Teacher Preparation

National Board Urged to Consider Student Test Scores

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 15, 2011 5 min read
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In an opening salvo to re-energize its place in national teacher-policy discussions, the body overseeing national-board certification has agreed to consider a controversial idea: weighing standardized test scores and other measures of student-learning growth as a source of evidence for awarding teachers the prestigious advanced credential.

“Given all of the different issues and debates going on about measuring teacher effectiveness and the like, we wanted to ask ourselves: Are we doing all that we can to address that issue?” said Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr., the president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “When we ask teachers to provide evidence of student learning, are we looking at all the possible areas of evidence a teacher could bring forward to demonstrate they’ve met a particular set of standards?”

While there are no firm plans yet to change aspects of the certification process, the board will examine each of its 25 certification areas, Mr. Aguerrebere said.

The board, a privately organized group based in Arlington, Va., will also draw on the results of pilot programs to determine if it should make any changes.

Diverse Panel

An independent task force earlier this month released recommendations urging the board to be “more clear and precise” about the type of student work teachers submit to show they have improved student learning. The task force also called on the board to consider issuing guidance about how state or local test data could be included in such portfolios, according to the report.

Such work could, potentially, also inform policymakers and K-12 practitioners who are struggling with delicate questions about how to measure the impact of instruction on student learning.

First convened in late 2009, the NBPTS task force drew from researchers and scholars with a wide range of perspectives on teacher quality and measurement. Its representatives include Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner in the assessment division of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics; Robert Linn, an assessment expert and NBPTS certification-council member; Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond; Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute; Lee Shulman, the president emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; and Douglas Harris, an associate professor of education policy studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Board certification, which is voluntary, can take teachers up to three years to earn. It requires them to pass several rigorous assessments in content and pedagogy and to submit for review four classroom-based portfolios, including a taped analysis of their actual instruction.

A 2008 report by a National Research Council panel concluded that the weight of studies favored the notion that the board-certification process serves to identify effective teachers. Squeezed by budget woes, however, state policymakers have recently sought to reduce bonuses to teachers for holding the credential or subsidies to cover the $2,500 application fee.

Some observers said the announcement signals that the national board, once the premier initiative for recognizing high-quality teaching, is striving to maintain relevance in a fast-moving and volatile teacher-quality policy environment heavily focused on growth in student test scores.

National-board officials “haven’t been in the national discussion” about teacher effectiveness, contended Joan Baratz-Snowden, a former vice president of assessment for the board and now an independent consultant. “Partly, it’s because they haven’t in fact talked about why the kinds of things they assess are critical to any real discussion of teacher quality.”

Weighing Options

National-board officials acknowledged they have a “fine line” to walk between giving better guidance to candidates on how to document student-learning gains and being too prescriptive. Current guidelines are written flexibly enough to allow teachers to submit many different types of student work products.

Still, the organization could help improve the consistency of artifacts submitted by teachers, especially in subjects such as music or the arts, the officials said.

The notion of potentially including standardized tests, as well as assessments crafted by classroom teachers, in the certification process could be a tough sell for teachers, many of whom have objected to an emphasis on tests in the post-No Child Left Behind era.

The goal of taking a formal look at such assessments, said Joan E. Auchter, the chief program officer and project lead for the board, is to investigate whether they could supply useful information in the reviews in addition to the current lesson plans, reflective analyses, and student work samples.

If so, the board could adopt guidelines that would ensure such information is included in a way that is fair to teachers of different grades and subjects. Many candidates who teach in tested grades and who have access to the information already supply it, Ms. Auchter noted.

The task force’s report outlines the technical challenges behind the idea, several of which have also been laid out by critics of “value added” measures of teacher performance.

At a minimum, the report says, the board must ensure such assessment measures are closely aligned with standards, are valid for assessing teachers of special populations, are reliable, and are supplemented by information about teacher practice.

The task force also urged the board to:

• Be more precise in the nature of student work it collects to make sure it aligns with high-quality teaching practices;

• Continue to monitor the validity of its own standards and instruments;

• Generate information about the ways various components of the board-certification assessments predict student learning; and

• Promote the development of teachers who excel in designing classroom assessments and analyzing achievement data.

Lori Rutherford, a board-certified teacher in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., said she generally supports the idea of updating guidelines for documenting student-learning growth.

“This is the hugest entry, and I think [it] would be a good one to re-evaluate,” she said in an e-mail. “There are so many factors as to if a student grows or not.”

Ms. Rutherford added that she’d welcome more clarity in the scoring process for the teaching video and portfolio entries.

Testing Worries

Other observers expressed reservations about the potential inclusion of standardized-test scores in the board-certification process. Ms. Baratz-Snowden, for one, pointed to the challenges posed in drawing from the patchwork of local and state assessments.

“If you take test scores from individual districts or states, what do they mean in the context of a national credential?” she said.

Stephen Lazar, a board-certified New York City teacher, said he’d be disappointed if the board endorsed the use of test scores, even if only as a voluntary measure.

Potentially, such a move “affirms the validity of the [standardized] tests,” Mr. Lazar said, “which are highly in doubt as a measure of student learning and teacher effectiveness.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2011 edition of Education Week as Task Force Recommends Student Scores Be Included in National-Board Portfolios

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