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National Board Gains Recognition

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The national organization that plans to certify expert teachers has only just begun field-testing its assessments, but already a number of states and school districts are offering financial rewards or other incentives for teachers who seek the special status.

Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, and North Carolina are among the states that have cleared time for staff development or set aside money to help teachers undergo the voluntary assessments that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards will soon be offering. Several states have also loosened course work requirements for teachers who successfully complete the board's evaluation process.

School systems in Boston, Fairfax County, Va., Rochester, N.Y., and Vancouver, Wash., are among those that have set policies or adopted contract language encouraging teachers to become board certified. Other states and districts are expected to follow suit.

Education observers say the push to compensate board-certified teachers or to allow them to bypass state-licensing requirements will add muscle to the national board's mission to professionalize teaching. Such incentives, they point out, could entice more teachers to undergo the rigorous assessments, which are available this fall for some teachers of early-adolescents.

The 63-member national board--established in 1987 to set standards for exemplary teaching--piloted its first two performance-based assessments over the past school year. [See "Test Pilots,'' May/June.] The board plans to field-test assessments this year for five more types of certificates. It envisions an evaluation system covering more than 30 teaching specialties. Board officials hope national certification will not only strengthen the profession and improve student learning but also give teachers more chances for advancement and more flexibility to move between states.

This past summer, North Carolina passed the most comprehensive legislation to date supporting national certification. Prompted by the recommendations of a panel convened by Gov. James Hunt Jr., chairman of the national board, the legislature approved a bill setting aside $500,000 over the next year to help teachers vying for the board's endorsement. The state will reimburse teachers for the $975 assessment fee, authorize up to three days of release time for working on portfolios or other board activities, and award a 4 percent pay raise to teachers who become nationally certified. The state also adopted a policy of "reciprocity,'' which entitles nationally certified teachers from outside North Carolina to practice there without meeting state-specific requirements.

In Boston, the local teachers' union and school board recently negotiated a contract that will reimburse 25 teachers a year for the board fees and make teachers who pass the assessments eligible for "lead teacher'' status. The title carries with it a 10 percent pay raise and additional professional duties.

James Kelly, president of the Detroit-based national board, praised the states and districts for taking a lead. "They're building a model of support that I think other governors, state boards, and unions will be looking at,'' he said.

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