The proposed requirement, put forward by Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., took some policymakers and educators by surprise Friday when it was posted on a state website.
As outlined, the plan would go into effect for students entering ninth grade this fall, who typically would complete the writing requirement in 11th grade before taking Regents English exams.
Supporters contend that a mandate for research papers would put New York in the forefront of states seeking to better prepare students for careers, and reduce the number placed in remedial courses when entering college.
"When we talk to people in higher education, one of the things they're always saying is that few students arriving on their campuses have ever had the experience of writing a research paper," said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, which must approve the plan.
Tisch said King broached the idea with her months ago.
If the Regents grant approval at their meeting next week, final regulations would be taken up in July.
"If it has to be put off a year, then put it off, because we have to have time to get input from the people who will be affected," said Tilles, who added that he first heard of the proposal Friday.
The research papers, as envisioned, would be similar to essays assigned in undergraduate college classes, written on computers. Papers would be a minimum five pages in length, with research from a minimum of four nonfiction texts, all of which would be cited.
Michael Hartnett, an English teacher at Jericho Senior High School, one of the highest-achieving on Long Island, said that most students there already have written such papers by the time they finish 10th grade.
Hartnett added, however, that any statewide requirement for research papers raises practical questions about how Albany would enforce the rules and ensure that writings were of high quality.
"I think most English teachers would be fine with having students complete research papers," said the teacher, who added that he, too, heard of the plan only on Friday. "The question is with the actual execution, and whether the state will do this competently."