Panel Faults Research Critical of NBPTS Certification

Published January 1, 2003

Do teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) make a difference in raising student achievement?

“Yes,” said NBPTS officials, who just a year ago issued an open call for research to answer the question, saying they were “not just looking for feel-good research.”

But when a study of Tennessee teachers came back with a “No” answer last summer, a review panel organized by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) quickly found fault with the research.

ECS President Ted Sanders, who served on a Carnegie-funded national commission that recommended a vast expansion of NBPTS’ influence, asserted in a letter that an ECS panel had found the Tennessee study by Professor J.E. Stone, founder of the Education Consumers Clearinghouse, to be based on “inadequate data.” Stone had found NBPTS-certified teachers in the Volunteer State were no more effective than non-NBPTS-certified teachers in raising student achievement.

Rare Scrutiny

As a result of this experience, said Sanders, “we have had our belief reinforced” that education research on key issues “must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny prior to its dissemination.”

Until the Tennessee study questioned the value of NBPTS certification, ECS has never questioned nor seen the need to review studies, commissioned by the NBPTS, that assert the effectiveness of national certification. Even so, ECS styles itself as a watchdog acting on behalf of state governments, many of which assume the validity of the national certification process by awarding bonuses of up to $7,500 to teachers who meet NBPTS requirements.

To promote the validity of national certification, NBPTS officials often tout a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina/Greensboro, who compared 31 teachers awarded national certification with 34 who were not. The Greensboro team, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS, found the certified teachers performed significantly better on most of the subjective criteria assessed by the NBPTS standards, such as “multidimensional perception.” The study did not, however, look at the teachers’ effect on actual student achievement.

Certification and Student Achievement

Stone’s research did. Drawing on data from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System for the 16 NBPTS-certified grades 3-8 teachers in Tennessee who have value-added teacher reports in the state database, Stone, a professor at East Tennessee State University, found in May 2002 that the nationally board-certified teachers had not risen above average in bringing about increased achievement by their students. (See “Nationally Certified Teachers Come Up Short on Achievement,” School Reform News, August 2002.)

Using the value-added yardstick and looking at the 16 NBPTS-certified teachers collectively, Stone found only 14 percent of scores on various subjects were at least 15 percent above the national normal gain–Tennessee’s “A” standard–while 10 percent of scores were less than 85 percent of the national normal gain–Tennessee’s “F” standard. With the bulk of scores falling between those extremes, the student achievement gains realized under NBPTS teachers were no greater than gains made under other teachers, according to Stone.

Since Stone used only 16 of the 40 NBPTS-certified teachers in Tennessee, the four-member panel assembled by ECS to critique the Tennessee study claimed Stone had not made clear how he selected the “study sample” of 16 teachers. However, Stone’s study explicitly stated the 16 teachers were those who “teach in grades three through eight and therefore have value-added ‘teacher reports’ in the state database.” They were not a sample at all, but the entire universe of NBPTS-certified teachers in Tennessee for whom value-added data were available.

“When a certification process is checked 16 times and found wrong every instance, any reasonable person would say it isn’t trustworthy regardless of what might be inferred about others who have been certified by the same process,” Stone commented.

Red Herring

Nevertheless, the ECS review panel chose to focus its attention on the number of certified teachers in the study, which was about half the number in the Greensboro study. University of Pennsylvania Dean Susan Fuhrman, who headed the ECS panel that reviewed Stone’s work, reported her reviewers were unanimous in finding that Stone’s conclusions “severely overreach,” adding: “It would be hazardous enough to base recommendations about the whole NBPTS system on a study of teachers in only one state. Relying on the Stone study, which provides no data about sample teachers that would enable interpretation and includes an extraordinarily small sample, is impossible.”

The ECS fault-finding panel also took a swipe at the use of teacher effects data from the Terra Nova test, from which the Tennessee value-added system draws data for analysis of teacher impact. The panel commented that “some teachers increase student scores on multiple-choice tests like Terra Nova by narrowly focusing on the specific knowledge and skills it covers. If teachers recognized by the NBPTS do not focus so narrowly while other teachers do, their students may not perform as well as the students of other teachers.” That statement not only implies a disdain for objective testing, but also suggests the ECS panel supports the NBPTS’ definition of great teaching, which does not require evidence of measurable impacts on students.

The ECS reaction to the Stone study suggests the education establishment is worried criticism could threaten the accreditation, licensure, and certification standards enforced largely through schools of education. A new report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni titled “Educating Teachers: The Best Minds Speak Out” provides perspective on the stakes in this debate.

Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The Education Commission of the States’ panel review of the J.E. Stone study can be found on the Internet at

Stone’s response to the ECS review and his original study of Tennessee NBPTS-certified teachers are available at the Web site of the Education Consumers Clearinghouse. The URL for the response is; the URL for the study is

Educating Teachers: The Best Minds Speak Out, published in June 2002 by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, is available in paperback for $14.95 through Point your Web browser to