UNO Student Wins $50k Software Challenge Prize

University of New Orleans student Luis Tandalla won a $50,000 first prize on Thursday in a competition to develop innovative software to help teachers score student written responses to test questions. The Automated Student Assessment Prize (ASAP), sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, seeks to address the need for high quality standardized tests to replace many of the current bubble tests.

Tandalla is a senior mechanical engineering student at UNO and a Fulbright scholar. He is a native of Quito, Ecuador.

187 participants across 150 teams tackled the incredibly difficult challenge of developing new software that can score short-answer responses to questions on state standardized tests. Competing teams developed their systems over three months and shared their technical approaches through an active discussion board. Documentation of the winning submissions will be released, under an open license, to enable others to build on this competition’s success and advance the field of automated assessment.

"I am excited to win this contest because it gave me an opportunity to create a futuristic program that reads an essay, finds the answers being asked, and scores it as a human would do,” Tandalla said. “I’m hopeful that my model will help advance the field of scoring software so that computers can assist teachers, who can then use the results to provide even more individualized instruction to their students.”

“The competition showed that software used to score short answers has great potential. Use of these systems today could supplement and support the work of trained experts,” said Tom Vander Ark, co-director of ASAP. “Computers can be implemented to validate – not to replace – the work of teachers, lowering costs for school districts and offering better tests that can be graded faster and less expensively.”