|Certification = Quality?
(Daily Press [Newport News / Hampton, VA], Monday, July 10, 2006.)
By Carol Scott
Every night after teaching at Bethel High School in Hampton, Charles
Barhite sifted through hours of videotape of his history classes,
looking for a 20-minute stretch of film that showed he could be a
nationally certified teacher.
"Sitting there and watching yourself teaching, three or four hours a
night, after you come home from teaching - it's draining, mentally
and emotionally," said Barhite, who was certified by the National
Board for Professional Teaching Standards in November 2005.
Some 907 of the 81,000 or so public school teachers in the state are
nationally certified. Certification puts teachers in a select,
nationally recognized group that gets extra money from the state -
$2.6 million this fiscal year - as well as perks from school
But a national debate is growing over whether this certification
helps teachers be more effective in the classroom. And two College of
William and Mary education professors, who studied fifth-grade
teachers in three school districts in North Carolina, have poured
fuel on the fire. They found that being nationally certified doesn't
necessarily mean students will score higher on tests. The professors
also found little difference in how nationally certified teachers
taught their students, compared to other teachers.
However, National Board certified teachers are above-average in how
they interact with students and how their students score on
standardized tests, said Thomas Ward, one of the professors who did
the study with University of Virginia and University of North
"But they weren't necessarily the highest of all teachers," he said.
Many non-certified teachers had students that scored higher, he said.
The study is another example of research questioning how much the
National Board is tied to student success. Bill Sanders, a researcher
for the private SAS institute, a data-analysis group that tries to
measure the influence of teachers and schools on students, studied
nationally certified teachers in North Carolina and said earlier this
year he'd found that their students didn't score significantly higher
than other students.
Ward cautions that his research doesn't challenge the basis of the
National Board - a way to reward teachers and label those who meet
A National Board spokesman did not return calls last week.
But the question for lawmakers and officials is whether it's worth
pumping state money into the program, Ward said. "Is it worth knowing
that that teacher is above-average?" he said.
School districts usually help pay the $2,500 application fee, which
can go up if a teacher needs to re-apply. And the state pays $5,000
to teachers the first year they're certified, and $2,500 per year for
nine years afterward. Some school districts match those amounts or
throw in other perks.
"Certainly these studies seem to be suggesting that the National
Board - whatever process it's using - is not focusing enough on
whether that teacher has an impact on students," said Kate Walsh,
president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a
Washington-based research and advocacy group.
Walsh, who hadn't read the William and Mary study, said the National
Board needs to be sure they're stressing student achievement when
they define what makes a good teacher.
"The last thing they want to have happen," she said, "is to have
state legislators get hold of this rather conclusive evidence and
start withdrawing money."
But the certification process has merit, she said. "The National
Board has done a great job of providing teachers with a high-status
award," she said.
Despite questions about how important certification is, many teachers
say the application process helped them become better teachers. A
2001 National Board survey found 92 percent of teachers surveyed said
they had become better teachers during the process.
Kelly Dee, director of bands at Kecoughtan High School in Hampton,
earned his national certification in 2002. "It's the best
professional development experience I've ever participated in," he
said. Dee is president of the Southeast Virginia National Board
Certified Teachers Regional Network, which helps teachers going
through the application process.
Watching videotapes of himself made him re-evaluate his teaching
style, he said. Now that he is certified, he thinks harder about how
to reach students.
Barhite, the Bethel High teacher, said the process helped him, too.
"If you're going out and talking to a lot of different teachers, then
it also gives you ideas of what you might want to try in your
classroom," Barhite said.
Those benefits might not be measurable by standardized tests, he
said. And the benefits might not be apparent until later in his
students' lives, he said.
"Every single one of them will come back as juniors and seniors and
say, 'You know, if you didn't make me work so hard in your class, I
wouldn't have been able to succeed now,' " he said. "It makes you
look at your teaching. Not just looking at test scores, but impacting
the whole student, not just your subject area."
By the numbers
|81,073||Number of public school teachers in Virginia|
|907||Number of Virginia teachers who are nationally certified|
|$5,000||Amount of money teachers can get from the state the first year they are certified|
|$2,500||Amount of money teachers can get from the state annually for nine years after they are certified|
A lengthy process
National certification: It can take teachers hundreds of hours to
apply for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
What do they need to do? Teachers submit video recordings of
themselves teaching, personal essays and student work. They also must
take six tests on their subject area.
Then what? At least a dozen teachers picked by the national board
rate the submissions.
And then? Teachers who meet the requirements are certified.
So? That means they're eligible for bonuses and other perks from
the state and from their school districts.