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

One Teacher's Experience with National Board Assessment

National Board Certification doesn't come easy, but the rigorous experience may be the most powerful professional development of a teacher's career.

In October 1990, I joined a group of teachers and education leaders to create a set of standards for accomplished generalist teachers of young adolescents. After several years of tough deliberation, we submitted the standards to the scrutiny of colleagues around the nation. Finally, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards accepted our work as the standards it would use to create assessments for Early Adolescence/Generalist teachers.
Throughout the process, our committee had met with workers from the Performance Assessment Laboratory of the University of Georgia, which had been contracted by the National Board to create the assessment for the Early Adolescence/Generalist Certificate. They repeatedly assured the standards committee that their assessments would be responsive to the high standards our work envisioned.
Still, I was skeptical. Would the assessment be rigorous enough? And could it evaluate practice realistically—and in a way other teachers would understand and respect?

Testing, Testing

In the fall of 1993, I got a chance to find out. The Assessment Development Laboratory asked me to participate in a pilot test. I underwent essentially the same assessment as teachers who sit for National Board Certification. The laboratory had shared the package with the standards committee on several occasions, so the tasks were not unfamiliar to me. Even so, they were daunting and complex.
The assessment involves two phases. At the school-site, teachers prepare a portfolio that represents their practice. They also have the opportunity to review materials and discuss issues with their colleagues that will make up the later parts of the assessment. Next, at the assessment center, teachers complete a series of exercises to evaluate other aspects of their practice: how they work with instructional resources or how they think about the curriculum choices they make.
My participation in the pilot test focused on the first component, at the school site. The school-site portfolio covers a selected time period and an interdisciplinary unit a teacher prepares for his or her students. I had to describe the context of my teaching: who my students were, my goals for the year, what special challenges we faced. Artifacts to document my teaching— videotapes of teaching, students' work samples, copies of exhibits, and so on—also went into my portfolio.
With repeated reviewing over the years, National Board standards had been burned into my brain. And so, settling into the school year, the assessment instructions guided my thinking. I found myself wondering if a particular lesson was something I should show. Would the direction we were headed as a class lead me to a place that would serve my portfolio?

Trial by Portfolio

I began the pilot test under less than ideal circumstances. It was my first semester at a new school where I did not know the students, the curriculum, nor any of my colleagues very well. As an urban teacher, I'm used to working with limited resources—yet I had to wonder how would I account for somewhat dilapidated classroom space, my many troubled students, and other apparent handicaps?
Every candidate is asked to choose another teacher to serve as a sounding board. My colleague and collaborator, Jane Barton, told me I was looking at this project in the wrong way. Teachers need not do anything artificial to prove that they are accomplished practitioners. “Just do what you always do with your kids,” Jane told me. “Let the work speak for itself.” She reminded me that the story I had to tell was not about lack of materials or other hardships, but was about my kids and what we could do together.
Actually, assembling the portfolio may be the most challenging part of the process. Certainly it was the most time-consuming. Things had to be arranged “just so” for the assessment to be scored properly. (This is done in a blind-process by other accomplished practitioners). I am not keen on sticking labels on things, or sorting papers in a certain order, so there is something of a cloud over my memory of this part of the work.
There were any number of nightmares along the way. When I was in top form (and close to adding a stellar performance to the portfolio), class would be interrupted by a fire drill, or an unscheduled tantrum by one of my more delicate charges. Then there was the day I taught the “lesson of my career”—only to discover that I had neglected to turn on the camera.
Such is life. Along the way, I had to develop a couple of important habits. First, I learned to be mindful of what I was doing and to try to think about how it fit the National Board Standards. Second, I learned to be a better saver—I developed a system that allowed me to gather efficiently the evidence I wished to present in my portfolio to show off my teaching skills. By mid-December I had enough material to begin assembling the story I wanted to tell about my students and my practice. I survived the ordeal and put the package in the mail by the deadline.

A Learning Experience—In All Senses

As a member of the Early Adolescence/Generalist Standards Committee, I had been privy to many aspects of the assessment development process. I am, therefore, ineligible for certification until the form of the test changes. But that didn't mean the process was a waste of time. Quite the contrary.
Completing the school-site portfolio for the Early Adolescence/Generalist Certification was, quite simply, the single most powerful professional development experience of my career. Never before have I thought so deeply about what I do with children, and why I do it. I looked critically at my practice, judging it against a set of high and rigorous standards. Often in daily work, I found myself rethinking my goals, correcting my course, moving in new directions. I am not the same teacher as I was before the assessment, and my experience seems to be typical, if I may judge from conversations with many candidates for certification who participated in the field test.
The implications for our profession are tremendous. Imagine schools full of teachers who actively reflect on what they are doing with kids. Think of colleagues working together to improve their practice. Consider the impact of high goals for ourselves on the goals we have for our students.
My doubts about the process have vanished. Even with the occasional frustrations and complications that went with assembling the portfolio, the assessment is worthwhile and valid. It let me show what I know and am able to do. To be sure, National Board Certification isn't easy. And no, not every teacher may be successful at first. But it is a valuable addition to our field—the kind of rigorous, tough-minded assessment that a great profession like ours deserves.

David D. Haynes has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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