National Board Urged To Reach Out to New Groups
Denver--The question of whether accomplished teaching can be measured--and if so, how--dominated two days of spirited conversation at the second national forum sponsored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
The range of reactions to the board's plans to develop new assessments of teaching underscored participants' sharply differing views of the board's mission.
In fact, the clearest message to emerge from the forum, held here June 24-26, was that the board should step up its efforts to communicate its work to the broad array of "stakeholders" whose support will be necessary if national certification is to be widely accepted.
In addition to teachers, participants suggested, the board also must reach out to school boards, state education departments, teachers' colleges, and parents.
James A. Kelly, president of the national board, said it was aware of the need for a broader communications effort and has begun an advertising and outreach campaign to inform teachers. The board was an exhibitor at the annual conventions of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association this summer, for example, and plans to hold a series of focus groups with teachers to gather their reactions to various aspects of its work.
Although many of the initial questions surrounding the very idea of na4tional certification were raised again here--including the issue of why teachers would want to sit for certification and who should be eligible to do so--the 275 participants also explored more fundamental questions about the nature of good teaching.
The board has issued several requests for test developers, state education departments, universities, and others to collaborate on forming "assessment-development laboratories" to create the new yardsticks of teaching ability. They are expected to include a variety of measurement techniques, including oral interviews, essays, portfolios, videotaped simulations, and samples of students' work.
Questions of Fairness
Although the board intends for such new instruments to be a more accurate and fairer gauge of teaching practice than currently available assessments, several forum participants said they feared the assessments would discriminate against teachers in poor school districts.
And the idea of including students' work in evaluations of teachers also caused some concern.
Ruth K.J. Cline, president of the National Council of Teachers of English, noted that students come from "a variety of homes and backgrounds" that may adversely affect their school performance.
"We have to think a little bit about who those students are," she cautioned.
Stephen P. Klein, a senior research scientist with the rand Corporation, warned the board that it was on a "collision course with the measurement community" because the types of assessment it envisions may be perceived as being less neutral than paper-and-pencil tests.
But Joan Baratz-Snowden, the board's vice president for assessment and research, emphasized in an interview that the board's goal was to have good teaching practice dictate the development of better testing practices, rather than to have testing methods dictate what can be measured.
The national board is expected to award its first contract this fall for the development of an assessment of the teaching of English and language arts to early adolescents.
At the same time, several states are working to develop better tests for the licensing of beginning teachers.
Gordon Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said the proliferation of new assessments has strengthened the case for making state licensure a prerequisite for national certification.
"Otherwise," Mr. Ambach said, "it's going to look like alternate certification."