Factors associated with prompt difficulty in automated essay scoring

Aleksandr Shneyderman, Florida International University


This study explores factors related to the prompt difficulty in Automated Essay Scoring. The sample was composed of 6,924 students. For each student, there were 1-4 essays, across 20 different writing prompts, for a total of 20,243 essays. E-rater® v.2 essay scoring engine developed by the Educational Testing Service was used to score the essays. The scoring engine employs a statistical model that incorporates 10 predictors associated with writing characteristics of which 8 were used. The Rasch partial credit analysis was applied to the scores to determine the difficulty levels of prompts. In addition, the scores were used as outcomes in the series of hierarchical linear models (HLM) in which students and prompts constituted the cross-classification levels. This methodology was used to explore the partitioning of the essay score variance. The results indicated significant differences in prompt difficulty levels due to genre. Descriptive prompts, as a group, were found to be more difficult than the persuasive prompts. In addition, the essay score variance was partitioned between students and prompts. The amount of the essay score variance that lies between prompts was found to be relatively small (4 to 7 percent). When the essay-level, student-level-and prompt-level predictors were included in the model, it was able to explain almost all variance that lies between prompts. Since in most high-stakes writing assessments only 1-2 prompts per students are used, the essay score variance that lies between prompts represents an undesirable or "noise" variation. Identifying factors associated with this "noise" variance may prove to be important for prompt writing and for constructing Automated Essay Scoring mechanisms for weighting prompt difficulty when assigning essay score.

Subject Area

Educational evaluation|Educational software

Recommended Citation

Shneyderman, Aleksandr, "Factors associated with prompt difficulty in automated essay scoring" (2006). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3235618.