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Teachers, at Board's Forum, Uncertain About Certification

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St. louis--Four years after the founding of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, teachers still want to know why they should seek to be certified by the group and what exactly they will have to do to attain that distinction.

The professional payoff for teachers and the design of the assessment were recurring questions at the board's third annual national forum here, a gathering noteworthy both for the announcement of a $2.5-million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and for the large number of attendees.

Approximately 400 people, many of them classroom teachers, attended the forum June 23-25--nearly double the number who participated last year.

Not only was the crowd larger and broader-based, said board Chairman James B. Hunt Jr. and President James A. Kelly, but the tone of the meeting was substantially different from past years. Gone were the hostility and much of the skepticism that surfaced at those forums, they said.

The new attitude "signals acceptance," Mr. Kelly said.

The Pew donation will be earmarked for more research and development work on the assessment instruments, board officials said. In4cluded in that effort is a network of an unspecified number of schools in which the various contractors will be able to test their research on the instruments. Requests for proposals were to be readied by the beginning of August.

The planned network "enables us to get solid feedback from teachers and persons in schools about how this thing looks as it rolls out of the lab," Mr. Kelly said.

With a year's experience behind it, Mr. Kelly also said that the board plans to pick up the pace in letting contracts to researchers. All 30 of the certificate areas in the initial round should be ready by the 1996-97 academic year, he said. "Those are plans, serious plans," he said. "They are not promises."

Teachers Seeking Specifics

Many participants expressed in8terest in the nuts and bolts of the operation, which was created to improve the nation's schools by setting high standards for teachers.

Board officials, however, admitted that they do not yet have all the answers.

At a panel discussion on the use of portfolios, for example, panelists told a standing-room-only crowd about assessment projects used at selected sites around the country, but no one could address specifics of the board's assessment tools, which are still in the research stage.

Mr. Kelly said that this national forum likely would be the last before the board would unveil drafts of the teacher standards. The board expects to receive the first set of draft standards next fall, he said.

Board officials also reiterated that the organization has no authority to offer inducements, such as higher salaries or bonuses, to teachers to seek certification.

"The national board has not taken a position on compensation," said Mr. Kelly, explaining that such action would fall within the purview of individual states and school districts.

The only incentive the board can offer is recognition, Mr. Kelly added. "I believe that many excellent teachers ... know they are excellent, but they have never had a way to achieve appropriate personal, professional, and public recognition of it," he said.

Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, a board member, said he intends to introduce a resolution at the National Governors' Association meeting in August encouraging governors to adopt state incentives. The n.g.a. previously voted to support the board.

Although the cost of certification has not yet been set, board officials have suggested that it will be substantial. Consequently, teachers have been seeking some form of payback beyond the intrinsic satisfaction of being certified.

Once physicians become specialists, they "can charge more," said Mary Moninger, vice president of the Connecticut Federation of Teachers.

"Teachers can't do that," she added. "The gains we have made in education, now they're trying to take away from us," she said, referring to cuts resulting from the economic recession.

Forum participants also raised questions about equal access to board certification.

In addition to the potentially prohibitive cost, teachers may face such obstacles as district administrators who do not support creativity, said Lee Betterman, president of the Illinois Education Association.

"To honor our commitment to openness, we must have an alternate route so that we can be sure that individual teachers in fact have an opportunity to volunteer to do this without being prevented by [an] administrative or other authority," Mr. Kelly replied.

Ms. Betterman's comments elicited some of the forum's heartiest applause, particularly when she cautioned board and audience members that ''We have to be careful to put [certification] in perspective," and avoid the notion that it will by itself solve the problems of the nation's schools.

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