Is National Board certification for teachers worth the money and effort it requires? North Carolina is set to spend 59 percent of its total state budget on education in fiscal 2005-06, including an appropriation for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards of $3.3 million. In North Carolina’s public schools, the NBPTS credential automatically confers “high quality teacher” status to the successful applicant. In addition to footing the $2,300 fee for each application, the state allows eligible teachers three paid days of release time, and tops off their pay with a 12 percent salary differential for the 10-year life of the certificate.

A valid question is: What are we are getting in return? State education officials and the Easley administration proudly advertise North Carolina’s leadership in NBPTS credentials. North Carolina accounts for more than 8,280, or one-fifth, of the nation’s National Board certified teachers. Given the emphasis on board credentials in this state, the assumption is that certified teachers are precisely what is needed to close the gaps in our weakest students’ performance. Unfortunately, data do not support this belief.

According to “Value-Added Assessment of Teacher Quality As an Alternative to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: What Recent Studies Say” by G. Cunningham and J. E. Stone, the “teacher effect” on student achievement for NBPTS-certified teachers is about 2 percent higher, on average, than it is for non-NBPTS-certified teachers. That advantage is trivial relative to the achievement gap faced by the students who are most in need of good teaching. Even more disconcerting, given the time and expense of board recognition, is the fact that research showed that more than 40 percent of student score gains for nonboard-certified teachers were above those for students of board-certified teachers.

A 2004 study of North Carolina’s student achievement levels reported that 15 to 20 percent of North Carolina’s third-grade students were performing at Level I, the lowest academic achievement level, in math and reading. Level I third-graders trailed grade-level (Level III) achievers by 16 points in reading and 22 points in math, according to the student test data. When compared, the difference in effectiveness of NBPTS teachers was 0.49 points per year in reading, and 0.46 points per year in math. If NBPTS certification is seen as a way to close early-achievement gaps, and prevent even larger ones in later school years, it will not deliver anywhere near the annual achievement increments that are needed. As researchers G. Cunningham and J. Stone note, “decades would be required to close the achievement gap.”

What these studies tell us is that NBPTS certification, at least in itself, is not a proxy for a high- quality teacher. As a policy matter, it is also not a practical means of closing achievement gaps between grade-level peers.

An alternative means of identifying good teachers seems in order for North Carolina’s schools, and the value-added assessment technique offers a number of practical, as well as financial advantages. Teachers identified as “high quality” under the value-added system would be selected according to the size of their students’ annual achievement gains. This technique measures academic progress for each student, in each subject and year, and can identify the difference—or value-added—that each teacher contributes.

Selecting high-quality teachers using the top 10 percent of student gains, for example, means that a high-quality valued-added teacher would increase annual student performance by at least 13.55 points in reading, and 18.62 points in math (using the third-grade scores above). These student gains are 27 times as great as for the typical NBPTS-certified teacher in reading, and more than 40 times as great as the gains in math.

Cost for a value-added assessment system has been about $1 per student, and $25 per teacher. Even with appropriate salary awards for value-added gains, this teacher-effectiveness program would amount to a fraction of the state’s current and ineffective NBPTS certification-incentive program. It also has the advantage of accuracy—the effectiveness of individual teachers can be identified instead of indiscriminately rewarded (a bonus to the children as well as the taxpayers). Most significantly, the really good teachers will gain recognition as well as remuneration for their hard and successful work.

If North Carolina wants to find and retain good teachers, and to close the persistent achievement gaps between students, it would do well to look seriously at a value-added technique for teacher evaluations.

Dr. Karen Palasek is assistant editor of Carolina Journal.