School & District Management

ECS Review Discounts Study Critical of Teaching Board

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 02, 2002 3 min read
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Based on a review by independent researchers, the Education Commission of the States is discounting the conclusions of a small study that showed teachers from Tennessee who received national board certification did not markedly affect their students’ achievement.

“The study is fundamentally flawed,” said Ted Sanders, the president of the Denver-based ECS, which commissioned the report. The study’s methodology had so many problems and the number of participants in the study was so small that the findings are not valid, he contended.

Read the ECS’s review of the Tennessee study. The ECS also provides background resources.

The study in question, was conducted by John E. Stone, an education professor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, examined yearly test-score increases of Tennessee students in classrooms taught by 16 teachers who had received certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It concludes that the gains of the students of the board-certified teachers didn’t exceed those of students of other teachers. (“Critical Study of NBPTS Spurs State Advisory Group to Act,” May 15, 2002.)

Mr. Stone has strongly criticized states for endorsing national board certification, primarily through financial bonuses to teachers who receive such recognition, when no one has proved that such teachers have raised their students’ achievement.

“I think that policymakers have once again bought in to something here that was unsubstantiated,” Mr. Stone said last week in an interview. “We’ve had one fad after another and spent zillions. No one wants to back away from it now that they are on a roll.”

Mr. Sanders, however, said that state policymakers have endorsed national board certification “for a lot of reasons other than a hunch that there is a relationship between those teachers and student achievement.” Many state policymakers believe that, in the long term, the teachers who undergo the rigorous certification process will produce good results, he said.

Faulty Methods?

The review of Mr. Stone’s seven-page study, which he unveiled last spring, does not charge that his conclusions are wrong, but rather that the methods that led to his conclusions were faulty.

For instance, it argues that Mr. Stone did not adequately describe the participants in his study, such as noting when they had received their board certification or how their qualifications compared with those of other board- certified teachers.

Mr. Stone explained that he did not provide descriptive information because Tennessee did not release it to him. He said he could have easily explained that to the researchers who were asked to review his study—and were paid $11,000 to do so—had they asked him. They didn’t.

Susan H. Fuhrman, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who headed the review, said Mr. Stone should have explained why he was lacking descriptive data in the actual study in a way that would have been clear to any reader. Other reviewers on the panel were Dominic Brewer, the director of education at the RAND Corp.; Robert Linn, a professor of education at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and Ana Maria Villegas, a professor of curriculum and teaching at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, N.J.

Also, the reviewers point out that Mr. Stone had three years of student-achievement data available for only six of the teachers he studied, not all 16. Because Tennessee considers anything less than three years of data unofficial as a result of its volatility, Mr. Stone’s findings apply only to six teachers, the reviewers argue.

“I certainly don’t think one would base a recommendation for a whole national system on a sample of six teachers, especially an undescribed sample of six teachers,” Ms. Fuhrman said.

Mr. Stone stands by his findings and criticizes the ECS for narrowing in on his study for scrutiny rather than taking a look at all the studies that have examined national board certification.

Mr. Sanders says that the ECS does have plans to look at other studies on the research subject as well.

“We’ve been working to try to get a better handle on what constitutes evidence, and how we can look at research and make some judgments about it in the areas where state policies are involved,” he said.

Just last month, the board announced 22 studies it will underwrite to help assess its impact on teaching and learning. (“Standards Board Identifies Research to Examine Effects,” Sept. 18, 2002.)

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