Students in the New York City school system could soon be adding more standardized exams to their year-end docket as part of a local initiative to evaluate teachers.
The tests are already being developed by education officials, and could roll out as early as next year, The New York Times reports.
Last year, the state of New York agreed to overhaul its teacher evaluation process after it competed for and won $700 million in federal grant money as part of the education reform program called Race to the Top.
Race to the Top calls for 60 percent of a teacher's grade to be based on subjective measures, including observations by the principal.
But the remaining 40 percent of the grade will be based on students' standardized test scores or other "rigorous, comparable" measures of student performance. And half of that 40 percent should be based on state tests and half on measures selected by local districts.
Most school districts won't commission expensive standardized tests to evaluate their teachers, but New York City, which is getting a $256 million share of the state's Race to the Top money, is planning to create as many as 16 new standardized exams to do just that.
The tests would cover science, math, social studies and English and would be administered to students from 3rd to 12th grades, reports the Times. These would be in addition to the state English, math and Regents exams students already take.
City education officials insist the new tests would be different from the multiple-choice evaluations administered by the state. They want the exams to be based on tasks, like asking students to progress through a multistep math problem, modify a science experiment to get a different result or write a persuasive essay.
In theory, the exams would strengthen instructional practice by compelling teachers to guide students through "higher-order thinking skills" rather than teaching them how to take tests, according to the Times.
But opponents say the system would still force teachers to spend yet more classroom time preparing for more exams, and that even task-oriented exams aren't necessarily a reliable gauge of teaching performance.
"When you give kids complicated tasks to do, performance tends to be quite inconsistent from one task to the next," Daniel Koretz, a professor of education and a testing expert at Harvard University, told the Times.
If the teachers' union approves the grading system, and testing companies act quickly, the city wants to introduce the tests in 100 schools next academic year, 500 the following year and in nearly all the of the city's nearly 1,700 schools by 2013-14, reports the Times.