Student Achievement

Critical Study of NBPTS Spurs State Advisory Group to Act

By Bess Keller — May 15, 2002 4 min read
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A small-scale study that suggests teachers with national certification are not better than other teachers in raising student test scores has prompted a group advising state policymakers to undertake an “independent review” of the research.

Read the report, the “Value-Added Achievement Gains of NBPTS-Certified Teachers in Tennessee: A Brief Report,” along with an account of the controversy it prompted, from the Education Consumers Consultants Network.

The Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan group based in Denver, promised the review four days after the study’s May 3 release. The study, by J.E. Stone, an education professor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, looked at the annual test-score gains of Tennessee students in various subjects over three years to gauge the effectiveness of 16 teachers who have received the advanced teacher certification issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

It concludes that the students’ gains were no greater on average than those made by students of other teachers, and that none of the board-certified teachers would qualify for a high-performance bonus under a new program in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The study comes as the nonprofit board awaits the results of the biggest round of research it has undertaken since its founding in 1987. To date, research on the value of the voluntary national credential—especially its effect on student achievement—has been thin. (“National Board Is Pressed to Prove Certified Teachers Make Difference,” Jan. 30, 2002.)

“Given the attention [the Stone study] would draw in statehouses, I think it’s important to take a very objective and unbiased look,” said ECS President Ted Sanders. “We have a large number of governors, states, and state legislators who have invested a lot of themselves, not just their resources, into use of national-board certification as part of larger school improvement planning.”

As one measure, more than half the states have legislated financial incentives to encourage teachers to seek the seal of approval.

Bipartisan Appeal

National certification has been embraced by people of different political stripes, winning endorsement from the national teachers’ unions, with their strong links to the Democratic Party, but also from many business people, who favor rewarding teachers according to their performance.

Others, including Mr. Stone, have been critics of the setup, which requires teachers to compile portfolios of lessons and student work and take tests of subject matter, but not to present their students’ test results.

In the absence of research linking the credential to higher student achievement, skeptics argue, states and districts should at least go slow in handing out pay increases of as much as $7,500 annually to board-certified teachers.

Some, again including Mr. Stone, point to the presence on the NBPTS’ governing board of representatives from the National Education Association and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education as reason to be doubtful of its value. Those critics say the board and its allies favor a student-centered teaching style that many parents rightly mistrust. It was to counter such bias, Mr. Stone said, that he founded the Education Consumers Clearinghouse in 1995 and then the Education Consumers Consultants Network in 1998 at his university.

In his study, Mr. Stone drew on Tennessee’s unique student-test-score data system, which calculates the rise in scores attributable to a particular teacher in grades 3-8 during a school year.

Provocative, Not Definitive

The research examined three years of those “teacher effect” scores for 16 NBPTS teachers, relating their scores to the average gains for the school district. Such a small number of teachers constitutes the sample because Tennessee has only 40 board-certified teachers, of whom only 16 teach in the grades that produce the annual test scores.

The study found that of the 128 average scores by subject and year generated for the 16 teachers, only 18 of the teacher-effect scores improved enough on the district average to be recognized as “exemplary” by the state. If the teachers had been teaching in Chattanooga with its new program of bonuses for exemplary achievement, none of the teachers would be eligible.

“We don’t hold this to be definitive,” Mr. Stone said of the findings. “But where there is no credible other study [linking certification to student achievement], it should serve as a warning” about spending money to promote the national credential.

The NBPTS offered a sharp response, saying in a statement that the study “is hardly independent research,” as Mr. Stone has been an opponent of the board.

Betty Castor, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.- based group, cited the sample’s “minuscule size” and the “inconsistent” use of test scores as technical problems.

“We all feel pretty confident of a link” between student achievement and certification, she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2002 edition of Education Week as Critical Study of NBPTS Spurs State Advisory Group to Act

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