N.C. study finds certification pays off for students

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Students taught by teachers who are National Board-certified scored as much as 15 percent higher on standardized tests than students taught by teachers without Board certification, according to a study of North Carolina elementary students released in March.

Previous studies have looked at the effectiveness of National Board certification. But the new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, is believed to be the first large-scale research to examine the relationship between individual teachers and the achievement of their students.

Researchers collected math and reading scores of 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-graders in North Carolina for 1996 through 1998, then linked more than 600,000 student records to individual teachers. Students of board-certified teachers scored higher than students whose teachers attempted but failed to earn certification. The gains made by 3rd-graders and lower-income students were as high as 15 percent.

Still, critics warn that while the study looks promising, it is not definitive.

“Everyone should know that this pioneer study is quite limited—limited to North Carolina in the late 1990s, for starters, and to students in grades 3, 4, 5,” warns Chester Finn, Jr., president of the Washington, D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. “Many of the student gains associated with [National Board-] certified teachers are small, and some aren’t statistically significant.”

But North Carolina was the ideal state in which to conduct the study, say researchers. Its roster of 6,600 National Board certified teachers is the highest in the nation.

“North Carolina has had 10 years to grow this,” says Karen Garr, director of the Southeast Regional Office of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Plus, we’ve had a supportive environment from the state board of education, and we had Gov. [James] Hunt.” Hunt, who served as governor for eight years, is the founding chair of NBPTS.

When he was in office, “every principal got a letter from him every spring and fall that said, ‘Go find teachers to encourage to go through National Board,’ ” Garr says. “The candidate count really did go up when those letters when out.”

“We have a lot of schools now where something is happening to the culture,” Garr says. “One teacher is a spark, and it’s like rubbing two sticks together. Principals are saying, ‘I’m impressed that you are doing this.’ The process mushrooms.”