Social Studies Assessment: The Role of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards


Ronald G. Helms

Social studies teachers in grades pre-K—12 now have a new opportunity to be recognized by their schools, communities, state, and nation as master teachers. Recently, the NCSS Board of Directors announced that it has discontinued the NCSS Advanced Certification Program and will henceforth encourage its members to seek certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).1 NCSS Annual Conferences will include presentations on the subject, which will be followed by many other sessions at the national and state levels.2 Because NCSS is committed to the NBPTS process and to assisting many excellent social studies educators to become National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs), we are providing the following information to begin answering questions you may have about the process.


What Is NBPTS?

The mission of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is to provide rigorous assessment and certification for accomplished pre-K—12 teachers. The process is voluntary and has been developed by teachers and other educators to recognize experienced teachers for high-quality educational practice.

NBPTS leaders are in-service classroom teachers. Facilitator training for university faculty and teachers is available at several Facilitators Institutes.3 The national office is located in San Antonio, Texas.

NBPTS has been recognized by President Clinton, Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and the governors of many states. In addition, the following professional organizations have endorsed NBPTS certification: American Association of Administrators, American Educational Research Association, American Federation of Teachers, Association of Colleges and Schools of Education in State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and Affiliated Private Universities, Association of Teacher Education, Council for American Private Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, Council of Great Cities Schools, International Reading Association, National Alliance of Black School Educators, National Association of Independent Colleges and Schools, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Education Association, National Governors Association, National Middle School Association, and the National School Boards Association.4 The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching (NPEAT) are also interested in assisting NBPTS candidates in achieving certification.5


Who Is Responsible for Assessment of Candidates?

A primary feature of the NBPTS process is that it involves certification by a teacher’s peers in the relevant field—in this case, social studies. Teachers are central to planning, implementing, developing, and modifying NBPTS policies and procedures. While universities may assist in the process, only NBCTs offer NBPTS orientation sessions and assess candidates.


Who Can Apply for Certification?

To be considered for certification, educators must first accept the five teaching propositions adopted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: (1) teachers are committed to students and their learning, (2) teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students, (3) teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning, (4) teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience, and (5) teachers are members of learning communities.6 Candidates are also required to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education, to have completed three years of teaching, and to hold a valid license in the state in which the candidate is teaching.


Why Should a Teacher Seek NBPTS Certification?

Many state departments of education are encouraging teachers to apply for NBPTS assessment. As an incentive, several states and local school districts pay additional stipends to teachers achieving the rank of National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). These stipends may be paid annually for a period of ten years. Several local school districts have also negotiated additional salaries for successful NBCTs.

Conceptually, NBPTS certification is analogous to professional board certification for attorneys, medical doctors, and other highly regarded professions. The NBCT carries the label NBCT following her/his name, just as a doctor would cite an M.D. or Ph.D. NBPTS certification acknowledges a true professional status for teachers. Most NBCTs value the certification process as the most rewarding professional development activity that they have undertaken. One benefit for teachers holding NBPTS certification is license portability. Several states have agreed to accept this certification as the equivalent for licensure for teachers moving into new states.

This author has observed that the intrinsic reward of completing the NBPTS process (whether or not NBCT status is obtained) supersedes the economic value. Teachers clearly internalize that they are members of communities of learners. Deep personal changes occur. Teachers testify that they clearly realize that the NBPTS process has improved teaching and learning. This new pride will benefit future students for many years.

In addition, Helms and Herrelko are developing a model for incorporating the NBPTS into a master’s degree program.7 At a recent seminar in Washington, D.C., scholars from several National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education institutions considered paradigms for redesigning the master’s degree. The process of authentic assessment required by the NBPTS may, for example, replace the master’s projects or thesis.8


What NBPTS Certification Areas Are Available in Social Studies?

Social studies teachers who specialize in the elementary level may apply for certification in the following areas:

> Early Childhood/Generalist (ages 3-8)

> Middle Childhood/Generalist (ages 7-12)

> Early Adolescence Generalist (ages 11-15)

Social studies teachers who specialize in the middle or junior high school level may apply for certification in the following areas:

> Middle Childhood/Generalist (ages 7-12)

> Early Adolescence Generalist (ages 11-15)

> Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History (ages 11-15)

Secondary social studies teachers may apply for certification in the following areas:

> Adolescence through Young Adult/ Social Studies-History (ages 14-18+)9


What Happens After a Teacher Is Accepted for Candidacy for Certification?

Social studies teachers who are accepted for the NBPTS candidacy receive “The Box,” a container that is about the size of two shoe boxes and contains a wealth of materials that varies with the type of certification being sought. In addition, teachers are strongly advised to attend an official orientation session conducted by National Board Certified Teachers. Following the orientation session, the teacher should immediately contact his or her state department of education about funding support.


How Is Assessment Carried Out?

The national board has developed an innovative, two-part assessment process to determine whether a teacher possesses the attributes of accomplished teaching based on NBPTS standards.

In the first component of the assessment, the teacher demonstrates evidence of good teaching practice by preparing a portfolio of work carried out at the teacher’s school. The portfolio must contain two videotapes of classroom teaching, along with lesson plans, samples of student work, and written commentaries in which the teacher reflects on what he or she is doing and why. Generally, this record of evidence should be concerned with comprehension of higher-level thinking skills, stimulation of the learning process, discovery and inquiry, intellectual engagement, and reflection (by both teacher and his or her students).

The second component of the assessment involves exercises conducted at an assessment center.10 Candidates spend one full day during the summer months at one of the NBPTS assessment centers located around the United States. These exercises, designed around challenging teacher issues, include evaluating other teachers’ practice, interviews, and exams in the social studies field. The assessments are mostly computer based and typically consist of four 90-minute sessions. Exercises vary according to grade level and content level, so that Early Childhood/Generalist (ages 3-8) candidates, for instance, are assessed differently than are Adolescence through Young Adult/Social Studies-History (ages 14-18+) candidates.11

Each portfolio entry and assessment center activity will then be carefully evaluated and scored. The scoring rubric is part of the initial materials provided to the candidates.

The national NBPTS office has established varying dates for applications, portfolios, and assessment centers. Due dates on portfolios range between April and June. Notification of certification occurs between November and December.


How Much Time Does Certification Require?

Teacher candidates have about five months to compile their portfolios. Most teachers report spending about 120 hours on the portfolios, or the equivalent of about one day a week over a semester.


What Is the Fee for NBPTS Certification, and How Is the Money Used?

The application fee for the certification process is $2,000. Because performance-based assessment is a lengthy and complex process, most of the revenue generated by fees goes to compensate teachers who score candidates’ entries. The remainder of that revenue pays office expenses.


Is Financial Support Available?

Yes, fee supports and incentives for teachers seeking certification are available in many states. Because each state has different provisions and requirements, teachers should contact their state department of education for details. States often require that teachers attend an NBPTS orientation session in order to receive financial support.


Are Those Who Fail to Be Certified on the First Try Allowed to Try Again?

A retake policy applies to the 1998-99 social studies candidates. Those who fail certain components of the assessment are permitted to “bank” the individual scores for the requirements they have satisfied. They then have three years in which they may resubmit entries and retake exercises.

An additional fee of $275.00 is charged for each entry or exercise that a NBPTS candidate chooses to retake. This is because assessment of a candidate’s work requires payment to trained assessors.

Although various states may fund the initial $2000.00 fee for NBPTS candidates, many states are currently reluctant to fund retake fees. Candidates are urged to consult their state departments of education for retake funding possibilities. The retake policy and fee will continue to be monitored by the NBPTS.


How Long Is a National Board Certificate Valid?

Certificates are valid for ten years, although the board is currently studying renewal options.


What Is the Role of NCSS and the State Affiliates in the Process?

Although NCSS has no official relationship with the NBPTS or formal role in the certification process, it is committed to assisting its members in becoming National Board Certified Teachers.


Can NCSS Teachers Become Assessors?

Yes, social studies teachers may become NBPTS assessors by attending assessor scoring institutes. They do not need to be NBCTs themselves to become assessors. Assessors are provided with a $100 per day honorarium.


Where Can I Get More Information?

Visiting the NBPTS web site ( is a critical first step for social studies teachers. The author’s page ( offers additional information about other relevant web sites. The phone number for NBPTS is 1-800-22-TEACH. Publications available include the most recent editions of Guide to National Board Certification and What Every Teacher Should Know. Teachers should also contact their state boards of education for state support and information.

To keep up with new developments, teachers are encouraged to consult the following web sites, in addition to those listed above:

> Where is it happening?—a clickable U.S. map that lists the states supporting NBPTS;

>;types of support available from school districts, educational associations, and state departments of education;

>—a link on this page listing specific assistance from states participating in NBPTS;

> complete list of 1,836 NBCTs by state, certification area, and alphabetical index. It is important to remember that 1998-99 was the first year for NBPTS social studies certification, so a list of NBCTs in social studies will not be available until late November or early December 1999;

> list of colleges and universities that offer support groups and assistance in preparing for NBPTS;

>—the author’s university and support program;

>;the NBPTS Institutes: Facilitators’ Institute, Facilitators’ II Institute, and Scoring Institute. G



1. Martharose Laffey, “National Board Certification Enhances Professionalism of Social Studies Teachers,” The Social Studies Professional 147 (1998): 7.

2. Teresa Eagan, “Social Studies Teachers and National Board Certification” (Paper presented at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference, Anaheim, Calif., November 21, 1998); Ronald Helms, “National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification for K-12 Educators” (Forthcoming NCSS conference presentation).

3. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Guide to National Board Certification (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1999).

4. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, What Every Teacher Should Know (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1999), 5.

5. Ronald Helms, “NCATE and National Council for the Social Studies Standards” (Paper presented at the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, Washington, D.C., May 24, 1998).

6. NBPTS, Guide to National Board Certification, 5.

7. Ronald Helms and Janet Herrelko, “The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: Masters Degree Design” (Paper presented at the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education Conference, Washington, D.C., May 1, 1999).

8. Peggy J. Blackwell and May Diez, Toward a New Vision of Master’s Education for Teachers (Washington, D.C.: National Council for Teacher Education, 1998).

9. NBPTS, What Every Teacher Should Know, 6.

10. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Assessment Center Orientation Booklet (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1998).

11. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Assessment Center Preparations: Exercise Stimulus Material for Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Social Studies-History (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1998); National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Assessment Center Preparations: Exercise Stimulus Material for Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1998); National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Exercise Stimulus Material for Adolescence and Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1998).


Ronald G. Helms is an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Services at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is a trained National Board for Professional Teaching Standards facilitator and Principal Investigator for an NBPTS grant to work with teacher candidates.


Sample Assessment Exercises


NBPTS requires a high degree of confidentiality about work completed at the assessment center. Candidates are urged not to reveal assessment items. The following examples of possible social studies assessments are based on practice materials provided to 1998—1999 NBPTS social studies candidates.


1. Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History Assessment (student ages 11- 15)

a. Using Primary Sources to Teach Multiple Perspectives. Candidates are mailed a packet of artifacts including political cartoons, photos and news articles. This assessment asks the candidate to design a lesson using four resources and to teach the lesson addressing multiple perspectives.

b. Using Student Work and Information to Inform Instruction. Teachers are provided with a scenario concerning 1-2 student(s), and are asked to plan strategies for future instruction of the student.

c. Addressing Learning Styles Through Interdisciplinary Instruction. Teachers are mailed a packet of songs, literature, poetry, and science and math materials. The assessment asks teachers to design several interdisciplinary learning experiences that address multiple learning styles.

d. Professional Readings. Several articles from professional journals (including Social Education) are mailed to teachers. The candidates are asked to analyze the readings.


2. Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Social Studies-History Assessment
(student ages 14- 18+)

a. Depth of Knowledge. Candidates are presented a powerful idea or central concept and asked to demonstrate their depth of knowledge from one of the disciplines of U.S History, World Civilizations, Economics, Political Science, and Geography

b. Breadth of Knowledge. Teachers are asked to answer five constructed-response questions from each of the five disciplines.

c. Professional Readings. Several articles from professional journals (including Social Education) are mailed to teachers. The candidates are asked to analyze the readings.

d. Instructional Design. Teachers are given a scenario and student work from 2-3 students. Teachers are then asked to identify student misconceptions and to address those student misconceptions.

©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.