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Certification-Study Controversy


National Board Certification has virtually no correlation to student achievement, according to a study examining student and teacher records in North Carolina, the state with the most board-certified teachers. The study, completed more than a year ago, found basically no difference in the achievement levels of students whose teachers earned certification, those who tried but failed to earn it, those who never tried to get the certification, or those who earned it after the student test-score data was collected.

Although the national board is not under legal obligation to make its commissioned studies publicly available, it has generally done so. In this case, the board did not provide any public information about the report until earlier this month and national-board officials say they do not intend to release the full study.

Does the withholding of the full study put the national board on shaky ground? Has the board already acted in a questionable way by failing to publicize the study in a timely manner? Or are organizations like the board justified in not releasing research that they commissioned?

Update: Officials of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards decided to post the full findings of this report. For more about this decision and the study itself read, "Under Pressure, NBPTS Releases Full Study," (March 24, 2006).


At first glance this seems like a death knell for teacher certification, but certification is still in it's infancy and with this study, certification can be improved upon. The report also indicates that of the three groups targeted by the study, only the certified group had a large variance in success rates. I understand the boards reluctance in releasing the report. Once this report becomes public, the board will spend an inordinate amount of time defending itself instead of raising the bar of certification. Now the Pandora's Box is open. The board might as well release the entire report as well as a statement on what they will do next.

As teachers, we should all be interested in professionalizing our trade. We certify doctors, lawyers, pilots, boat drivers, truck drivers and mechanics. Why are we adverse to certifying teachers?

The problem is that teaching is a trade, not a professional. Prior to credentialing anyone could be a teacher. Is that really what we want, as parents, for our children?

Part of this class is to determine, what is the next question. This study obviously resulted in mixed findings, but "On the Job Training" is nothing to sneeze at. And since there is an extraordinary attrition rate among teachers within the first five years, I think we should concentrate the same study on new teachers. If this proves the effectiveness of credentialing teachers either in producing student academic progress or in reducing first term teacher attrition (teacher attrition has a huge impact on the quality of education), then maybe it could be applied to NCLB and exempt teachers like Erinn's mom who have a lifetime of teaching experience.

Certainly to go through the NBPTS certification process successfully can be a very valuable self-esteem building process. However, gaining certification or recertificationin in any profession is not the same as having a career. Careers are built upon two things: pay raises and promotions based upon performance. These two factors when initiated by the employee create genuine upward mobility, build self-efficacy, and self confidence. Right now, in most of the country's 14,200 plus school districts, teaching is not a career, it is a dead-end job where many teachers learn to survive until retirement. In a recent study in one school district it was found that teachers valued training first and pay second. As absolutely vital and essential as training is, it still doesn't make a career. Why don't we normalize the occupation of teaching by including reasonable incentives and career promotions(available to all, not just a percentage) similar to the other professions. Instead, we expect ambitious people to be satisfied with just mechanically distributed wages and benefits? The single salary schedule is a dysfunctional pay system because it doesn't pay teachers for what they were hired. This dysfunction creates conditions which may generate other abnormal effects. Let's get the compensation structure normalized. Then study what additional activities may or may not improve student performance.

In a news release dated May 16, 2006, the Education Consumers Foundation has called on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to make public the Sanders, Alston, and Wright study of NBPTS-certified teachers. The National Board needs to do the right thing, said ECF President Dr. J. E. Stone. See http://www.education-consumers.com/ECS%20study%20NR%20v4JES3.pdf.

I have no doubt a study concluded new and non NB Certified teachers produce the same test scores as NBCTs. With 29 years experience and NB Certified I have had the opportunity to work with several of these teachers. Most are under so much pressure and scrutiny from administrators that their curriculum is geared toward the test taking procedures. There is no room or time for creativity, exploration, or growth; they are afraid to deviate from the sacred pacing guide. This pressure is often reflected by comments of the type, “It is the second Tuesday of October, I can not attend my state conference because I must be on Goal 3 objective 2a today. I will then assess this goal with a multiple-choice quiz reflecting the same format as the End of Grade Test.” Administrators are also under this same pressure from superintendents that they are afraid of the horrors that might occur if teachers were given empowerment to plan staff development, attend conferences, and explore new teaching methods. When test score data is the only factor used to determine the effectiveness of a teacher and the worth of a student then there will be no need for National Board Certification.
To me the NB certification is a way to distinguish a teacher that considers teaching as a true profession, who actively pursues personal development and growth. The certification process has shown that NBCTs seek out ways to integrate curriculum, are knowledgeable in different learning styles, and design curriculum to meet individual needs. My observations have shown that most students of NBCTs do much better in their future courses in high school and college than their peers who had teachers who viewed a test score as the primary factor in driving their curriculum. The end does not justify the means and with NBCTs, the students are more likely to get a quality education than just good multiple choice test scores!

Just what we need to sharpen the focus on how to improve teacher preparation: release conclusions about the validity of credentialing. Then follow this with a debate over whether or not to release the study that generated the conclusions in the first place! And some actually wonder why the general public views us with suspicion!

To directly answer your questions, I think "sitting on" the survey results does put the National Board on "shaky ground" and "acting in a questionable way", as you put it, does discredit the organization, especially when states have been persuaded to invest huge amounts of tax dollars into this program.

In my own state in an effort to gain legislative support for a $5,000/yr. bonus, National Board advocates told legislators they were certain that NBCTs would improve student achievement. My answer was, we will provide the bonus once the improvement is determined. That is still my answer.

The time for merit pay has come with work quality, student achievement and subject area supply and demand determining pay rather than years served. If we recognize performance and results, teachers will seek out the best practices that provide improvement and private providers of certification will not have to sell legislators or state board's on their value in order to get funding.

I am pleased the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) does not designate any teacher a master teacher without them first proving increased student achievement. This is the direction of the future and the future is now. Reward proven excellence.

The question is more like: shall an entire report be published so that the rigor of the methodology is laid out for all to see? That this could be a question rather than a given shames the investigators in the study or whoever controls such releases and insults those who took time to read such "findings". Any collection of occupations, such as our profession, striving to be a science will not make much progress toward this goal if it tolerates "partial reports" in support of conclusions. Currently, about the most rigorously scientific facet of our profession is the Jr High Science Fair.

First, going through the NBPTS process required me to really look at my teaching. That introspection has had benefits for me and my students as learners. There is definitely a need for teachers who choose to develop themselves by explorimg learning, instruction, collaboration, etc. in a personal (real-life) way that comes with some incentive or recognition.

Second, NBPTS ought be a model of scholarship. As such, full disclosure of academic research is imperative.

Third, I have provided mentoring support to eight candidates for NBPTS certification. Having read their portfolios and helped them prep for the exam, I have been surprised by some results. Candidates who were near the end of their career tended to do worse than younger candidates. Some candidates who I see as master teachers received scores that shocked me (low). I do not think this reflects poorly on NBPTS. I think that it exemplifies the perennial problem with assessment. No test is perfect. Teaching is a very complex task. Assessing the skills set is daunting and will take a commitment to refine the process over time.

I have just completed the National Board process.Although the process required me to do a lot of reflection on my teaching, it does not prove anything.Good teachers and bad teachers can pass this process if you jump through all of the hoops listed. The process does not separate good teachers from bad teachers.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Sue Murphy6th grade teacher: I have just completed the National Board process.Although the process read more
  • Larry Jeannotte, NBCT Fifth Grade Teacher: First, going through the NBPTS process required me to really read more
  • Retired Ed Doc: The question is more like: shall an entire report be read more
  • Jane Cunningham, Legislator: To directly answer your questions, I think "sitting on" the read more
  • Retired Ed Doc: Just what we need to sharpen the focus on how read more




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