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Teachers Make Case for National Board

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — July 17, 2008 3 min read
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Conflicting data on the extent of the impact that nationally certified teachers have on student achievement do not paint a complete picture of the benefits of the rigorous certification process on the participants, their schools, and their students, a report by a group of teachers that have earned the credential concludes.

Teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the group says, should take a more active role in policy discussions and instructional decisions, and promote a definition of teacher quality that goes beyond test results.

“If we continue to sit by and let others define effective teaching, we will always be reactors, not actors, on the school reform stage where the policies that control our daily work play out,” says the report, “Measuring What Matters: The Effects of National Board Certification on Advancing 21st Century Teaching and Learning.” It was commissioned by the national board and the Center for Teaching Quality in Hillsborough, N.C., which led the project.

After studying research on the program that spans more than a decade, the team of 10 teachers found “a great disconnect between what matters most to teaching effectiveness and what was actually being measured by researchers, both in terms of teacher efficacy and student learning.”

The certification program, which requires candidates to undergo a lengthy process of assembling a portfolio of their work and pass content-area tests, has received conflicting reviews on its value.

Last month, for example, a 17-member panel of the National Research Council found that teachers who earn advanced certification from the NBPTS are more effective than teachers without the credential. The panel, however, said there’s little evidence to show the program has transformed the teaching field in the broader ways its founders envisioned.

Moreover, it’s still unclear whether the assessment process itself leads to better-quality teaching, because too few studies have examined that issue. Beyond the classroom, the panel adds, some research suggests that schools are not yet making full use of the expertise of teachers who qualify for the credential, and that the teachers themselves, once they earn it, often move on to schools with more-advantaged student populations. (“Credential of NBPTS Has Impact”, June 18, 2008.)

Other studies, however, have not found an advantage, based on test-score gains, for students taught by certified teachers.

Those who have successfully navigated the intensive certification process say the program has transformed their careers and affected their teaching beyond what test results can measure.

“The research uses limited pieces of information, such as a students’ test scores from a year or two,” said Andrew Kuemmel, a teacher in Madison, Wis., who contributed to the study. “If you’re looking at multiple measures of student achievement, I do believe national-board-certified teachers would have a much greater effect” on student learning than noncertified teachers.

Certifying Principals

The Arlington, Va.-based board, which began issuing certificates to teachers in 1995 and has since awarded nearly 64,000 credentials to the nearly 100,000 teachers who have tried for it, is working to create a similar model for recognizing outstanding principals.

The board has approved a plan to establish a certification program for school administrators of similar rigor to the one for teachers. At the request of several school-administrator organizations, the NBPTS conducted a feasibility study and found a potentially strong demand for such a program.

“Without saying the word ‘urgent,’ I think there is a strong need to get this going,” said Nancy M. Davenport, the president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “Principals with national certification will be better able to support the teachers in the building.”

The national board is now seeking about $7 million to craft standards for administrators and certification requirements. It hopes to launch the program in about three years, according to the group’s president, Joseph A. Aguerrebere.

“It requires coming to consensus about what principals should know and be able to do ... and how to measure and assess it,” he said. The board is also working on developing standards for teacher leaders, to help certified educators continue their professional growth.

“So often, these teachers are all dressed up and have nowhere to go,” Mr. Aguerrebere said, referring to their advanced preparation and few opportunities to contribute beyond their classrooms. “This would help teachers take the next logical step” and be leaders in their schools and districts.

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