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Tom | October 27, 2012

Unsolicited Advice for the National Board


ImagesBy Tom White

It’s often said that receiving unsolicited advice always sounds like criticism. That’s unfortunate, since giving unsolicited advice isn’t usually intended as criticism; it’s usually just one person looking at another person and articulating where there’s room for improvement. Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty good definition of criticism.

So it’s in that spirit that I’m about to give advice to the National Board. Advice that is entirely unsolicited. Keep in mind that I love the National Board. I love what it stands for and I love what it’s done for the teaching profession. In fact, other than marriage and fatherhood, National Board Certification is perhaps the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But just like marriage and fatherhood, National Board Certification is not quite perfect.

And they apparently know this. In fact, under their new leadership, they’ve signaled that big changes are in the works; changes that will hopefully make the National Board more relevant to the current educational landscape, while making the certification process more accessible to today’s teachers, and without compromising the high standards that are at their core. So here goes:

The first change I’d like to see is something that I think is already in the works. I’m talking about electronic submission. This is a no-brainer. We’re at least ten years past the point when submitting documents electronically poses a greater hurdle than printing out a large, complex document, organizing it into various envelopes, and mailing it in. Not only would electronic submission be cheaper, quicker, and more secure, most NBC candidates are far more accustomed to submitting written assessments electronically than they are printing them out and snailing them in. (We’d also save dozens of trees in the process!)

The second change I’d suggest is extending the assessment period. Currently, candidates have less than one year to compile and submit a complicated four-part portfolio, while simultaneously preparing for a difficult six-part written assessment. I honestly can’t think of a good reason why this should have to happen in the span of one calendar year. If it were up to me, I would give teachers a decade in which to submit all ten parts of the assessment, as long as they submit at least one part each year. Why not? Not only would it prolong the period of self-analysis and reflection, but it would let candidates stay focused on their day job, which, by the way, is fairly intense and time consuming. The only argument I can think of for keeping the “get-it-done-in-a-year” system is financial: the National Board depends on the $2500 assessment fee to make its ends meet, and stretching out the payments would mean some lean times for a few years. On the other hand, making NB Certification more obtainable might eventually bring in a lot of new revenue.

Finally, I think it’s time the National Board requires candidates to show evidence of student learning. I say this somewhat grudgingly, since I truly believe that student learning is coincidental to meeting the NB standards. That said, the current environment almost requires that student learning be documented as evidence of accomplished teaching. In fact, most NB candidates are actually startled that the process doesn’t already require them to show evidence that their students have learned. I’m not sure how I’d implement this change; maybe they could add a question or two in each portfolio entry, or maybe they could replace one of the six assessment center exercises with an additional piece in the portfolio where candidates would present evidence that each entry and documented accomplishment actually resulting in increased student learning. I don’t know, but I do think it’s something that needs to happen.

So there it is, National Board, three pieces of completely unsolicited advice. And even though I know that you will interpret this as criticism, please remember: that’s not my intention.

I still think you’re wonderful. But not quite perfect.


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I would recommend shortening the time between submission and scores being released. Submitting items in March and having to wait between 7 and 9 months is excessive and silly, especially if a candidate needs to rework a portion of the submission.

The candidacy cycle should also match a school year with a summer thrown in. This way the cycle matches the same students all year. Not an April to March. How about September to August?

Ps ... NBPTS, TPEP has an electronic submission option.

True; there is a trace of "Evidence of Student Learning." But not nearly enough - in my opinion - to be as relevant as today's climate demands.

Janette, now that you mention it, that is true... we were expected to show student growth in reading and writing for AYA-ELA, but it was only for between two and four students. When I read "evidence of student learning," my brain went right to whole-class data, since that seems to be what the conversation in my district right now.

Janette MacKay

Lengthening the time by a bit seems like a good idea, but I agree with Maren that ten years seems like a too long for initial certification. However, it could be an interesting approach to re-certification. In the current system we certify and then (theoretically) could sit back for a decade before we have to do it again. Making the re-certification more of a multi-year process would help to create a culture of learning and growth that could be really beneficial to the profession.

On the student growth data, I wonder if that depends on your certification area? In EMC Literacy (my cert. area), we had an entry that required us to show student growth in writing through taking a baseline piece of writing, designing and delivering instruction based on that baseline, and then showing that our instruction had an impact on the student's work in that content area.

Extending the assessment period is something that just has to happen. There are a number of potential National Board candidates who, because of a variety of circumstances, simply do not have the time to do all the work within one year, even though they would like to pursue National Board certification.

I did Take One! first, and the sole reason I chose that option was because I had young children and I was looking for any possible way to spread the work out over two years. I'm not so sure about offering a 10 year option--that seems a bit long, but perhaps 3 years: 2 entries one year, 2 entries the next, then the assessment center exercises the third year. Maybe offer candidates an accelerated version as well--they could complete all of it in 1 or 2 years if they liked.

I'm okay with that, provided that it is still just a portion of the overall "score." Student growth data can be so easily manipulated to make someone look like a better teacher than they really are. (I have the same concern with the student-data elements of the new WA evaluation system, but I appreciate that the data we have to show here is two points in time rather than a single snapshot or state assessment.)

Perhaps the solution is to up the ante big time, since we're talking the pinnacle of teacher certification: Use student growth data for the same skill (standard) from four points in time over the course of a student's development. This will get crazy messy, but would enable a teacher to really deconstruct and analyze student performance and teacher response/intervention rather than just say "hey, they bombed the pretest on content I hadn't taught them yet, and magically, once I taught the content, they passed the post test!"

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