National Certification Found Valid For Teachers

By Julie Blair — October 25, 2000 5 min read
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Teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are better teachers on a variety of measures than those who tried to meet the standards but fell short, a study released last week concludes.

The study, which examined 13 aspects of teaching practice, provides the first research evidence that the day-to-day performance of nationally certified teachers is superior to that of colleagues without the credential, board officials said.

“It gives us—parents, elected officials, and policymakers—the absolute highest confidence that national-board-certified teachers are providing students with a high-quality learning experience,” Betty Castor, the president of the private, nonprofit organization, said in releasing the report.

To date, 39 states and nearly 200 school districts have spent millions of dollars to create incentives for teachers to attempt such certification and rewards for those who achieve it. But policymakers have lacked evidence that the yearlong assessment process accurately judges teachers.

For More Information

An executive summary of the study, “The Certification System of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: A Construct and Consequential Validity Study” is available from NBPTS. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.) The full report can be ordered for $15 by calling NBPTS at (703) 465-2700.

The study compared the work of 31 teachers who were awarded national certification between 1993 and 1999 with that of 34 educators who had attempted but failed to achieve it. Examined were 13 areas of teaching expertise, including teachers’ effects on student academic achievement.

“The differences we observed were pervasive, compelling, and consistent,” said Lloyd Bond, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who co- directed the study, released Oct. 18.

Board-certified teachers scored higher, in fact, in 11 of the 13 areas, which included the ability to think critically about their students and convey knowledge to them, solve problems and improvise, and articulate high standards and teach lessons that reflect them. The indicators were drawn from research on effective teaching practices.

The $500,000 report was underwritten by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational research and improvement and by the national board. The board was created in 1987 to establish voluntary, rigorous standards for teachers in more than 30 certificate fields.

The research findings come as the number of nationally certified teachers is growing rapidly, largely because of the financial incentives provided by states and districts. Many states or districts pay the $2,300 fee for teachers to undergo the process, for example.

So far, 4,804 teachers have been certified. Another 9,353 are awaiting word next month on whether they achieved certification. And board officials project that nearly 15,000 teachers will undergo the assessment process this school year.

“The number-one question policymakers asked was, ‘Does this matter for kids?’” said Eric Hirsch, a senior policy specialist for the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. “This is beginning evidence that it does.”

All of the 65 teachers in the study were assessed by researchers who had no knowledge of their certification status. Each instructor was observed teaching for at least 75 hours, and was interviewed after each observed class. The teachers were required to submit two weeks’ worth of lesson plans containing at least five lessons.

The teachers involved in the study lived in Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia and were certified or seeking certification in the area of early adolescence/English language arts or middle school/generalist.

Student Work Examined

All of the teachers had similar educational backgrounds and experience in the classroom, but board-certified instructors did better on 11 of the 13 areas of teaching expertise.

Teachers’ effect on student achievement was measured by looking at students’ work. Four students were randomly selected from each teacher’s class and required to submit samples of their work for evaluation. In addition, three randomly chosen students were interviewed following a lesson observed by researchers.

Compared with their colleagues who sought but did not receive national certification, the certified teachers proved to have a deeper understanding of why students succeeded or failed, a better ability to improvise when needed, and more passion about their teaching, the study found.

They were judged better able to convey knowledge to students, solve problems, articulate high standards and design lessons that reflect them, and critique their own instructional practices. They were also deemed more enthusiastic about their work.

In addition to their superior performance in those areas, board-certified teachers did a better job in understanding verbal and nonverbal responses of children and in offering feedback. But the differences between the groups of teachers in the latter two areas were not statistically significant.

Both board-certified teachers and those who fell short of certification knew their stuff, the study found. Most were classroom veterans, with between 14 and 16 years of experience and master’s or bachelor’s degrees. Given their willingness to undertake the complicated and time-consuming process of seeking certification, they also were judged to be highly motivated.

Michael J. Podgursky, the chairman of the economics department at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a frequent critic of the teaching-standards board, said the study offers only unconvincing evidence that certified teachers help students learn more.

“You need to link board certification to direct measures of student achievement, like gains made in the National Assessment of Educational Progress and state assessments,” Mr. Podgursky argued.

National board officials contend that the student work samples examined for the study provided valid evidence of teachers’ effectiveness. But they acknowledged that the study did not provide a comprehensive look at the connections between student achievement and board certification.

More research on the subject will be done on the future, said Ann E. Harmon, the director of research and information for the national board, which is based in Arlington, Va.

“This study provides initial, very solid evidence that the national board is, in fact, certifying teachers who are more expert in their teaching practice,” she said, “and who produce students who demonstrate deeper learning.”


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