr58G2eY8qn2a6 yNd9sZ056n5xS14Qe5uZd3hefgY3s59i vA8ezh8Vlm3W9WscfkFGQw4C

Each piece of information is individually encrypted in such a way that "cracking the code" for one value does not make it any easier to decrypt the other values.

In fact, EssayTagger's own internal view of the database makes students' information appear just as garbled to us as it would be to an outside hacker.

We have taken these precautions even though it is highly unlikely that our database would be compromised. We are running on Google's computing infrastructure and therefore Google's efforts to safeguard their own computers are our first line of defense. Their computing infrastructure is among the most robust and powerful in the world and any improvement they make to the security of their system automatically protects EssayTagger.com under the same umbrella.

We will never contact a student unless it is an assignment-related notification (e.g. to tell them that their graded essay is available for their review) or if there is a technical issue that requires action on the student's part in order to be resolved.

Note: Instructors can decide whether or not they want the system to collect and store student email addresses. This will allow teachers to remain in compliance if there are any local or national restrictions regarding student contact info.

We will not sell or share students' personal information with any third parties or use students' information for marketing or any purposes outside of what is required to facilitate student-teacher interaction in our system.

Students are not added to any mailing lists.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Open Beta extended and subscription bonus announced!

I have two important EssayTagger.com updates to share:

Open Beta extended
Our free Open Beta feedback period has been extended to February 10th! That gives you and your colleagues a little more time to try us out as much as you like without committing a single dime. After Feb 10th our $10/month pricing will go into effect.

I'm super-grateful for the valuable feedback we've received during this Open Beta period. So many of your questions, comments, and criticisms have really helped to guide my thinking and have already helped EssayTagger evolve.

Subscription bonus
I think you early adopters deserve to be rewarded. It takes courage and patience to dive into new technology that does not yet have a proven track record.

So I'm pleased to announce our Open Beta subscription bonus: Anyone who subscribes to EssayTagger before the end of Open Beta will receive their first month of service for $1.


  • Commit to a subscription anytime before Feb 10th, 11:59pm (CST).
  • Your first month will be $1.
  • You won't be billed until Feb 11th.
  • Subsequent months will be billed at our standard $10/month rate.
  • Anyone is eligible--including new users--as long they commit before the deadline.
  • See the FAQ for info on canceling, summer break, and group licenses.

Help us spread the word!
Now is obviously the time to try us out. Please help us build a spike of interest in these last two weeks of Open Beta!

Tweet a link to this post, blog about it, tell your colleagues and friends.

And keep that feedback coming!