Performance Assessment for Teachers

Teacher & Employment Testing

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is receiving praise from teachers and education experts for its efforts to establish a performance-based teacher certification process, but it also faces financial overruns that are hampering progress. The NBPTS experience provides a useful model for the potential and problems of establishing authentic assessment systems.


NBPTS, a 63-member non-profit group, was formed in 1987 to set standards for what teachers should know and be able to do and to devise a corresponding assessment system through which teachers can voluntarily earn a national credential. Certificates in 19 grade level/content areas (such as Early Childhood/Generalist) will eventually be available, each based on extensive, specialized standards. NBPTS stresses five propositions that underlie all the standards:

  • Teachers should be committed to students and their learning;
  • Teachers should know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students;
  • Teachers should be responsible for managing and mentoring student learning;
  • Teachers should think systematically about practice and learn from experience; and
  • Teachers should be members of learning communities.

To become certified, teachers participate in a two-part assessment geared to their specialty and modeled on the same principles underlying authentic assessment of students: it is multi-faceted, takes place over time, and uses classroom products and records of teaching activities as central measures. NBPTS will contract with numerous educational research and development firms to design the 19 different assessments, but will ensure that each has the same basic structure.


Candidates first spend several months compiling a portfolio that may include lesson plans, student work with comments, interpretive case studies and videotapes of classroom interactions. Next, they spend two days at an NBPTS assessment center participating in structured interviews, discussions, and paper-and-pencil exams of content knowledge. Teachers say they find the requirements rigorous and time-consuming, but helpful for self-analysis. One of NBPTS's purposes is to increase public regard for teaching, another is to improve it from within.


NBPTS standards of excellence in each teacher certification area include outlines for appropriate assessment practice. For instance, the Early Adolescence/English Language Arts assessment standard encourages teachers to use a range of formal and informal methods to monitor student progress, plan instruction, promote student self-assessment and report to various audiences. It reads, in part:


. . . To the degree [accomplished] teachers control such decisions, they choose assessment instruments that align with the overarching goals of the curriculum, not standardized tests . . . [They] know that portfolios can be an effective source for gauging student language growth provided they are authentic records of the natural pulse of classroom intellectual life and not artificially assembled to meet an external, non-germane test requirement . . . They take into account cultural biases and linguistic realities in their assessment practices . . .


Unfortunately, this certification procedure is costly and lengthy for both candidates and the Board. The teacher application fee, for example, is $2,000, raised this year from the already steep price of $975. However, many states and districts have extensive reimbursement and incentive programs already in place to defray that cost and support the system, and several states now accept National Board certification in lieu of state-specific credentials.


NBPTS, on the other hand, is being forced to scale back its plans due to cost overruns. While costs dropped from $4,000 per assessment in 1993-94 to $2,500 last year, they must be further reduced if NBPTS is to survive.


The bulk of NBPTS expense is incurred scoring applications. Each part is judged by two trained teacher-scorers, then rescored to ensure reliability. As with performance assessment of students, personal attention to examinee work is time consuming and costly, but it is a cornerstone of the process s integrity. NBPTS insists it will be able to lower costs without compromising this quality.


To economize, some officials suggest inviting only teachers with passing portfolios to the 2-day site visit, or cutting the visit to one day. NBPTS has also convened a rethinking task force to devise strategies for maintaining reliable, high-quality assessments, but with a more feasible fiscal structure. Meanwhile, NBPTS was recently forced to cancel three development contracts, and although initial plans slated nine categories of certificates to be available by fall 1996, now only six teaching areas will be covered by then.


The first national teacher certificates were awarded in January to 81 of 289 Early Adolescence Generalists who applied. Ninety of 230 Early Adolescence English Language Arts candidates were certified in August. Though the initial certification process is promising in many ways, research is still needed on the assessment s equity, accuracy and utility.


National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 300 River Place, Suite 3600, Detroit, MI 48207; (313) 259-0830.