Kimberly Wise Johnson, a middle school English teacher near Sacramento, Calif., cried with joy the day she got word that she had successfully renewed her standing as a nationally certified teacher.
The process is much less grueling, she said, than the one she put herself through a little more than 10 years ago, when she became one of the first teachers in the country to win the stamp of approval. But it was challenging enough to raise at least a little anxiety, especially when Ms. Johnson considered what was riding on the results of her submission to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
“Being a board-certified teacher is in my blood,” she said. “It’s part of who I am as a teacher and a professional.”
Over the past year, the national board has been making good on its promise that teachers would be able to extend the 10-year life of their certificates. With the first of the credentials issued in the 1993-94 school year, the privately organized board had to be ready by the fall of 2004 to tell teachers like Ms. Johnson just what hurdles they needed to clear to keep the NBCT initials, for National Board Certified Teacher, after their names.
And unlike 10 years ago, when the loss of certification would have involved only prestige, and perhaps not much of that, many board-certified teachers now risk losing money. The credential has attracted more than 40,200 teachers nationwide at least in part because 39 states and hundreds of districts reward teachers who earn it with as much as a possible $20,000 in bonuses or a 12 percent salary increase.
• Requires documentation of four “professional-growth experiences” including at least one video of a recent lesson.
• Graded as pass or fail; two attempts allowed.
• Designed for both teachers in the classroom and those in other education roles.
• May be undertaken in the eighth year of the 10-year original certification.
• Pass rate from the first 111 teachers to undergo the process was 88 percent.
• Of the 268 teachers eligible to renew this school year or last, 204 chose to do so.
• Fee to go through process is $1,150.
SOURCE: Education Week and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Yet it wasn’t a simple matter to decide how teachers could qualify for another 10 years, said Edward Clifton, the director of standards, measurement, and development for the national board, which is supported by many of the largest and oldest organizations in American education, including the two national teachers’ unions.
“It’s been debated since the certificate began, with ideas ranging from making teachers go through the whole process again to people advocating for a lifetime certificate,” he said.
One former member of the group’s board of directors recalled lively discussion about whether the new process should require video of the candidate teaching a class, as does the initial certification process.
“I remember raising my hand and saying, ‘There’s no substitute for viewing again the pedagogy of the candidate,’ ” said Patricia McFarlane Soto, a nationally certified teacher who sat on the board from 1998-2003. Ms. Soto, who teaches 7th grade science in the Miami-Dade County, Fla., school district, has just sent off her application to re-up.
Renewal, Not Recertification
In the end, the board settled on a process it calls “renewal,” which echoes some of the original certification requirements, such as a video, but does not repeat them.
Instead, the process calls on teachers to establish on their own time a “profile of professional growth” focused on four ways they have learned to be better teachers. Those must be examined in writing and some of them documented with video or student work in light of the goals of “accomplished” teaching set by the board.
Unlike the original process, renewal does not include essay tests, which were revised several years ago to better test for subject-matter knowledge, according to board officials.
Three teachers, including Ms. Johnson, who have gone through the new process said that while it did not have quite as powerful an effect on their practice as the original, it was useful.
“The renewal process helped me view my professional-growth experiences and decide which were of value and which did not contribute directly to student learning,” wrote Cyndi R. Pride in an e-mail. Ms. Pride, 53, has been working as a technology and now a teacher-induction and -evaluation coordinator for the Beaufort County, S.C., district for much of the past 10 years. The process was specifically designed to allow teachers like her who are no longer in the classroom to renew, but they still must videotape themselves teaching students at the level of their specific certification.
Ms. Johnson, who teaches English at Arcade Fundamental Middle School in the San Juan Unified School District in the Sacramento area, said the original and renewal tasks share an important feature: “You cannot do a dog-and-pony show, because the entire process is so rooted in your practice.”
Pass or Fail
It’s too early to say whether a large proportion of certified teachers will attempt renewal, but that has been the case with the first two cohorts. Of the 268 teachers who could apply during this school year or the previous one, 204 chose to. Given that the average experience of those teachers at certification was about 15 years, according to Mr. Clifton, some were not interested in renewal because they have retired or expect to retire soon. The cost to go through the process is only half the fee that teachers paid earlier, but at $1,150 is still substantial.
Like the certification process, the materials for renewal are scored by teachers who have been specially trained and who are experienced in the subject and grade levels for which certification is sought. But unlike certification, which requires passing marks on 10 components and allows candidates to “bank” passes in some while trying again at others, candidates for renewal either pass or fail based on all they present. (“NBPTS Assessments: The Portfolio Activities,” April 20, 1994.)
Nonetheless, the pass rate for the single group of already-certified teachers attempting renewal is much higher than for the first-timers. Of the 111 board-certified teachers who received their scores in March 2004, 98 passed, for a rate of 88 percent. The most recent rate for those seeking certification the first time is 38 percent, and 70 percent achieve certification within the allowed three years, according to Mr. Clifton. Already-certified teachers can get a second chance to pass if they begin the process in their eighth year of certification.
Mr. Clifton called the 88 percent pass rate “a healthy place to be. … We’d be really concerned if it was a slam-dunk, with 97 or 98 percent passing,” he said. “We want to maintain a good sense of rigor in the process.”