In defense of national board certification

Today I read a blog post on in support of national certification.  I also read the comments at the bottom by readers, and there was one that said the process was too subjective, that this person has witnessed where good teachers did not get certified while bad teachers did.  I have read similar comments elsewhere on the internet.

I was one of the 40% who earn national certification on the first try.  Was it luck or skill, or maybe a bit of both?

I pursued national board because I am the type of person who is always looking for a challenge, something new to conquer.  I want to be the best at what I do, for my own personal satisfaction and, more importantly, for my students’ benefit.

National certification was an intense process that required me to write over 50 pages of explanation and reflection on my teaching that included samples of student work, to submit two 15-minute video clips of my classroom instruction, and to take a 3-hour exam that evaluated my pedagogical knowledge about teaching world language as well as my ability to communicate in Spanish.  I had to think a lot about what I teach, why I teach it, and the impact that it has on students.  It required me to examine everything I do with a critical eye.  I also had to demonstrate a high level of proficiency in my subject area.  I am wondering how “bad” teachers are able to bluff their way through all of that.  Having experienced the depth of work involved, I can also understand how teachers who do not achieve national certification feel intense disappointment, perhaps even deception about the certification process.

The four entries are assessed by 12 different classroom teachers, all of whom have been trained by NBPTS.  The entries are assessed according to rubrics that the candidates have access to from the start.  We as teachers are very familiar with this process because we evaluate our own students’ performance using rubrics on a regular basis.  The rubrics state that there needs to be clear, consistent, and convincing evidence of the standards in the entries.  While a candidate may be an effective teacher,  that must come through clearly in the entries for him or her to score well.  The scoring process is explained in this NBPTS document:

There has been research done to see whether the students of NBCT’s perform better than students of non-NBCT’s, and the results have been mixed.  Here are a couple of articles that I read that address the research that is available about National Board Certification.  I will warn you that they were written by people associated with National Board.

I recommend that teachers of world languages download the National Board standards for World Languages Other than English in order to evaluate their own classroom practice, whether they choose to pursue national certification or not.  I think they are a good reflection of recognized best practices for world languages and for teaching in general.  These are the revised 2011 standards for WLOE:

Finally, for those who are considering national certification, I would download all documents available for your subject area from and read them carefully before applying to be a candidate.  There is also documentation of your classroom practice and professional development that you’ll need time to gather, so being aware of those things before starting the process is beneficial.  It is estimated that the portfolio requires 200-300 hours of work to be done in one school year.  Examine your existing commitments to work and family.  Can you devote the time?  Secondly, you have to be prepared for the possibility of not getting certification the first time.  You get three tries, and about 67% of the candidates who start out earn their certification in the three years.  Are you willing to dedicate the extra time and money to re-take certain sections if you do not certify on the first or second round?  Finally, the process requires risk taking in that you have to be prepared to accept the results, whatever they may be.  If you choose to make the commitment, I highly recommend going through the process with a mentor.  In Missouri, the regional professional development centers across the state (RPDC’s) provide mentors to national board candidates.  National board also has mentor training available so that NBCT’s are trained to mentor others in an ethical way, which means giving you guidance but not telling you what to write.  You can also find support on the internet on various sites: (not very active, but I’ll reply if you post)

Search for national certification

For me personally, the national board certification process was worth it.  It caused me to reflect deeply on the teaching and learning going on in my classroom, more than I had ever done before.  It also prepared me for later opportunities in my career, such as my portfolio for ACTFL National Teacher of the Year.  I think the decision to pursue national certification is a very personal choice and one that requires thought and planning before making the decision to pursue it.  There are schools and states that offer monetary incentives for earning national certification, which is a nice perk, but I do not believe it is sufficient justification for attempting national certification.  For me, the choice to attempt national certification was about my personal pursuit of excellence, refining my skills as an educator, and seeking the best for my students.

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16 Responses to In defense of national board certification

  1. Laura Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am presently trying to decide about whether to apply this year. I was very confident until another WL teacher made a remark that only native speakers have a chance at becoming certified. I feel better having read your post.

  2. senorab72 says:

    Hi Laura,
    There is a component of the exam that tests the teacher’s ability in the target language, but non-native speakers can pass. This is based solely on my own personal opinion, but I think those with an advanced low level of proficiency can manage this portion of the exam.

    • Laura Clark says:

      Gracias! Thank you for taking the time to reply. Your advice is helpful in finalizing my decision. I have already taken and passed several versions of oral and written proficiency exams to get to this point and as I looked at the historical data in a research paper I found online, it appears that that the majority of the teachers who have passed have been non-native speakers. Sad that people have to make such comments to justify their lack of confidence to achieve a goal.

  3. shefflera says:

    I am currently going through the process right now. I didn’t make it on my first try. I’m trying to decide what to retake for my next try. No one in my district or neighboring counties have gone through the process and it’s difficult to ask questions or get answers. I thought my ideas for my original entries were really good, but now I’m having difficulty thinking about new things. Any ideas or help you would be willing to offer me, would greatly be appreciated!!

    thanks so much!

  4. Not nice .. !!! I’ m a native spansih speakers .. !!! What are you talking about??

    • senorab72 says:

      Hi Rosemarie,
      What one person commented was about the part of the national board certification process where one has to take a test of knowledge of Spanish. The person was told that it was difficult for non-native Spanish speakers to pass that portion. However, I have taken the test and passed, and I am not a native Spanish speaker, so it is possible. It was was not a comment against native Spanish speakers.

  5. aaron says:

    If you are a secondary ed., or whatever certified Spanish teacher, do you need to take a Spanish proficiency test, as part of the National Board Certification?

    • senorab72 says:

      Each state has its own certification requirements, but I know that in Missouri and in Colorado, to be certified in world language requires a Praxis exam. Unfortunately, when I tested in Missouri 20 years ago, it was a purely paper/pencil test. There was no speaking section. The national board proficiency exam is definitely more rigorous. The current recommendation by ACTFL to all colleges that train world language teachers is that they graduate at a proficiency level of advanced low.

      • senorab72 says:

        Sorry, I don’t think I exactly answered your question. Yes, one of the components of the national board certification for world languages is a proficiency exam in the language you teach.

  6. Hi!

    I am a Spanish teacher in Missouri working on National Boards. I am from St. Louis and have been trying to get in contact with a teacher who certified in WL. I have a mentor but they certified in English. I would be grateful to speak with you more about the process as I am entering my final submission year.

    Thank you for your time!

  7. Ypadin says:

    I am taking the test this Tuesday. Any advise?

  8. Adriana says:

    Hi, I encountered this site trying to find some support for WL National Board Certified teachers seeking renewal. I would like to be able to share my ideas for my PGEs and get some feedback. Would you be able to orient me? or guide me in the direction of someone that has gone through the renewal process, or that is a WL assessor?

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