Maine Schools in Focus: National Board Certification—Strengthening the Teaching Profession and Closing the Opportunity Gap

Maine Schools in Focus - National Board Certification
Tamara Ranger, photo by Bob Baille (courtesy University of Maine at Farmington)

Tamara Ranger, Reading Interventionist
Skowhegan Area Middle School
2017 Maine Teacher of the Year


Spring, 2003. After a full day of teaching, I stood in the teachers’ room at school photocopying documents of contact hours as evidence that I was a “highly qualified” teacher—one of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal mandate. As I finished up, one of my colleagues entered, and I turned to her and pointed down to the stack of papers. “The only thing these papers prove,” I said, “is that I attended professional workshops and conferences—they demonstrate nothing about how the knowledge I gained is impacting my kids. In fact, it doesn’t even reflect if I tried implementing any new strategies.” She nodded her head in agreement, sighing at one more well-intentioned, but ill-conceived mandate coming out of Washington. Motivated by our shared frustration with NCLB and our common desire to truly measure the impact of our teaching practices, I told her about a process I had recently heard of called National Board Certification. “This is an intense process that asks teachers to submit lessons and videos of their teaching, along with student work samples and written reflections on their teaching choices and how they impacted student learning. I’ve made up my mind to do it. You interested?”

National Board Certification is a voluntary advanced professional certification for educators, and identifies teaching excellence through a performance-based, peer-reviewed assessment. It is designed to develop, retain and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide. National Board is based on 5 Core Propositions (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2016b) and its standards define what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do in 25 Certificate Areas (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2016a). The Certificate areas represent 16 subjects and four developmental levels, so they are applicable to most teachers in Maine’s public schools.

The conversation I had with my colleague was the first step on my journey to becoming a National Board-certified teacher, and Board-certification remains one of the most impactful professional learning experiences of my teaching career. The ongoing, classroom embedded portfolio entries and deep analysis of my teaching practice provided a lens in which to view the impact of my instructional choices on real students in real time, which led to increased student learning and achievement. To this day, all of my lessons are framed around these questions, “Why am I teaching this lesson to these students at this time? What is the impact of my teaching on student learning? How do I know this? What might I do different next time? What might I change when working with another group of students?” The National Board process made me a more intentional teacher by continuously asking me to engage in critical inquiry of my teaching practice.

Indeed, National Board’s bottom line is student learning and National Board has always understood Hattie’s (2003) research confirming the classroom teacher is one of the most powerful influencers in student learning. National Board’s mission, from the start, has been to ensure that every child is taught by an accomplished teacher. Extensive research (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2018) shows the value of Board certification on student learning. The impact is even greater for low-income and minority students. This is especially relevant in Maine, considering that “47% of our public students come from economically disadvantaged homes and half of all students who are not economically disadvantaged are proficient in math and reading while only about a quarter of their economically disadvantaged peers are proficient” (Educate Maine, 2018). Maine schools will see significant improvement if they can increase the number of teachers who meet NBPT standards. This is especially important in schools serving high-needs students.

In addition to impact on student learning, Board-certification opened up leadership opportunities for me at the local, state, and national level. These opportunities energized me and renewed my commitment to my students and the teaching profession. And I am not alone. Throughout my years with National Board, I have witnessed increased engagement and excitement as teachers join the growing community of Board-certified teachers and take advantage of new professional networks and leadership opportunities. It’s no secret that when teachers have a voice in leading and shaping their profession, they remain more engaged and attrition rates decrease. Given Maine’s aging teaching population and the number of experienced teachers choosing early retirement, focusing on teacher leadership opportunities and job satisfaction will help us maintain a strong, high-quality teaching force.

There are significant supports and incentives in place for Maine teachers in earning their National Board Certification:

  • Comprehensive coaching and support for National Board candidates (NBCTs of Maine in partnership with Maine Education Association)
  • Scholarship funds for portfolio application fees (Maine Department of Education)
  • $3,000 year stipend for NBCTs for duration of their certificate (Maine Department of Education)
  • National Board is one of the approved models in Maine’s Teacher Evaluation System (PEPG: Professional Learning and Professional Growth)
  • Recognition at Maine Pinning Ceremony (NBCTs of Maine and MEA)
  • Recognition at Education Symposium (Educate Maine)

Currently, Maine has approximately 17,000 employed teachers and from that number, just 380 are National Board Certified. National Board Certified teachers have a positive impact on student learning, and participation in the NBPTS community enhances and elevates the teaching profession. Looking at these positive results in concert with Maine’s opportunity/achievement gap and Maine’s teaching workforce needs, the implication is clear:  we should expand the number of Board-certified teachers in our state, helping to ensure that every child is taught by an accomplished teacher. Policy-makers and education leaders can use the questions below as a starting point for a broader conversation on how to make this happen.

  • What strategies could my school district use to encourage National Board Certification?
  • What role can National Board Certified Teachers play in fostering a professional culture of continuous improvement in my school or district?
  • How might policy makers support districts to encourage and support teachers earning National Board Certification?
  • How might policy makers encourage National Board Certified teachers to teach in high needs schools?
  • What teacher leadership opportunities might policy makers help make available to National Board Certified teachers?
  • How can the Maine Department of Education capitalize on the expertise of our state’s National Board Certified Teachers?

References:

  • Educate Maine. (2018). Education Indicators for Maine. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www.educatemaine.org/docs/EducateMaine_2018_IndicatorReportWEB01.pdf
  • Hattie, John, “Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence?” (2003).
    https://research.acer.edu.au/research_conference_2003/4
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2016 a). Categories for board certification [Pamphlet]. Arlington, VA: National Board for professional teaching standards.
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2018). Elevating Teaching, Empowering Teachers. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.nbpts.org/research/
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2016 b). What teachers should know and be able to do (2nd ed.). Arlington, VA: NBPTS.
  • Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, §§ 180-5-5, 4 (Maine Department of Education 2018).

For further information about National Board Certification:

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards:
https://www.nbpts.org/national-board-certification/

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: Maine
https://www.nbpts.org/in-your-state/in-your-state/me/