Using the Developmental Path of Cause to Bridge the Gap between AWE Scores and Writing Teachers’ Evaluations


  • Hong Ma Iowa State University
  • Tammy Slater Iowa State University



score validation, AWE scores


Supported by artificial intelligence (AI), the most advanced Automatic Writing Evaluation (AWE) systems have gained increasing attention for their ability to provide immediate scoring and formative feedback, yet teachers have been hesitant to implement them into their classes because correlations between the grades they assign and the AWE scores have generally been low. This begs the question of where improvements in evaluation may need to be made, and what approaches are available to carry out this improvement. This mixed-method study involved 59 cause and effect essays collected from English language learners enrolled in six different sections of a college level academic writing course and utilized theory proposed by Slater and Mohan (2010) regarding the developmental path of cause. The study compared the results of raters who used this developmental path with the accuracy of AWE scores produced by Criterion, an AWE tool developed by Educational Testing Service (ETS), and the grades reported by teachers. Findings suggested that if Criterion is to be used successfully in the classroom, writing teachers need to take a meaning-based approach to their assessment, which would allow them and their students to understand more fully how language constructs cause and effect. Using the developmental path of cause as an analytical framework for assessment may then help teachers assign grades that are more in sync with AWE scores, which in turn can help students gain more trust in the scores they receive from both their teachers and Criterion.

Author Biographies

Hong Ma, Iowa State University

Hong Ma is a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics and Technology at Iowa State University. Her primary research interests lay in computer-assisted language learning and language testing. She is currently leading multiple research projects, which intend to develop and evaluate a vocabulary- learning tool and extract a more pedagogy-informed vocabulary list using programming language.

Tammy Slater, Iowa State University

Tammy Slater is an associate professor in Applied Linguistics and Technology at Iowa State University. Her research draws upon Systemic Functional Linguistics to understand the development of academic language through content-based and project-based teaching and learning, particularly as it informs English language education.


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How to Cite

Ma, H., & Slater, T. (2015). Using the Developmental Path of Cause to Bridge the Gap between AWE Scores and Writing Teachers’ Evaluations. Writing and Pedagogy, 7(2-3), 395–422.



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