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Can Teacher Quality Be Effectively Assessed?

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Document date: March 08, 2004
Released online: March 08, 2004

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This is an updated version of a paper of the same title previously posted on the Urban Institute website on 3/8/04.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

I. Introduction

Education research has failed to reach a consensus over which, if any, readily identifiable teacher characteristics are associated with students' learning gains, and it remains an open question as to whether it is even possible to judge teachers' effectiveness outside of direct observations of their teaching. From a policy perspective this is extremely problematic: state-level policymakers lack the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about teacher licensure, and local policymakers lack information that might be useful in hiring teachers and determining compensation. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers the potential to address some of these issues through the creation of a voluntary certification process whereby teachers who are considered to be highly effective can demonstrate, and gain recognition for, their knowledge and teaching skills.1

Participation in the NBPTS program has grown dramatically over a relatively short period of time. The National Board began by certifying fewer than 100 teachers in 1994-95, and by November 2003 had certified approximately 32,000 teachers (out of approximately 65,000 applicants2). This dramatic increase in current applicants and National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) is likely to be at least partially attributable to the incentives that many states and districts have adopted for NBPTS certification. Many pay at least a portion of the $2,300 application fee required for the NBPTS assessment. The total value of fees paid to NBPTS (by localities, states, or teachers) is approximately $150 million.3 This is on top of the considerable direct federal (over $100 million) and private (over $100 million) support that NBPTS has received.4 In addition, some states and localities offer salary supplements to NBCTs.5 In North Carolina, for instance, NBCTs receive a 12 percent increase in their base pay, and in California, NBCTs who opt to teach in a high-poverty school for four years were at one time eligible to receive a $20,000 merit award.6 While these examples certainly represent the more generous of the direct financial incentives provided to NBCTs, many districts provide other types of incentives (e.g., release time or preparation assistance) that are also costly but more difficult to quantify.

The recognition and financial incentives that NBPTS certified teachers receive in various states and school districts indicate that many policymakers view this certification as a signal of teacher quality. The NBPTS assessment process may also be viewed as an important professional development opportunity for teachers (http://www.nbpts.org/standards/nbcert.cfm), since it involves a number of exercises designed to require "intense self-reflection and analysis" of their own teaching,7 which, at least in theory, has the potential to build human capital. National Board advocates view NBPTS as an important vehicle for setting high standards (and raising them) for classroom educators, for "professionalizing" teaching, and for encouraging positive education reforms overall—ultimately contributing to the goal of improving student achievement.

National Board skeptics, by contrast, view NBPTS as an organization that has garnered significant public and private investment despite a lack of evidence on its efficacy in identifying effective teachers (Finn 2003). In fact, a survey of the literature reveals surprisingly little quantitative evidence on whether NBPTS is successfully accomplishing its stated mission: to advance the quality of teaching and learning by establishing standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, and recognizing those teachers who demonstrate mastery of those standards. It remains an open question as to whether this certification should be treated as a signal of teacher quality, or if the process should be viewed as one that builds the human capital of teachers.

In this paper, we describe the results of a study assessing the relationship between NBPTS certification of teachers and elementary-level student achievement. More specifically, using a unique data set from North Carolina, we estimate student level value-added models and test whether the value added by NBCTs differs from that of unsuccessful current applicants and non-applicant teachers. Our findings indicate that NBPTS is successfully identifying the more effective teachers among applicants, and that NBPTS-certified teachers, prior to becoming certified, were more effective than their non-certified counterparts at increasing student achievement. The statistical significance and magnitude of the "NBPTS effect," however, differs significantly by grade level and student type.

The paper is laid out as follows: Section II provides some background information on NBPTS, as well as a brief overview of the research literature on the relationship between various teacher characteristics and student outcomes. Section III describes the data and analytic methods we used in the study, and Section IV presents our results. Section V offers some conclusions and policy recommendations.

Notes from this section

1. Specifically, NBPTS was founded in 1987 with a three-fold mission: 1) to establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, (2) to develop and operate a national voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards, and (3) to advance related education reforms to capitalize on the expertise of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) (http://www.nbpts.org).

2. This estimate was calculated using the total number of NBCTs as of November 2003 and the average pass rate for current applicants nationwide, which is 48 percent according to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and NBPTS officials.

3. This is calculated based on the product of the total number of current applicants, estimated to be 65,000 over the life of NBPTS, and the $2,300 assessment fee.

4. Through September 2002, NBPTS has been appropriated federal funds of $119.3 million, representing approximately 45 percent of the more than $250 million in total money received for the National Board Certification project (http://www.nbpts.org).

5. As of May 2003, 32 states and many localities offer at least one type of financial incentive (bonus or salary supplement) for teachers to become NBPTS certified, and some type of formalized support is offered in 49 states and approximately 486 local school districts, including the District of Columbia (http://www.nbpts.org/).

6. See http://www.teachnow.la/common/incentives.php for more information on this NBPTS incentive.

7. For a detailed description of the assessment see http://www.nbpts.org/standards/dev.cfm.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Topics/Tags: | Education | Employment

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