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How long does it really take to grade the state tests?

Teachers across the city are leaving their classrooms this week to grade the state reading tests required by the No Child Left Behind law. This is a change from last year, when they were paid extra to grade the tests after school and on weekends. But the new arrangement also carries costs. Meredith Kolodner recently pointed out in the Daily News that schools lose not only the teachers’ time but also the money it costs to pay a substitute.

This could be a matter of “too bad, but move on.” In terrible budget times, the system has no choice but to use school time to grade the exams. Except for one thing: It might be that the time allotted to grade the tests is too long.

Eva Moskowitz, the Harlem charter school operator and former City Council member, says that when her teachers graded 60 children’s practice third-grade English Language Arts tests earlier this year, under exactly the prescribed conditions, the whole procedure took just 43 minutes. Yet grading of the ELA tests in district schools began last week and will go on through the middle of February. Charter schools, whose grading is coordinated by the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence, are being asked to send teachers for three-day stints.

“This is a very lickety-split operation,” Moskowitz said. “How you would drag it out over three days, I don’t know.” She said that the actual tasks required are simple. “This is like two sentences and an editing passage. And the rubric is very strict,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re asking teachers to do this, frankly. To me, high school students would suffice. Maybe even good middle school students would suffice.”

Andrew Jacob, a spokesman for the city school system, said there is a simple reason for the time demands: “We have a lot of tests to grade and we have a lot of measures in place to ensure that the tests are being graded accurately.” James Merriman, executive director of the charter center, said the grading process follows strict guidelines meant to ensure credible results.

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