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Full text of "The Hillegas scale"

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ORGANIZE!* FBBRUAET 28, lOOl 
WILLIAM ALLAN NBILBON, PKES1UKNI. V. W. O. HBE9EY, SRC'T AND IDEAS. 

CHARLES SWAIN THOMAS, EDITOR 



{Editorial correspondence should be sent to the Editor at Newtonville, 
[Mass.; business correspondence should be sent to the Secretary-Treas- 
\urer at 17 Lawrence Hall, Cambridge, Mass. 



'LEAFLET CHARLES SWAIN THOMAS JANUARY 

NO. 10-4 NEWTON HIGH SCHOOL lOlS 



THE HILLEGAS SCALE 

At the meeting of the Association on Saturday, Decem- 
ber 14th where the general topic was 'Tests of Efficiency 
and Standards of Measurement in the Teaching of Eng- 
lish Composition," the center of interest and attack was the 
Hillegas Scale. 

As the essential characteristics of this scale have already 
been explained in the November Leaflet, I need merely 
repeat here that this device, worked out by Professor Milo 
|B. Hillegas, of Teachers College, Columbia University, 
consists of ten selected themes varying in merit from to 
a maximum of 937. The scale is designed to aid the cor- 
rector in affixing to any given theme under survey a value 
which corresponds most nearly to the value designated by 
the rating affixed to one of the ten Hillegas norms, the 
norms themselves representing the concerted judgment of 
many different critics. If the'them? under survey falls 
somewhere between Value 585 and Value 675, for example, 
the corrector may, after due judgment, grade it 634, or, 
roughly speaking, 63^2 % . 

To test the practical value of this scheme, Dr. William 
Setchel Learned, Joseph Lee Fellow for Research in Edu- 
cation at Harvard University, recently undertook a series 
of experiments in the Newton schools. A set of fifty pa- 
pers, written by elementary, grammar, and high-school pu- 
pils, was graded subjectively by five elementary-school teach- 
ers, five grammar-school teachers, and five high-school 
teachers. The markers were simply asked to rate the re- 
lative value of each paper as a bit of prose composition, 
and to designate this subjective rating by a percentage mark 
ranging according to judgment, anywhere from to 100%. 

Three weeks later these same fifteen judges, with the 
Hillegas Scale before them, took these same fifty papers, 
and graded them in relation to the values affixed to the 



305480 



2 *- : •. T h e\ ' Eyn tytis h Leaflet 

•*. " : y. ••. .•. •••. 

compo^ftfcSisJ^'tJ^e'J^afeV/^i/other words, they attempt- 
ed to discard their subjective estimate, and to adjust a 
given theme, as nearly as possible, to one of the ten Hil- 
legas norms. They indicated the measure of the variation 
from this norm by the proper percentage figures. For ex- 
ample, if the theme seemed to be nearest in merit to No. 
7 of the Scale with its affixed value of 675, but inferior 
to No. 7, it was graded 61%, let us say; if superior, per- 
haps 73%. 

The interesting facts revealed by this experiment are 
briefly summerizeel by Dr. Learned : 

"Marking without the scale, the judges assigned to the 
papers values which varied among themselves from 30% 
in one case to 85% in another. The average extreme 
variation of all fifty papers was 58%. When assigned with 
the scale, the ratings varied from 18% in one case to 73% 
in 'another. The average extreme variation was 4.4%, 
showing a gain in uniformity of 14%, presumably due to 
the scale. 

The variation of the nine best judgments out of the 
fifteen, (i. e. the nine ratings grouped about the median 
value assigned to each paper.) was from 10% to 43^ ; 
their average extreme variation was 30%. Using the scale, 
this variation was reduced to from 7% to 32%, and the 
average extreme variation to 17%, showing a gain for the 
scale of 13%. 

An analysis of the effects of the scale on the average 
ratings of the teachers discloses the following: Without 
the scale, the average ratings of the teachers for the en- 
tire fifty themes vary among themselves from 23% to 74%, 
or 51%; with the scale they vary from 38% to 61% or 
23%, showing thus a gain, apparently due to the scale, of 
28%. With the primary group, the reduction of varia- 
tion in average ratings is slight — 24% to 23% ; with the 
grammar group it is greater, 39% to 23% ; and with the 
high school group it is very marked — 51^ to 13%. At the 
same time the average extreme variation in the ratings of 
the individual papers by the high school group dropped from 
49% to 27%. The two closest markers of the high school 
group rated the papers without the scale with a difTerence 
of 9% between their average ratings. The use of the scale 
reduced this to 'I' < ." 

In my own opinion the scale is of little practical value, 
notwithstanding its revealed power to secure a nearer ap- 
proach to uniformity. Even this power is less than the 



T he Hill e gas Scale 3 

deductions would at first glance indicate. These papers 
were marked by teachers who had met in conference and 
had besides freely discussed the scheme outside the formal 
conference. All this discussion, especially the emphasis 
laid upon the wide variation in judgments, had tended 
to place each one on his guard against minimum and maxi- 
mum extremes. It is fair to assume that in the second rat- 
ing a large number of both the high and the low marks 
would naturally have disappeared, and the wide disparity 
would have been eliminated without the Scale. 

Nor indeed am I convinced that uniformity in judgment 
is always desirable. To critics in the Augustan Age most of 
the poetry of Browning would have been anathema. It 
is easily conceivable that qualities of style which one 
teacher would encourage another teacher would discourage, 
and yet this diametric view might be generally helpful 
to a student receiving in sequence instruction from each 
teacher. Certainly no faultless criterion of spiritual es- 
sence is securable by a system of averages taken at any 
single moment. Moreover, the Scale as it now exists, is 
fundamentally inadequate. Of the non-artificial samples 
(4 to 10) all but one — possibly two — are on subjects drawn 
from books, whereas the majority of our school themes are, 
or ought to be, on subjects drawn from life. In none of 
the selected types is there any reported conversation, and 
to adjust a composition with much conversation to any one 
norm in the Scale is a sheer mechanical placement rather 
than a satisfactory judgment. 

For the same reason, it is inadequate because it attempts 
to measure one quality by an • entirely different quality. 
An imaginative theme on Musings on the Lonely Isle of 
Nowhere can scarcely be satisfactorily compared to one 
which bears such a title as The Latest Marconni Device, 
whereas the two themes may very easily be referred to a 
subjective A standard. As Professor Holmes pointed out 
at the meeting, you cannot measure light, and warmth, and 
redness on the same rod. To adjust imagination, individ- 
uality, original phrasing, and subtle thought to a tangible 
objective norm is fundamentally impossible. 

My personal attempt to use the Scale through a set of 
fifty papers was most disheartening. The set contained 
compositions ranging from the fourth grade to the last 
year of the high school. To adjust mere immaturity of 
thought to one of the illiterate norms was to err on the side 
of strictness; to adjust it to the high norms was to err on 



J 



4 The English Leaflet 

the side of leniency. In a sort of fateful necessity and 
futile desperation I flung it somewhere toward the middle. 
Then, too, I felt myself being constantly harassed by two 
contending judgments — one urged the mark which long 
years of theme correcting had definitely established; the 
other urged a search for the Hillegas norm with its pre- 
digested value. Fifty times, therefore, I felt myself 
caught in suspended torture between the two poles of the 
magnet. Release was as easily effected through errancy 
as through inerrancy, and I grew careless as to the means. 
Woefully unscientific, I admit. 

Notwithstanding all this adverse comment I nevertheless 
think that the work of Dr. Hillegas deserves high credit. 
He has emphasized the variability of existing subjective 
judgments, he has directed self-criticism toward our own 
ill-defined norms ; perhaps he has even pointed out the way 
to something that may be sparingly applied in future prac- 
tice. And for these gratuities heaped up to us, we rest his 
hermits. 

At the editor's request, Professor Holmes, Professor 
Neilson, Mr. Thurber, and Dr. Learned have each written 
out in condensed form their opinion of the Hillegas Scale. 

FROM PROFESSOR HOLMES 

The need of objective standards to help us in marking 
compositions rests on the fact that our own subjective 
standards vary. When we have to do justice as strictly as 
may be to the pupils whose work we are rating; when we 
seek a sure basis for comparison of results in different 
schools, from different teachers, by different methods ; when 
we wish an accurate estimate of the effectiveness of our 
own teaching, subjective standards fail us. We often mark 
for other purposes than these, and we often need nothing 
to supplement our own reaction; but there is plenty of use 
for an objective standard if we can get one. 

A scale to measure "merit," undifferentiated, is of little 
practical value, but the tests of the Hillegas Scale in New- 
ton show that even a general scale will have considerable 
effect in reducing subjective variation. They show this 
clearly, all defects in the method of the tests aside. We 
need, however, scales intrinsically better than the Hillegas 
Scale, — scales for special kinds of writing, scales for spec- 
ial qualities of style, and scales for the various school 
grades. Such scales will be difficult to make and rather 
hard to use, at least in the beginning. When to turn to a 



The H ill e g a s Scale 5 

scale and how completely to submit to it, are questions 
which will best be answered by teachers who know just how 
a scale is made, what it can do, and what they themselves 
are about. 

It must be remembered, meanwhile, that scales are es- 
sential to the study of many educational problems, even if 
they prove inapplicable in the immediate work of the class- 
room. 



FROM PROFESSOR NEILSON 

A fatal defect in the Newton experiments with the Hil- 
legas scale has been pointed out by Mr. Thurber. In the 
absence of specific instructions some teachers, on the first 
reading, applied standards of the best literature, others took 
the best High School work as the maximum. Such differ- 
ences were bound to result in variations in rating which 
the application of any one scale would necessarily reduce 
That the Hillegas Scale reduced them does not prove it 
good or bad. 

It is important to notice that the proper field for the 
application of such a scale, even when perfected, is in judg- 
ing the proficiency of pupils with a view to promotion or 
transference from one institution to another. There are oth- 
er and far better tests possible for purely teaching purposes ; 
and it would be unfortunate if so external a method of 
judging results were used in class-room work, in which the 
teacher needs to judge his pupil's attainment with reference 
to more specific defects than can be revealed by any such 
scale. For the judgments involved in framing the Hille- 
gas Scale were the result of a rough summation of data de- 
rived from spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence and 
paragraph structure, and evidences of power of thought 
and imagination ; that summation being made without prev- 
ious agreement as to the relative importance of these var- 
ious classes of data. Rough totals of this kind are value- 
less as a guide in teaching, though for purposes of mere 
classification they may help to eliminate the more eccentric 
ratings. 



FROM MR. THURBER 

Five high-school teachers in Newton, all of them expe- 
rienced English teachers, corrected fifty compositions in the 
experiment recently conducted by Dr. Learned. Among 



6 The English Leaflet 

these teachers there is a very desided feeling that the va- 
riations in ratings assigned by them to the same papers can 
be accounted for by certain facts which do not appear in 
the statistical results. These facts ought to be clearly un- 
derstood, for they strike at the heart of the whole experi- 
ment as an accurate and scientific piece of work. 

In the first place, insufficient directions were given for 
correcting and rating the papers. Conferences to inter- 
pret just what the directions meant were prohibited. With- 
out time or opportunity to compare notes, exchange im- 
pressions, or ask questions, these teachers were requested 
to mark fifty compositions according to a standard that 
was vague, artificial, and new. The extreme misinterpre- 
tations of this standard can well be illustrated by the fact 
that one teacher rated the papers according to a standard 
of almost literary excellence, another according to what 
she might fairly expect from pupils of the age and training 
revealed in the different compositions. In other words, one 
marked almost entirely objectively; the other followed her 
usual practice of marking subjectively. That such an ex- 
treme variation in interpreting the printed instructions was 
inexcusable is not now the question. As a fact, however, 
it largely destroys the scientific value of statistics compiled 
from such ratings. 

In the second place, the papers themselves, ranging from 
the fourth grade to the senior year of the high school, ad- 
mitted of the largest possible variations. Indeed, it would 
have been hard to collect material with more possibilities 
for differing estimates among teachers who for many years 
had corrected compositions from a much narrower field and 
therefore of much greater informity both in technical 
accuracy and in general character. 

Then again, so little did the correctors understand the 
importance of the task assigned them that quite naturally 
they varied to a considerable degree in the care and time 
which they gave to their correcting and rating. 

The second reading of the fifty compositions, now with 
the Hillegas Scale as a measuring standard, reduced some- 
what the widely varying marks of the judges. But was it 
the use of the scale that produced this greater informity, 
or simply a little more knowledge of what was meant by 
the original directions? Several weeks elapsed between the 
two readings. During this time informal conferences were 
held by the teachers among themselves, in which the whole 
matter was threshed out. It is therefore entirely probable 



The Hillegas Scale 7 

that a similar approach toward uniformity would have come 
from a second rating without the use of the scale at all. 
The high-school teachers in Newton who have experi- 
mented with the Hillegas Scale are unanimous in the opin- 
ion that it is a poor scale, — badly constructed, inadequate 
in scope and variety of material, unsuited to the purpose 
for which it was designed. They also seem to agree pretty 
unanimously that the scale idea as applied to the correct- 
ing of English compositions, if not actually pernicious, is im- 
practicable. No one scale, — no twenty scales — , would be 
sufficient to measure even the technical form, — to say noth- 
ing of the content, the originality, the imagination, the li- 
terary charm of the infinite varieties of written work which 
come to every high-school teacher of English in a single 
month! The most baneful effect of the use of scales is 
that they inevitably make theme correcting more objective, 
and less subjective; the teacher's attention is at once fo- 
cussed upon the paper and not upon the boy who wrote it, — 
upon abstract qualities of writing, not upon personal qual- 
ities of the writer. The Hillegas Scale, as any number of 
better scales, used ideally, would make it possible for any 
English teacher in the country to correct and mark papers 
exactly as well as the teacher for whom those papers were 
written. Such a thing, on the face of it, is absurd. 



FROM DR. LEARNED 

The idea of a graded scale of comparison to assist in as- 
signing to English themes values which shall be self-ex- 
planatory and generally accepted is a new and promising 
suggestion. The first device for this purpose is clearly 
preliminary and inconclusive. It is a "blanket" scale cov- 
ering everything that may be included under the term mer- 
it, and expressed, in its lower and middle terms at least, 
in samples which are but slightly comparable with the us- 
ual school product. Its chief virtue is the thoroughly scien- 
tific character of its construction; its chief fault is that un- 
der the most favorable conditions it still admits a legitimate 
variation of .25% — a minimum which swells to 50% in rat- 
ing specimens to which its samples are unsuited, or when 
the scale is hastily or carelessly applied. That it will con- 
siderably reduce the limits of variation which appear in a 
purely subjective rating (i. e. the unmodified reaction of 
teachers to the final question : 'What is that piece of writing 



8 The English Leaflet 

worth as English prose composition?)' has been conclusive- 
ly shown in the Newton tests. Compared with such ratings, 
its graduations offer a fairly definite estimate. 

But the encouraging feature of the scale is that it invites 
development and improvement. A similar scale, refined to 
such a point as to preclude more than 10%~15% variation, 
and with an average effectiveness under 10%, would be of 
great value, and no one can reasonably affirm that that is 
impossible. For the purpose of record, of transfer, of ex- 
amination for admission or promotion, of recommendation 
to employers, of conferences with parents, and as a stim- 
ulus to the pupils themselves, such a scale of quality would 
at once satisfy a great need. The work of the investiga- 
tor who would compare school with school, method with 
method, is greatly handicapped by the lack of precisely this 
thing. Its use in the highly analytical and specialized work 
of the class-room is problematical, but a scale would prob- 
ably make its way even here in proportion to its excel- 
lence ; at least as a sort of referee, or as a measure of prog- 
ress towards a concrete and visible goal. 



EDITORIAL NOTES 

The Association is indebted to the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology for their courtesy in extending to 
us the free use of Huntington Hall for our December 
meeting. 



Whatever opinion we may individually hold concerning 
the practical efficiency of the Hillegas Scale, we must con- 
cede to it the power of stimulating an interesting discus- 
sion — profitable discussions, too. 



Dr. Long's scheme of giving two marks on a theme — 
A for excellence in thought and E for carelessness in mat- 
ters elementary — has large possibilities for good. It is 
interesting to note that the dread of failure, if the E faults 
persisted, is the agency that eliminated the careless habits. 
After all, perhaps we are too lenient with misspelling. The 
delinquency in most cases is likely to disappear when the 
treatment is sufficiently drastic. 



Editorial Notes 9 

Several subscriptions to the English Journal have been 
received. Anyone who wishes77?£ Journal may send his 
name to the Editor of the Leaflet. When twenty have 
subscribed, the names will be sent to the business manager, 
Mr. J. F. Hosie, Teachers College, Chicago, and he will 
send out the notices to the individual subscribers. The 
price, under this arrangement is $1.50. We need ten more. 



The Association is genuinely indebted to Charles F. 
Richardson, Professor Emeritus of Dartmouth College, for 
his address, — Is English Untaught and Unteachablef 

Those of us who last Saturday surrendered to the charm 
of Professor Richardson's personality; will easily under- 
stand why all the old Dartmouth students insist that the 
question must be answered with a strong negative. 



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