Originally created 01/03/06

Some question teacher certification



AIKEN - Ellen Cotton said that when it was finally time to videotape her class to submit as part of her certification portfolio, her pupils were already used to the equipment.

Ms. Cotton, a teacher in the gifted and talented program at Jefferson Elementary School, said the repeated videotaping helped her improve her teaching skills on the path to attaining her National Board Certification, the highest credential available in her profession.

"It was probably the most beneficial professional development I've ever done," Ms. Cotton said of her one-year National Board Certification venture. "The whole process is based on student learning and how everything that you do is going to benefit student learning. I believe it keeps that in the front of your mind the whole time."

While the results of a new study show the positive impact teachers with National Board Certification have on learning, some continue to question the merits of the process.

A University of South Carolina study, commissioned by the state Department of Education and released last month, compared the 2004 Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests performance of pupils in grades four through eight whose teachers had received National Board Certification with the performance of pupils whose teachers had not received the certification.

It found that in the English/Language Arts portion of the test, the pupils of teachers with certification performed better than pupils whose teachers did not have the certification.

Five Aiken County teachers received National Board Certification last year and will be offered a salary supplement from the state of $7,500 for every year they teach after attaining it, for the 10-year duration of their certificates.

Many other states offer similar incentives, but some question the cost of the program.

Michael Podgursky, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri, whose research specialty includes teacher effectiveness, said teachers' expenses as they pursue National Board Certification add up.

He said that the cost is compounded because only half of the applicants pass the certification test on the first attempt.

"You may get a student achievement gain out of that but then you have to ask, 'Well, was that cost-effective to get the gain?'" Mr. Podgursky said. "We really don't have a lot of evidence on that."

Frank G. Roberson, Aiken County's associate superintendent for instruction, said the district measures the impact the certification has on pupil learning and has determined there is a slight gain.

"Any improvement over where you are in terms of effective teaching is always good," Dr. Roberson said. "I think for these teachers to go through this process is quite complimentary of those teachers, and they're already demonstrating effectiveness in the classroom on a daily basis."

State Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means' K-12 education subcommittee, said he believes more teachers with the certification need to be placed in low-performing schools.

"I still think that National Board Certification is a good thing," Mr. Smith said. "The question is whether the investment the state is making into National Board Certification is worth the investment."

Reach Nathan Dickinson at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or nathan.dickinson@augustachronicle.com.