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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
March 1, 1995
Vol. 52
No. 6

The NBPTS Sets Standards for Accomplished Teaching

Issued for the first time in January 1995, National Board Certification distills the experience and the ideals of excellent teaching practice.

Everyone knows the old myths about teaching—for instance, that a few pedagogical tricks plus the ability to stay a chapter ahead of the class will suffice. As an essential step to shedding outworn notions about the nature of teaching, the profession requires a set of standards that can measure and recognize exemplary practice. Systems of advanced certification are well established in other professions, such as medicine or accounting, but only recently have educators begun to define standards for judging advanced teaching.
In its 1986 report, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession called for the creation of a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), which was formed the following year. NBPTS is governed by a 63-member board of directors—a majority of them K–12 teachers. It also includes school administrators and curriculum specialists, state and local officials, union and business leaders and scholars from colleges and universities. The certification system based on National Board guidelines represents “the first formal new structure to be introduced into public education since the early part of the 20th century,” former New York Times education editor Ted Fiske recently noted.
Certification promises to have a profound impact on both educational institutions and the teaching profession itself. Schools will be able to devise teaching assignments that capitalize on the wisdom, ability, and commitment of the most accomplished teachers—so that a school can marshal its precious resources (for example, time, people, and money) more effectively. Advanced professional standards and certification also create a new and more attractive vocational path for all teachers. The profession can thus attract and retain talented young people and minorities who are often drawn to other careers offering greater promise of advancement, better compensation, more congenial working environments, and higher prestige.
National Board Certification complements, but does not replace, state systems of mandatory licensure. While mandatory state licensing is designed to assure that beginning teachers meet certain basic requirements, National Board Certification is voluntary. And unlike licensing standards, which vary from state to state, National Board Certification is uniform across the country. It also attests to a level of accomplishment far surpassing basic state licensing requirements.

The Basics of Excellence

The National Board certificates will cover more than 30 fields, categorized by both subject matter and developmental level of students. A teacher may choose to become National Board Certified either as a generalist (responsible for advancing student learning across the curriculum) or a specialist in a subject area (for example, English language arts, vocational education, or music). The National Board also is designing certificates for specialists who work with children having exceptional needs, or with students for whom English is a new language. The National Board recognizes four developmental levels: early childhood (age 3–8); middle childhood (age 7–12); early adolescence (age 11–15); and adolescence and young adulthood (age 14–18+).
  1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning. They understand how students grow and mature within a certain developmental level. They are skilled at coming to know students' interests, views, and communities. They are committed to equitable practice and act accordingly.
  2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students. They grasp the major ideas and key facts within their disciplines. They keep up with the emerging theories and debates in their field. They possess a repertoire of analogies, experiments, tasks, metaphors, and the like—and so can help students recognize key dilemmas and grasp important concepts, events, or phenomena.
  3. Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning. They create an environment that encourages risk-taking, inquiry, persistence, and collaboration, and that fosters democratic values. They can assess student progress—and they teach students how to evaluate their own progress. They are adept at grouping students and at regulating the pace of instruction. They recognize the teachable moment and know how to seize it.
  4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience. They reflect on their practice to strengthen and improve it. They seek the advice of students, colleagues, administrators, parents, teacher educators, and others to reexamine and rethink their own approach.
  5. Teachers are members of learning communities. They work well not only with students but also with adults—both parents and professional colleagues. They contribute to the intellectual life of the school. And they advance the profession in a variety of ways: for example, mentoring, presenting, publishing, serving on task forces and committees at the local, state, or national level.

Defining and Refining Standards

These five general principles provide a broad overview of accomplished practice. Based on that vision, standards committees are working out the specific requirements for judging high performance within each certification field. Teachers make up the majority of each committee. Other members include scholars and experts in child development, curriculum development, teacher education, and the relevant subject disciplines. To date, 17 standards committees have been formed to develop standards for 21 certification fields.
Over the course of a year, committee members draft a set of standards. They then circulate these standards throughout the professional and public policy communities for discussion and critique. Members solicit opinions of teachers from all parts of the country. Following the comment period, the committee reconvenes to consider how best to address the results of this review process and makes a final recommendation to the National Board.
A set of standards is not a cookie cutter. The committees are sensitive to the range of circumstances in which teachers work: the variety of resources and professional support available to them, for example. The standards committees recognize that school populations are diverse in ethnicity, home language, and gender—and that classes are made up of students with a wide array of knowledge, interest, and motivation. Given these circumstances, an accomplished teacher can call upon a repertoire of good practices, acting on the conviction that there are multiple ways to reach the same end.
Each standard is described through an explanation of what teachers must know and do to satisfy that requirement at a high level. This often includes the provision of a range of examples and case histories illustrating exemplary practice. The standards avoid being either so general that they have no “bite,” or so specific that they prescribe a single method of practice.

Assessing the Exemplary

With these standards as a foundation, the National Board is developing a new generation of teacher assessments. Its performance-based, two-part assessment system requires one school year to complete. Unlike multiple-choice tests—which trivialize the evaluation of teaching—this approach is sensitive to the complexities of exemplary practice.
Over the course of the academic year, candidates assemble a body of work. Portfolios include samples of their students' work and videotapes of their interaction with students, as well as written reflections on student progress and on their own instructional choices. The following summer, candidates spend two days at an assessment center where teachers may defend their portfolios and engage in other activities, such as interviews and written essay examinations. Fellow teachers from within the same field make all judgments about the quality of a candidate's practice.
The National Board's Field Test Network provides access to a nationally representative sample covering 7 percent of the country's teachers. In 1993–94, approximately 540 teachers field-tested the first two assessments. As of January 1995, 81 candidates successfully completed the Early Adolescence/Generalist certificate to become the first-ever National Board Certified teachers. Candidates for the Early Adolescence/English Language Arts certificate will be notified this summer. These two certificates were available for the first time in 1995. In addition, four new assessments are being tested this school year: Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Mathematics; Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History; Early Childhood/Generalist; and Middle Childhood/Generalist.

The Rigorously Flexible Professional

We are taking much care to keep certification standards flexible but not diffuse, rigorous without becoming rigid. All standards are based on a body of scholarly work that will shift in the years ahead as new research brings forth new information about learning, teaching, and knowledge in the disciplines. They draw on the wisdom of practice and—most important—on the steadily developing professional consensus about exemplary practice. After all, both standards and the process of their review and revaluation are central to any profession. Over the years, cardiologists' sense of best practice has changed. Likewise teachers' views have developed over time, and so will the National Board's standards.
The National Board's certification system stresses collegiality, self-reflection, and intellectual challenge. School supervisors and curriculum specialists can look to the National Board standards as a starting point for serious professional conversations about efforts to advance teaching and learning in their own schools.
Clearly, if we want to provide high-quality learning for all our students, our understanding of what it means to be an accomplished teacher must change. The National Board's standards introduce a new and challenging conversation about practice. Certification promises to bring to the nation's schools a new level of professionalism that will advance teaching and improve learning.
End Notes

1 Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, (1986), A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, (New York: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy).

Barbara C. Shapiro has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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