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NBPTS: Building Better Teachers

According to National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) president Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr., candidates for National Board Certification often refer to the process as "the best and most meaningful professional development of their careers." Aguerrebere explains how the process can benefit every teacher. Included: An inside look at how the process works.

Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr. is president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Prior to assuming that position, he was deputy director of the Education, Sexuality and Religion (ESR) Unit at the Ford Foundation in New York. In that position, in addition to his management responsibilities, his grant making work focused on education reform and the development of quality teachers and administrators. His work at the Ford Foundation, on a variety of education-related projects, earned him widespread respect in the philanthropic community.

Before joining the Ford Foundation, Aguerrebere was an associate professor and professor of graduate education at California State University. While residing in California, he also served as a director of instructional services, a principal, an assistant principal, and a teacher.

The NBPTS is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan, and nongovernmental organization. Its mission "is to advance the quality of teaching and learning by:

  • maintaining high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do,
  • providing a national voluntary system certifying teachers who meet these standards, and
  • advocating related education reforms to integrate National Board Certification in American education and to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers."
Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr.

Recently, NBPTS president Aguerrebere spoke with Education World about the organization's certification process and about its benefits to educators and to the entire education community.

Education World: National Board Certification measures a teacher's practice against "high and rigorous standards." Do you see National Board Certification as a standard of excellence that every teacher should strive for, or as a distinction that should be reserved only for the very best teachers?

Joseph A. Aguerrebere: As National Board Certification becomes better known and support for the program grows, hopefully all teachers will see this advanced certification as a professional goal worth attaining. In order to become a candidate, a teacher must have a bachelor's degree, three years of teaching experience and state certification as required.

National Board Certification is a symbol of professional teaching excellence. Each year, candidates -- whether they achieve certification or not -- describe their experience as a challenging and ultimately rewarding professional development

"What makes National Board Certified teachers unique is that they have demonstrated how every element of their work, both inside and outside the classroom, meets high standards and improves student learning," says Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr., president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

EW: What percentage of candidates for National Board Certification achieve it? What distinguishes those teachers?

Aguerrebere: Historically, fewer than half of National Board Certification candidates achieve certification on their first attempt. Candidates who fail to achieve it have an additional 24 months in which they can re-submit one or more of their certification entries. Taken together, the achievement rate over the course of those three years is approximately 70 to 75 percent.

What makes National Board Certified teachers unique is that they have demonstrated how every element of their work, both inside and outside the classroom, meets high standards and improves student learning.

EW: What resources (for example, administrative support, released time, courses specifically geared toward the process, an opportunity to work with other candidates, knowledgeable mentors) are most helpful to teachers working toward National Board Certification?

Aguerrebere: Fellow teachers can provide some of the best support for certification candidates. Because this is such a time consuming and demanding process, candidates often find it helpful to collaborate with others who are seeking National Board Certification. The process offers an opportunity for intensive, clinical conversations among teachers that center around their classroom practice and ways that they are improving student learning. Those conversations are far too rare in the teaching profession, and this is another way that National Board Certification is helping to improve the climate of learning in our schools.

Finally, supportive school administrators can make a significant difference. They are invaluable not only in inviting their teachers to pursue National Board Certification, but also in offering encouragement throughout the process.

EW: In addition to completing three portfolio entries that demonstrate their actual teaching practices, candidates for national certification must complete an entry documenting their work with students' families, the community, their colleagues, and the teaching profession as a whole. How does that entry demonstrate a candidate's teaching ability?

Aguerrebere: We know that accomplished teachers create support structures for their students that include school support staff, counselors, colleagues, administrators and, most importantly, parents. By bringing all those individuals and resources together, teachers stand a far greater chance of reaching all their students.

More National Certification Resources

Five Rhode Island teachers journal their efforts to achieve National Board Certification in the 2003-2004 Education World Teacher Diaries. Don't miss their candid revelations about the failures, frustrations, successes, and growth they experienced in their search for teaching excellence.

For specific information about the National Board Certification process, see Beginning the Journey Toward National Board Certification at the NBPTS site.

EW: Most teachers today are required to be technologically as well as academically skilled. Does the certification process address a candidate's technology and/or technology integration skills?

Aguerrebere: NBPTS Standards are living documents, and we periodically update them to reflect current changes in each of our teaching areas. To that end, the Standards in each National Board certificate area include language requiring candidates to understand the effective and appropriate use of technology in their classrooms. Candidates also have to demonstrate that they know how to help their students understand and use technology.

EW: What criteria do your evaluators use to score portfolio entries? How objective are their evaluations?

Aguerrebere: When candidates begin the National Board Certification process, they receive the scoring guide by which all of their entries will be assessed. Those scoring guides are directly tied to NBPTS Standards and are used by the assessors during the scoring process.

All NBPTS assessors must possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, a minimum of three years of successful teaching experience and they must be actively engaged as teachers in the same field as the candidates whose responses they score. Those assessors complete an intensive training workshop and must demonstrate an understanding of the NBPTS standards, directions to candidates and the scoring guides.

NBPTS conducts analyses each year to determine the level of assessor reliability. The results of those analyses have consistently indicated that NBPTS assessors are making reliable, accurate, and fair evaluations of candidates' responses.

EW: National Board evaluators do not provide suggestions for improvement to candidates who are unsuccessful on their first attempt at certification. What scoring information do they provide? How can unsuccessful candidates determine what they need to do differently?

Aguerrebere: National Board Certification is a standards-based assessment. A candidate's score reflects the degree to which assessors were able to locate clear, consistent, and convincing evidence that the candidate has met the standards specific to his or her certificate field. Assessors are instructed to identify, record, and evaluate only the evidence that candidates provide -- "missing evidence" is not identified. Assessors make no suggestions for improvement. They focus on evaluating evidence, not on giving feedback to candidates. If they did provide suggestions for improvement, that would imply that there is a template for success in National Board Certification. In fact, there are a number of ways to certify, and all are based on meeting the standards. Providing suggestions for improvement is not a part of the scoring process.

EW: The five candidates for national certification who journalled their experiences for Education World readers this year remarked frequently on the benefits of the process itself -- an increased reflection on their teaching practices and an increased awareness of education standards, for example. What effect do you think the National Certification process itself has on candidates?

Aguerrebere: Candidates tell us each year -- whether they achieve certification or not -- that pursuing National Board Certification is the best and most meaningful professional development of their careers. National Board Certified teacher and 2003 National Teacher of the Year, Dr. Betsy Rogers, who was recently profiled by Education World, often tells audiences that seeking National Board Certification helped her realize that, like other professionals, she indeed has a professional practice. National Board Certification not only provides candidates with a critical lens by which to assess their teaching, it also provides them with a clinical language by which they can speak about their classroom expertise. That's an invaluable asset that many National Board Certified teachers are leveraging in their work as mentors to the next generation of teachers in our schools.

EW: What are the most important differences between a board-certified and non-board-certified teacher?

Aguerrebere: To date, only 1 percent of America's teachers have achieved National Board Certification. What makes National Board Certified teachers unique is that they have demonstrated how every element of their work, both inside and outside the classroom, meets high standards and improves student learning. NBPTS is committed to working with the education, business, and political communities to ensure that all teachers have the professional and financial resources available to them to make seeking National Board Certification a reality.

This e-interview with Joseph A. Aguerrebere Jr. is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Beginning the Journey Toward National Board Certification

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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