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Summer/Fall 2008 Vol. 8 No. 2

Table of Contents


At the Top of Their Class

Are Board-Certified Teachers More Effective?

Every year over 11,000 American teachers apply to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in hopes of gaining the distinction of becoming a board-certified teacher. Applicants take a computer-based exam and amass portfolios that demonstrate how their teaching meets NBPTS standards for good teaching -- a demanding process that typically takes about 400 hours and spans a year or more. What are the rewards for successfully making it through this marathon? For one, the knowledge that one has joined an elite group of teachers, and -- in some states -- a heftier paycheck. From 1993 through 2007, 99,300 teachers applied for certification and 63,800 of them earned it -- which works out to about three board-certified teachers for every five schools in the U.S.

But does the process actually identify teachers who are better at helping students learn? And does the certification process itself make teachers stronger in the classroom? Congress asked the National Research Council to examine these questions, and to look at NBPTS' broader effects on the education system.

As for whether board-certified teachers improve student learning, the answer is yes, the report concludes. Students taught by board-certified teachers make greater gains on achievement tests than students taught by other teachers. And students taught by teachers who tried to get certified but failed make lower gains on achievement tests than either board-certified teachers or teachers who had never pursued certification. The jury is still out on whether the process itself improves teachers' classroom performance, the report says, and it recommends further research on this important question.


While certification identifies good teachers, this "signal" of quality does little good unless it's used, the report observes. For example, administrators could encourage board-certified teachers to teach in challenging schools or classrooms or to mentor their colleagues. Yet there is little evidence that school systems are using board-certified teachers in these ways.

This failure may be in part because singling out some teachers as "better" goes against the egalitarian grain of the profession, according to studies noted in the report. For example, some administrators downplay the importance of certification for fear of creating division among teachers. And some board-certified teachers have reported being given the cold shoulder by their colleagues who are not board certified. Others hide their certification so that they don't seem to be showing off. The report says board-certified teachers are unlikely to have the effects hoped for without broader endorsements by states, districts, and schools, and unless schools use them in leadership roles.

One of NBPTS' goals was to inspire good teachers to stay in teaching and reduce the attrition rates that plague the profession; nearly half of new teachers leave this career within their first five years. Limited research suggests that board-certified teachers remain in the teaching profession longer, the report says, though it is unknown whether certification affected their decisions to do so. They also appear to switch jobs more often and move to schools with greater advantages. Still, it's unclear whether that is more true of board-certified teachers than any other highly qualified teachers. NBPTS should put greater effort into tracking the career paths of teachers who earn board certification and those who don't, the report says.

The board should also devote extra effort to continuously evaluating and improving its tests. And to be a trusted institution that can have widespread influence, the board should be careful to distinguish between objective research and advocacy, and follow scholarly standards in reporting on its own research and that of others.   -- Sara Frueh

Assessing Accomplished Teaching: Advanced-Level Certification Programs. Committee on Evaluation of Teacher Certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Board on Testing and Assessment, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (2008, 340 pp.; ISBN 0-309-12118-3; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $45.00 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The committee was chaired by Milton Hakel, Ohio Board of Regents Eminent Scholar, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

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Copyright 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences