Teacher Preparation

National Board Certification to Be Cheaper, Smoother

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 10, 2013 3 min read

The organization overseeing advanced teacher certification in the United States plans to revise the assessment process for the credential and to make it less costly for teachers to earn.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced last week that it would decrease the credential’s price tag by $600, give teachers more flexibility in completing the required assessments, and integrate new information into the certification process, including student surveys and measures of students’ academic progress.

Fueled in part by a $3.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the changes are meant to respond to a decade of new teacher-quality research and to address barriers to board certification. (The Gates Foundation also helps support coverage of business and K-12 innovation in Education Week.)

About 102,000 U.S. teachers hold board certification.

Changes Afoot

The changes are among the first rolled out by Ronald Thorpe, who became the president and CEO of the national board in December 2011. Mr. Thorpe had vowed to boost the credential’s prestige and to elevate role of the NBPTS as the definitive body setting standards for the teaching profession.

The board’s status to that end had appeared to wane under policy changes focusing on growth in student test scores and competitive federal grants. In one embarrassing 2012 episode, the NBPTS failed to win financing through a new federal teacher-development grant program after its own congressional earmark was eliminated.

The economic recession took its toll, too. Fewer states now subsidize the $2,500 application fee for the board’s credential or grant bonuses to teachers who completed the process.

Board officials said that the new changes will reflect the latest learning from the field, including the research from the Gates Foundation’s massive Measures of Effective Teaching study.

“We’ve just learned a lot about best practices in teaching and want to make sure our assessments mirror that,” said Andy Coons, the chief operating officer of the NBPTS.

The current assessment process consists of 10 components. As part of the overhaul, the NBPTS will reorganize the assessments into four chunks, broadly measuring a teacher’s content knowledge; use of data to meet students’ needs and set goals for them; classroom pedagogy, based on a video analysis; and classroom effectiveness.

The revisions—the first to the certification process since 2001—will take effect in 2014-15.

In what might make board certification more attractive to teachers, the organization also will reduce the application fee for teachers to $1,900—a savings largely achieved through its recent move to electronic submission of candidates’ portfolios. And teachers will be permitted to complete the four modules in any order under a pay-as-you-go approach.

The board had been already moving toward the increased flexibility, but some board-certified teachers praised the new options.

“I always wished I could have broken it up even more,” Washington State teacher Maren Johnson wrote on her blog. “It was quite an uneven split between one [portfolio] entry one year and three entries plus the assessment center the second year!”

Neither the standards underpinning board certification nor the organization’s “core propositions” for the teaching profession will change.

Multiple Measures

Committees of experts will make recommendations on how to carry out the changes, and teachers will also provide feedback in the process, Mr. Coons said.

Revisiting the question of effectiveness is likely to be the trickiest of the changes, given the heated tenor of recent policy debates on that topic. It will probably mean establishing new guidelines or parameters on the evidence teachers can submit to meet that goal.

Standardized-test scores and student-perception surveys are among the measures the expert committees will address and whose appropriate place they’ll gauge. The board’s movement in that direction fulfills the recommendations of an outside panel.

Mr. Coons stressed that any new guidelines will rely on multiple measures, not on a single piece of information, in assessing teacher effectiveness.

“It’s an opportunity for practitioners to weigh in on them, and not have them decided by people who don’t know teaching or teachers,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 2013 edition of Education Week

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