New York City is requiring a new set of standardized tests for third and sixth graders this year at 76 public schools that the state considers low-performing, education department officials told Chalkbeat.

These schools are the first group under Chancellor Richard Carranza’s plan to more regularly assess student progress throughout the year. His hope is that these exams will give teachers a picture of student performance in real time, and enable them to tweak their instruction, he has said. 

Since the start of the school year, Carranza has said publicly that he plans to roll out new assessments this year, but officials on Friday for the first time offered more details.

The roughly 45-minute computer-based reading and math exams will each be given three times a year: in the fall, winter, and spring. That will be in addition to the state English and math tests administered in the spring. But unlike the state tests, whose results are not available after the school year ends, the results of these additional tests will be available to teachers within 24 hours, education officials said.

Superintendents and other high-level administrators will use the data to direct extra coaching or other resources to schools that need it, according to the education department. Officials said the initial phase will cost the city $113,000, but would not come out of school budgets.

The proposal has already drawn the ire of testing critics, union officials, and some lawmakers, who are concerned about overtesting. The teachers union has argued that new assessments won’t reveal useful information because schools use a wide variety of curriculum materials, which aren’t centrally tracked by the department.

David Hay, the education department’s deputy chief of staff, pushed back against criticism that the assessments will take away from student learning time.

“This isn’t a test — this is actually instruction,” Hay said. “This is just understanding, ‘What do our kids know already?’ so we can know what to plan next with instruction.”

Hay emphasized that 1,200 of the city’s roughly 1,700 district schools already offer periodic assessments to gauge student learning during the year — and at least 400 already offer the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth Assessments, the specific exam the city plans to use. 

The initial set of 76 schools that will be required to use that assessment are all considered struggling by the state, measured mostly by state standardized test scores, though other factors are considered as well. Officials said about one-third of the 76 schools had already planned to use the NWEA MAP assessment this fall.

Hay said the department focused on those state-designated struggling schools because officials are already diving deeply into their data and would benefit from an even clearer sense of student performance.

“These are schools that we know need extra support and extra investment so we’re prioritizing them at the top of the list for new initiatives like this,” he said. 

Officials could not immediately say how quickly they planned to expand the initiative beyond the initial cohort or how many schools would be required to use new assessments in the future.