Mark Hansen


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Does BERT Exacerbate Gender or L1 Biases in Automated English Speaking Assessment?
Alexander Kwako | Yixin Wan | Jieyu Zhao | Mark Hansen | Kai-Wei Chang | Li Cai
Proceedings of the 18th Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications (BEA 2023)

In English speaking assessment, pretrained large language models (LLMs) such as BERT can score constructed response items as accurately as human raters. Less research has investigated whether LLMs perpetuate or exacerbate biases, which would pose problems for the fairness and validity of the test. This study examines gender and native language (L1) biases in human and automated scores, using an off-the-shelf (OOS) BERT model. Analyses focus on a specific type of bias known as differential item functioning (DIF), which compares examinees of similar English language proficiency. Results show that there is a moderate amount of DIF, based on examinees’ L1 background in grade band 912. DIF is higher when scored by an OOS BERT model, indicating that BERT may exacerbate this bias; however, in practical terms, the degree to which BERT exacerbates DIF is very small. Additionally, there is more DIF for longer speaking items and for older examinees, but BERT does not exacerbate these patterns of DIF.


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Using Item Response Theory to Measure Gender and Racial Bias of a BERT-based Automated English Speech Assessment System
Alexander Kwako | Yixin Wan | Jieyu Zhao | Kai-Wei Chang | Li Cai | Mark Hansen
Proceedings of the 17th Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications (BEA 2022)

Recent advances in natural language processing and transformer-based models have made it easier to implement accurate, automated English speech assessments. Yet, without careful examination, applications of these models may exacerbate social prejudices based on gender and race. This study addresses the need to examine potential biases of transformer-based models in the context of automated English speech assessment. For this purpose, we developed a BERT-based automated speech assessment system and investigated gender and racial bias of examinees’ automated scores. Gender and racial bias was measured by examining differential item functioning (DIF) using an item response theory framework. Preliminary results, which focused on a single verbal-response item, showed no statistically significant DIF based on gender or race for automated scores.