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March 1, 1993
Vol. 50
No. 6

How the National Board Builds Professionalism

Instructional Strategies
When Rita Duarte Herrera, a middle school teacher from San Jose, California, was asked what National Board Certification might offer the professional teacher, she told how she had asked an accountant, an environmental lawyer, a minister, and several teachers the question, “What does it mean to be a professional?” The first three individuals had strikingly similar responses. The accountant, lawyer, and minister spoke of possessing special knowledge to perform their work, of holding themselves accountable to a particular standard of practice, of responsibility to their “clients.”
Only when Herrera queried her fellow educators did the responses vary: “Don't talk to me about professionalism,” the teachers said. “Professional? I don't even have a telephone or a computer at work. Professional? I can't get textbooks for my students.”
Herrera dramatically revealed to her audience of teachers and other education leaders what the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has heard repeatedly across the country in similar state forums: the language of professionalism is still unfamiliar to many teachers. While no less devoted to their clients' welfare or to delivering their best services in the classroom, teachers more often speak of professionalism in terms of environmental conditions than of standards and dispositions.
Since 1987, the National Board has worked to create policies, processes, and products that teachers can use to build their profession. The initial policies that the 63-member board of directors (a majority of whom are practicing teachers) established have shaped the framework of certificates, the standards-setting process, the development of assessment exercises, and the proposed certification process. As thousands of teachers across the country have joined the National Board in its developmental work, the conversation about professional teaching in faculty rooms is changing.

Defining Standards of Excellence

In 1989, in a bold departure from current licensing language, the National Board devised a certification process that recognizes teachers for the expertise that they say matters: a developmental perspective on the range of students they teach and the knowledge they impart to those particular students. The National Board will not award a professional distinction for “9th grade” or “resource room” knowledge, but will honor teachers who demonstrate what they know about students in “early childhood” or “adolescence through young adulthood.”
Professional certification will also indicate a teacher's knowledge specialty, such as mathematics, art, or vocational education. Recognizing that many teachers call upon multiple subjects to organize instruction, the National Board is also developing a “generalist” certificate. Because the hallmark of all accomplished teaching is the professional judgment teachers use on behalf of children, the certificate framework acknowledges the kinds of expertise teachers draw upon to make those sound decisions.
The heartbeat of the National Board is a vision of excellence in teaching shaped by five core propositions (see fig. 1). “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do” combines the wisdom of practice of outstanding teachers with consensus among the broader education community. While holding to the premise that all excellent teaching encompasses certain generic qualities, the National Board recognizes that the age of students, the subject(s), and the context of teaching require that standards for the certificates reflect this specialization.

Figure 1. What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do

  1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

  2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

  3. Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.

  4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

  5. Teachers are members of learning communities.

Source: Core propositions from Toward High and Rigorous Standards for the Teaching Profession: Initial Policies and Perspectives of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2nd ed.

  • highlight critical aspects of teacher practice while emphasizing the holistic nature of teaching;
  • describe how the standard comes to life in different settings;
  • identify the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that support a teacher's performance on the standard at a high level;
  • show how a teacher's professional judgment is reflected in observable actions;
  • reflect the NBPTS policy on “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do.”

Measuring Teaching Excellence

The policies and standards established by the National Board have introduced a new way for teachers to talk about what they love most about their work: teaching. Teachers have shifted the discourse from minimal teaching competencies, which have dominated both faculty and policy talk, to shape the public perception of teaching as a profession of complexity. The certification standards establish teaching as both intellectual and technical work, as both art and science. Most important, they illuminate highly accomplished teaching.
If the National Board has been passionate about removing the mystery of what constitutes great teaching, it has been equally persistent in creating a process where any teacher in America can seek recognition for achievement. Many of the teachers who serve on the NBPTS board of directors hold the distinction of having been a “teacher of the year” in some capacity. They are most persuasive in arguing that identifying great teachers must not result in a pedestal for one but a platform for thousands. The selection process must be perceived by the profession and the public as fair, credible, and capable of identifying aspects of teaching most worth honoring. In other words, the process must have great fidelity to what teachers actually do with students as they learn together.
Assessment Development Laboratory contractors have completed the prototype exercises for two certificates. In doing so, they were guided by the National Board's “Golden Apple” rule of assessment development, which states that methods must be administratively feasible, professionally credible, publicly acceptable, legally defensible, and economically affordable. The University of Pittsburgh, with the Connecticut Department of Education, developed the exercises for the Early Adolescence/ English Language Arts (EA/ELA) certificate. The University of Georgia produced the assessments for the Early Adolescence/Generalist (EA/Generalist) certificate. Both assessment packages have undergone initial field-testing with teachers across the country. Each package has two modules: the school site and the assessment center. (See fig. 2 for EA/ELA Draft Standards Statements.)

Figure 2. A Draft of the Standards for Language Arts Teachers (Early Adolescence)

  • Knowledge of Students—Teachers systematically acquire a sense of their students as individual language learners.

  • Curricular Choices—Teachers set attainable and worthwhile learning goals for students while extending to students an increasing measure of control over how those goals are pushed.

  • Engagement—Teachers elicit a concerted effort in language learning from each of their students.

  • Classroom Environment—Teachers create a caring, inclusive, and challenging classroom environment in which students actively learn.

  • Instructional Resources—Teachers select, adapt, and create curricular resources that support active student exploration of literature and language processes.

  • Reading—Teachers engage their students in reading, responding, interpretation, and thinking deeply about literature and other texts.

  • Discourse—Teachers foster thoughtful classroom discourse that provides opportunities for students to listen and speak in many ways and for many purposes.

  • Language Study—Teachers strengthen student sensitivity to a proficiency in the appropriate uses of language.

  • Integrated Instruction—Teachers integrate reading, writing, speaking, and listening opportunities in the creation and interpretation of meaningful texts.

  • Assessment—Teachers use a range of formal and informal assessment methods to monitor student progress, encourage student self-assessment, plan instruction, and report to various audiences.

  • Self-Reflection—Teachers constantly analyze and strengthen the effectiveness and quality of their teaching.

  • Professional Community—Teachers contribute to the improvement of instructional programs, advancement of knowledge, and practice of colleagues in the field.

  • Parent Outreach—Teachers work with families to serve the best interests of their children.


The School Site Module

The work that a teacher completes for National Board Certification at the local site is organized into a portfolio. The exact exercises in each package (EA/ELA and EA/Generalist) vary but are organized around three elements in the portfolio: documentation, student work, and instruction.
The documentation segment allows teachers to demonstrate how they analyze, evaluate, and modify their practice and act as advisor and advocate for students. Teachers also submit physical evidence of collaboration with colleagues, families, and other community members on instructional and school activities that benefit their students. Artifacts have included letters, transcripts of interviews, logs and diaries, minutes of meetings, newspaper articles, memos, student projects, instructional units, photographs, and products of working committees.
Student work has a prominent place in the school site module. Teachers field-testing the EA/ELA assessment pilot were asked to assemble writing samples from two students—representative of the diversity in their classroom, over a three- to four-month period—with reflective commentaries about the samples. The student work for the EA/Generalist portfolio spanned six weeks and was a sampling of the products generated from the unit of instruction profiled on the teacher's videotaped classroom instruction.
Actual teaching was documented through videotape in both portfolios. For the EA/Generalist portfolio, the teacher had to submit an instructional unit supplemented by video clips and a commentary of the planned unit enacted in practice. The student work included must correspond to activities in the instructional unit. For the EA/ELA portfolio, candidates prepared two clips. One was a commentary and video from a three- to six-week unit of instruction of the teacher's choice. The other was a video of the teacher conducting a “post-reading interpretative discussion exercise.” This second clip measured the teacher's skill at engaging students in language learning, reading, and fostering discourse.
Based on the early field-testing, the National Board projects that teachers will work on the school site portfolio over a period of six months during the school year. Preliminary estimates indicate that they spent approximately 50 hours compiling the materials for this part of the assessment process. Between the time they receive the instructions and the deadline for submitting the portfolios to the National Board for review, teachers have flexibility to choose when to complete the work.

The Assessment Center Exercises

Because teaching is performance-based and multifaceted, assessing excellence requires a series of exercises that capture the richness and complexity of the work. The second element of the assessment package for National Board Certification, which occurs away from the classroom, consists of pedagogical content knowledge examinations and various simulations.
Candidates seeking EA/ELA certification demonstrated their content knowledge in a variety of exercises during the field test. They were asked to write essays in response to prompts focusing on four broad domains in English language arts: composition, response to literature, language and language development, and issues that surround the teaching of English language arts to early adolescents. Candidates were also asked to read and write about professional articles that presented different sides of an issue or texts that they might encounter in their classrooms.
The participants in the EA/Generalist field test demonstrated their knowledge by creating an interdisciplinary unit of instruction that drew on content across the curriculum domains (mathematics, science, social studies/history, and English language arts). They were also asked to respond to pedagogical issues evident in student work samples they received at the assessment center.
Various simulations used during the field test mirrored the work that teachers perform in their classrooms. Candidates demonstrated how they met the National Board's standards by designing instructional units or individual lessons, evaluating samples of student work, and critiquing videos of another teacher's practice. Teachers particularly enjoyed exercises that involved collegial activity. Before arriving at the assessment center, the EA/ELA candidates were required to read eight novels. At the center, they met in small groups to discuss a particular curricular issue related to the assigned readings.
The EA/Generalist candidates praised the parent-teacher conference simulation in which a trained teacher assessor played the scripted part of “Heather's” parent. As one teacher later remarked, “I knew Heather when I read the report. I've taught Heather, and, boy, was I expecting Heather's mother!” Role-playing allowed candidates to display their understanding of early adolescent intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development, as well as their ability to work as a member of a learning community.
Unlike many tests that teachers have come to either dread or dismiss, the certification exercises are “user-friendly.” For each exercise, teachers receive a question-and-answer guide that explains the task, highlights the standards being measured, stipulates what the teacher assessors will look for in their performance, and suggests how to prepare for the exercise.
The nature of the National Board's certification process does not lend itself to cramming or studying course guidebooks. It does lend itself to coaching and collegial support. Some teachers involved in the field-testing formed study groups or “video clubs” to evaluate the videotapes of teaching against the draft standards. Portfolio work was also done together, and at the assessment center simulations involved collegial interaction.
Teachers who participated in field-testing the assessment packages all felt that the exercises captured what they do as teachers. Calling the experience a profound professional development activity, they also commented on the amount of work and effort the assessment process required and the demanding nature of the exercises. Since the National Board's vision of teaching excellence attempts to mirror professional teaching, it should not surprise anyone that the process is rigorous and demanding.

New Norms of Teaching Practice

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has set in motion a national conversation about teaching focused on advanced knowledge, skills, and habits of the mind. As the plan unfolds, the tools of professional practice—standards of excellence and voluntary accountability to those standards—will be laid before America's teachers. Many teachers will welcome these tools as a means to build their profession, but their foundational work will require the support of the broader community if the full promise of National Board Certification is to be realized.
What will it mean to be a professional teacher? With the launch of the first certificate areas in 1994–95, teachers will begin to think about what becoming a National Board-certified teacher means for them. At the 1992 NBPTS National Forum, Rae Ellen McKee (1991 National Teacher of the Year) gave a heartfelt answer to this question: It will throw out a lifeline of incentives to teachers across America. It will save the many among them who know in their hearts what it means to be a professional educator—but who have lost the faith to try. It will bring deserved recognition to those who have plowed on in the name of excellence, knowing that what they do is the most important job in society. It will define teaching as the epitome of society's concept of a professional: one who deals with the most human problems. Most important, it will set into motion the cogs of more effective instruction—and that's the only school reform that will truly matter.
Teachers who embrace National Board Certification will help institutionalize a vision of teaching excellence that currently goes unrecognized in our nation's schools. If the maxim is true that we assess what we value, then new norms of teaching practice will come forward. We will support collegiality among teachers because we will see that broadening teacher expertise enriches instruction for students. We will value giving teachers greater responsibility for the induction of novices because we will see how the wisdom of expert practitioners strengthens the work of beginning teachers. And we will make time for teacher reflection because we will see how learning benefits when teachers have time to make reflective commentaries and narrative assessments on students' work.
These instances of practice, artfully captured in the assessment process, will become the norms. Most important, we will realize the relation between teaching excellence and lifelong learning, and we will begin to create professional development based on standards of excellence.
End Notes

1 Comments made by Rita Duarte Herrera, October 9, 1992, at the NBPTS California Regional Forum in San Diego.

2 Policies are elaborated in the document Toward High and Rigorous Standards: Initial Policies of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, (1991), 3rd ed.

3 Policies are elaborated in the document Toward High and Rigorous Standards: Initial Policies of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, (1991), 3rd ed.

4 This statement can be found in Chapter 2 of Toward High and Rigorous Standards.

5 These examples are from the materials presented by the University of Georgia Performance Assessment Laboratory to the NBPTS Assessment Methods and Processes Working Group on June 19, 1992.

6 Videodocumentation on the evaluation of the assessment center exercises for the University of Georgia was conducted in August 1992 at the University of Southern Florida.

7 Complementing its core functions regarding certification and assessment, the National Board plans to act on three reform issues related to the improvement of teaching and student learning: creating a more effective environment for teaching and learning in schools, increasing the supply of high-quality entrants into the profession (with a special emphasis on minorities), and strengthening teacher education and continuing professional development.

8 Remarks made by Rae Ellen McKee, June 21, 1992, at the NBPTS National Forum in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mary-Dean Barringer has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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