National Certification for Elementary Social Studies Teachers: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards


Ronald G. Helms

One mission of Social Studies and the Young Learner is to provide the K–6 social studies educator with a variety of materials that reflect current NCSS standards and other professional standards. Recently, NCSS announced that social studies teachers should give consideration to the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards (NBPTS). In 1998, NCSS Executive Director Martharose Laffey indicated that K–12 social studies educators will be encouraged to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards.1 National Board Assessment, a special 2-hour presentation and question-and-answer session offered by NBPTS and the Educational Testing Service, was provided for participants at the 78th NCSS Annual Conference in Anaheim, California.2 This professional presentation will be followed by many other NBPTS sessions at conferences at both the national and state levels.

National Board for Professional Teacher Standards provides high and rigorous standards for accomplished teachers. The Guide to National Certification is recommended for all who would apply for certification.3 The URL for NBPTS is, and the phone number for NBPTS is 1-800-22-TEACH.


Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment has become a goal of many teachers, administrators, and curriculum developers for years. There are several models of assessment that are available for teachers. The concept of portfolio development is a solid concept.4 Please refer to the “Exemplars” section on the author’s web page ( helms/rhelms.htm) for several examples of World Wide Web portfolio assessments. National curriculum leaders have long encouraged the development of student projects and exhibitions.5 Goodlad’s recommendation to provide future educators with multiple experiences in classroom settings further emphasizes the need for authentic assessment.6 Other electronic models are as follows: Scholastic’s Electronic Portfolio, the Grady Profile, Astound, Hyperstudio, and PowerPoint. Indeed, any multimedia presentation software may be used to develop a template for student portfolios.

This article will focus on a dynamic method of student and teacher assessment: The National Board for Professional Teacher Standards.7


The National Board for Professional Teacher Standards

The National Board for Professional Teacher Standards is an organization of teachers and many other educational organizations and associations working to promote the improvement of student learning. The central process of NBPTS is both student assessment and teacher assessment.

It is important to note that most of the board of directors of NBPTS are teachers. Teachers are clearly central to planning, implementing, developing, and modifying NBPTS policies and procedures.

The application fee for the NBPTS certification process is $2,000.00. Several states are strongly supportive of this process. At this time, several states’ Department of Education will fund the $2,000.00 application fee for qualified teachers applying for NBPTS certification. Previous references will provide teachers with these data. In addition, several states and local school districts will pay additional stipends to those teachers achieving NBPTS certification.

Currently, NBPTS certification is available in the following areas:

> Early Childhood/Generalist (ages 3-8)

> Middle Childhood/Generalist (ages 7-12)

> Early Adolescence/Generalist (ages 11-15)

> Early Adolescence/English Language Arts (ages 11-15)

> Early Adolescence/Science (ages 11-15)

> Early Adolescence/Math (ages 11-15)

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

> Early Adolescence through Young Adult/Art (ages 11-18+)

> Adolescence through Young Adult/Mathematics (ages 14-18+)

> Adolescence through Young Adult/Science (ages 14-18+)

> Adolescence through Young Adult/English Language Arts (ages 14-18+)

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

The leaders of NBPTS are in-service classroom teachers. Facilitator training for university faculty and teachers is available at several NBPTS Facilitators Institutes.8 The author is a trained NBPTS facilitator, and is a Principal Investigator for an NBPTS grant to work with teacher candidates.

Universities may offer facilities, course credit, and formal sessions for candidates for NBPTS certification. The author has offered a number of in-service presentations on NBPTS for teachers. Colleges and universities are an integral component in preparing educators for NBPTS certification.9


Teaching and Learning Assessment

The National Board for Professional Teacher Standards Facilitators Institutes stress the development of a support system for candidates. Teachers who are accepted for the NBPTS Facilitators certification receive “the box.” An introductory session of the NBPTS Facilitators Institutes explores “What’s in the Box?” “The Box” is about the size of two shoe boxes. The content varies with the type of national certification desired by the teacher candidate. Each certification area has a specific assessment portfolio. Return mail envelopes and mail directions are specified. One of the requirements of “the box” or specifically the NBPTS process is video analysis of the record of evidence. Candidates must send video documentation of lessons. This is in addition to evidence of student assessments and student materials. Reflective statements must accompany the evidence. It is important to remember that NBPTS certification is a voluntary process.10


National Board for Professional Teacher Standards Propositions

NBPTS has developed a set of five propositions:

> Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

> Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

> Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.

> Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

> Teachers are members of learning communities.

If educators believe that these propositions are true, then these educators might consider NBPTS certification and assessment. The successful candidate must hold a baccalaureate from an accredited institution of higher education. The candidate must have completed three years of successful teaching. And the candidate must hold a valid certificate (license) in the state in which the candidate is teaching.



National Board for Professional Teacher Standards certification requires the reflective construction of a teaching portfolio. The record of evidence must be in written form and video form. The two video entries must be classroom based, and the videos must support the written documentation. Generally, the record of evidence is concerned with comprehension of higher level thinking skills, stimulation of the learning process, discovery and inquiry, intellectual engagement, and reflection (by both teacher and student).

Another component in NBPTS certification is a full day at an approved assessment center. The assessment center is computer-based and the assessment typically consists of four 90-minute sessions. In the assessments, teachers provide written responses to questions about both subject matter and teaching techniques. The assessments vary according to grade level and content level of each assessment. This means that Early Childhood/Generalist (ages 3-8) candidates will be assessed differently than Adolescence through Young Adult/Social Studies-History (ages 14-18+) candidates. The candidates will be given a time period in which they may report to the assessment center.

Each portfolio and each assessment center activity will be carefully evaluated and scored. The scoring rubric is part of the initial materials provided to the candidates. Thus, the components of the final score are the videotapes, student work samples and teacher comments, and the written responses at the assessment centers.

The National Board for Professional Teacher Standards national office is located in San Antonio, Texas. This office has established varying dates for applications, portfolios, and assessment centers. Due dates on portfolios vary between April and June. Notification of certification will occur between November and December.


Elementary Certification: Social Studies

Currently, the NBPTS certification areas for elementary social studies teachers are the following certificates:

> Early Childhood/Generalist (ages 3-8)

> Middle Childhood/Generalist (ages 7-12)

> Early Adolescence/Generalist (ages 11-15)

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

Primary grade teachers would apply for Early Childhood/Generalist certification. Upper elementary teachers might select from Middle Childhood/Generalist (ages 7-12), Early Adolescence/Generalist (ages 11-15), or Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History (ages 11-15). As a university facilitator, the author has worked with teachers seeking multiple NBPTS certificates. Currently, this practice is not recommended during the same academic year.

As expected, all of the generalist certification areas require demonstration of integrated teaching and accomplishments. Thus, the generalist route would require the teacher to submit documentation in writing, mathematics, social studies, and science. The Early Adolescence/Social Studies-History (ages 11-15) certificate is much more focused on social studies. The key entries in this certification are teaching reasoning through writing, making real world connections, facilitating real world connections, and fostering small-group interactions.



The certification areas do have common elements. Teachers are specifically required to submit student submissions to writing prompts and to analyze the student writing. Two 20-minute videotapes must be submitted. One tape involves whole class instruction; the second tape involves small-group interaction. The tapes must be uninterrupted and unedited. Student and teacher release forms must be signed and mailed to NBPTS. Specific forms must be used. All entries must be documented and verified. The certification process is rigorous, structured, and demanding.

The certification process may require five to seven months of preparation. NBPTS recommends the following time schedule:

> Month One

Read directions on portfolio, plan, have release forms signed, and work on practice exercises.

> Month Two

Collect documentation and compose descriptions of student work; begin video taping.

> Month Three

Continue progress.

> Month Four

Select video entries and compose written commentaries; select student writing samples and compose written commentaries; begin self-assessment of teacher entries.

> Month Five

Complete all drafts; copy all materials; mail materials to NBPTS for assessment.


NPBTS requires formal assessment at designated assessment centers. These assessments consists of four 90-minute exercises that are completed on a computer. The exercises assess a teacher’s content and content pedagogical knowledge.

University or other support groups may provide fall galas and banquets to honor the process (rather than the actual certification). The teacher candidates are notified in November of their status. State and national web pages will list the successful candidates. Several states will hold celebrations in December or in January in the state capital.

NBPTS has recently developed a “banking process.” This process allows an unsuccessful candidate to “bank” those components that were judged successful. The candidate would then be required to resubmit documentation for areas that required improvement.



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

2. “National Board Assessment” (Paper presented at the 78th NCSS Annual Conference, Anaheim, California, November 21, 1998).

3. National Board for Professional Teacher Standards, Guide to National Board Certification (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1998).

4. Ronald Helms, “Electronic Portfolio Assessment: Adolescent to Young Adult” (Paper presented at Division of Professional Practice and Research, Wright State University, Hillsboro, Ohio, September 28, 1998).

5. Theodore Sizer, Horace’s School: Redesigning the American High School (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992).

6. John Goodlad, Teachers for Our Nation’s Schools (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1990).

7. National Board for Professional Teacher Standards, What Every Teacher Should Know (Washington, D.C.: NBPTS, 1998).

8. NBPTS, Making Good Choices.

9. Ronald Helms, Colleen Finegan, and Janet Herrelko, “National Board for Professional Teaching Standards” (Paper presented at Ohio Confederation of Teacher Education Organizations, Columbus, Ohio, October 15, 1998).

10. NBPTS, Guide to National Board Certification.

About the author

Ronald G. Helms is an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Services at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.

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