Science Teachers Laud Certification Program, Few Qualified

By Robert Rothman — April 08, 1987 6 min read

The first teachers to be certified by the National Science Teachers Association have praised that program as offering a possible model for the national teacher-certification process envisioned by the Carnegie Forum.

But at the same meeting at which the teachers spoke, officials released preliminary findings from a National Science Foundation-sponsored survey showing that fewer than a third of all science teachers now qualify for the N.S.T.A. certification.

Six of the eight certified teachers spoke at a press conference at the association’s annual convention here late last month.

The survey findings released at the conference, prepared by the Research Triangle Institute, showed, in addition to the lagging rates of eligibility for certification, that elementary-school teachers feel less competent in science instruction than in any other subject area.

The eight N.S.T.A.-certified teachers said the association’s program has offered science teachers the recognition they seldom would receive otherwise, by identifying those who have demonstrated both subject-matter knowledge and superior teaching ability.

“There is a growing tendency among administrators to view teachers as rank-and-file factory workers,’' said Edward Waterman, a chemistry teacher at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo. “The N.S.T.A. certification says, ‘Hey, these people are professionals.’''

In addition, he and others said, certified teachers will command more authority when conducting inservice workshops, and will be less likely than those without certification to lose their jobs if staffs are cut.

The teachers’ appraisal of the new N.S.T.A. program comes as a planning group established by the Carnegie Forum is working to create a national certification board for teachers in all disciplines.

The creation of such a board was a major recommendation of the Carnegie Forum’s Task Force on Teaching as a Profession in its report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century.

The science-teachers’ group, acting separately, launched its certification program last fall, after years of debate. Since the association invited teachers to apply for certification, it has received 2,000 inquiries, according to Gerald Skoog, former president of the group. The first eight teachers were certified in January.

The N.S.T.A. program was initiated in response to concerns that state certification practices allowed unqualified teachers to teach science, according to association officials.

The group’s standards for certification are much stricter than those of the states, the teachers speaking here said. States often have relaxed standards to fill the growing number of science-teaching vacancies, they said.

But the association’s requirements, while strict, are fair, the teachers maintained, noting that they were drawn up by those with backgrounds in science education.

“The N.S.T.A. should take the lead, in fact the responsibility, in certifying science teachers,’' Mr. Waterman of Colorado said.

To earn N.S.T.A. certification, teachers with at least three years’ experience must demonstrate that they have completed a prescribed number of hours in science courses in college; have taken separate methods courses in teaching science; have had student-teaching experience; and have demonstrated effective teaching skills in the classroom.

By contrast, according to Mr. Waterman, some states, such as Colorado, will certify as a science teacher a college graduate who has completed only a one-semester science course.

Certification Benefits

In addition to stringent standards, the application process for N.S.T.A. certification is also demanding, said Katherine Becker, a science and education instructor at Buena Vista College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “I had to look back through my coursework,’' she said. “It was a challenging process to see that I met the requirements.’'

But she encouraged all science teachers who feel qualified to apply, noting that the association would inform those who fail of areas in which they are deficient.

Further, she said, younger teachers should set meeting the certification requirements as a goal of their inservice training.

Reaching that goal, Ms. Becker added, can bring certain rewards, such as job protection in the event of layoffs. “This is one more weapon they will be able to use to keep their jobs,’' she said.

Teachers might also use the N.S.T.A. certification to shield themselves from teaching assignments outside their field, said Roxanne Bradshaw, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association, who also attended the press conference.

“For those with the certification, it is very helpful,’' she said. “It shows they are well-qualified to teach what they are teaching.’'

In addition, certification will benefit teachers who train other teachers, according to Yvonne Johnson, a 5th-grade teacher at West School in Sycamore, Ill. “I conduct workshops for elementary science teachers,’' she said, “and I feel I have a little bit stronger background to say I have an N.S.T.A. certification.’'

Advanced Certification

The N.S.T.A. has not considered certifying teachers entering the profession, according to Mr. Skoog. He and the eight teachers agreed that such certification is unnecessary.

“We’re not saying that without a certification [from the group] you can’t teach [science],’' said Ms. Becker, who has been certified in elementary science, middle-school science, and secondary earth and space science. “It’s not a requirement for teaching.’'

But Ms. Bradshaw of the N.E.A. said the association should also seek to raise the qualifications of beginning teachers. “The real problem,’' she said, “is upgrading standards at the entry level.’'

Mr. Skoog said the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has adopted the N.S.T.A. standards, and is using them to evaluate teacher-training programs at colleges. “We’re hoping more and more colleges will use these standards in their programs,’' he said.

States may also re-evaluate their standards in light of the N.S.T.A. requirements, added Traynor C. Shreiber Jr., a middle-school mathematics and science teacher at Abiding Savior Lutheran School in El Toro, Calif.

Teacher Survey

Such an action could affect large numbers of science teachers, according to the Research Triangle Institute’s survey

The first national survey of science teachers since 1977, it found that 63 percent of teachers in grades 10-12 would not meet the N.S.T.A.'s certification standards, and that 80 percent of teachers in grades 7-9 would not.

In addition, the survey found that only 42 percent of teachers in grades 4-6 had taken college courses in the three areas of science required for certification by the association, and that only 31 percent of teachers in grades K-3 had. Some 50,000 elementary teachers--5 percent of the total--had taken no science courses in college, the survey found.

Elementary-school teachers were also shown to have taken few inservice courses in science. More than half of those polled said they had taken no inservice training in science in the year preceding the survey, and another 23 percent said they had received less than 6 hours inservice training, the survey found.

Largely as a result, the survey found, elementary-school teachers say they feel less well-qualified to teach science than any other subject.

However, the study also found that the overwhelming majority of all teachers enjoy teaching science.

“We do have a base to work with,’' said Iris Weiss, who directed the survey. “Teachers are open to science, and receptive to [good teaching methods], but there are barriers.’'

Full results of the survey, which was paid for by the National Science Foundation, are expected to be released later this year.

A version of this article appeared in the April 08, 1987 edition of Education Week as Science Teachers Laud Certification Program, Few Qualified