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Communities of Practice and Discourse Communities: Negotiating Boundaries in NBPTS Certification

by Robert Burroughs, Tammy A. Schwartz & Martha Hendricks-Lee - 2000

Certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers experienced teachers opportunities through a written portfolio to "match" their practice to the Board’s standards. In creating standards and requiring teachers to argue in writing that they have realized the standards in their teaching, the NBPTS may offer a national discourse about teaching, and as such may form a "discourse community." However, since teachers' working knowledge is local, contextualized, personal and oral, teachers may find difficulties in entering such a discourse. Using interviews and qualitative analysis, this study of four teachers applying to NBPTS certification found that teachers have difficulty representing their knowledge about practice in writing. Those candidates who were most successful were able to assume the NBPTS discourse values, which may be at odds with teachers' working knowledge.

Certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers experienced teachers opportunities through a written portfolio to match their practice to the Boards standards. In creating standards and requiring teachers to argue in writing that they have realized the standards in their teaching, the NBPTS may offer a national discourse about teaching, and as such may form a discourse community. However, since teachers working knowledge is local, contextualized, personal, and oral, teachers may find difficulties in entering such a discourse. Using interviews and qualitative analysis, this study of four teachers applying for NBPTS certification found that teachers have difficulty representing their knowledge about practice in writing. Those candidates who were most successful were able to assume the NBPTS discourse values, which may be at odds with teachers working knowledge.

Dramatic efforts toward professionalization of teaching have been made in the last 15 years. Educational research has identified multiple kinds of knowledge (e.g., disciplinary, cultural, social) and skills (e.g., communicative, diagnostic) that teachers must possess in order to be effective in the classroom. The emerging image of the professional teacher is one who thinks systematically about her practice in the context of educational research and the experience of others, working creatively and collaboratively as a member of a learning community. As a member of a community of learners, the effective teacher uses practical knowledge and experience to help students to connect with formal disciplinary and performance knowledge (Shulman, 1986). While practical knowledge is essential to any profession (what we might call craft knowledge), studies of professions have argued that they strive to control professional knowledge and jurisdictional authority, partly through the framing and control of discourse pertaining to the profession (Abbott, 1988; Yinger, 1999).

Performance assessments from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offer experienced teachers opportunities through a written portfolio to match their practice to the standards of the board. In creating standards and requiring teachers to argue in writing that they have realized the standards in their teaching, the NBPTS may offer just such a national discourse about teaching, and as such may form a professional discourse community (Swales, 1990). Yet, as members of local communities of practice, teachers movement toward a professional discourse community may not be a natural, nor an easy process. While a community of learners or a community of practitioners provides a powerful image for teachers, this image can be at odds with achieving NBPTS certification, unless the differences between a local community and a professional discourse community are articulated. Our purpose in this paper, then, is to examine both images of teaching and use the areas of conflict to suggest an explanation for the difficulties four teachers encountered during their preparation for NBPTS certification. Our purpose is not to question the validity or reliability of the NBPTS, nor is it to judge the quality of the teachers who participated in the study. The NBPTS mission is to establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do [and] to develop and operate a national, voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards . . . (NBPTS, 1999, p. 1). Our goal, then, is to better define the nature of the task of becoming board certified, by carefully examining and analyzing the difficulties of our teacher-candidates.


Teachers are members of communities of practice, which revolve around working knowledge and ecological intelligence (Yinger & Hendricks-Lee, 1993). Such working knowledge is (among other things) local, contextualized, personal, relational, and oral. A discourse community has both intellectual and social conventions that include the kinds of issues that are addressed, the lines of reasoning used to resolve those issues, and shared assumptions about the audiences role, the writers ethos, and the social purposes for communicating (Herrington, 1985). Because the NBPTS is primarily a community of written discourse, we rely on Beauforts (1997) definition, which focuses specifically on the writing practices of a discourse community. Discourse communities are social entit[ies] within which a set of distinctive writing practices occur and beyond whose borders different writing practices occur (Beaufort, 1997 p. 518). Discourse communities like NBPTS tend to rely on knowledge that is decontextualized, written, formal, and composed for an imagined audience. Using a framework developed by Beaufort, we will argue that (1) NBPTS constitutes a discourse community and (2) such a discourse presents difficulties for many practitioners who view themselves as part of a local community of learners.


Rich descriptions of effective classroom teachers (cf., Clandinin, 1989; Lampert, 1986; Yinger & Hendricks-Lee, 1993) portray teaching as a socially constructed activity dependent on the physical, historical, and cultural environment. Within this model, practitioners do not apply objective, individual knowledge; rather, they function effectively in the community, becoming enculturated into that particular communitys subjective point of view (Brown & Duguid, 1996). Knowledge can be considered conceptual tools whose meaning is not invariant but a product of negotiation within the community (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, p. 33) This negotiation is not necessarily articulated verbally, but occurs in situ, and understandings of complex practices emerge. Within the community, members need not represent this knowledge to each other, so much of it remains implicit. This is particularly true for effective practitioners. Effective practice is evident in the continuance of an instructional activity, which usually does not call for intense analysis. More often, it is ineffective practice that requires articulation and explicit examination.

Yinger and Hendricks-Lee (1993) go so far as to argue that knowledge does not reside in the minds of individuals, but is inherent in systems: cultural systems, physical and material systems, socio-historical systems, and personal systems. The knowledge within these systems becomes available as working knowledge in particular activities and events. Teaching, for them, is conversation, from the Latin root conversari, meaning to dwell with. Like spoken conversation, teaching is situational, improvisational, and emergent. Effective teaching engages the systems in which the students are members and facilitates appropriate conversations for the particular activity.1 Learning, then, is connection, and in the classroom, the teacher and students form a community of learners engaged in systemic conversation.

Although each of the researchers cited in this section emphasizes different aspects of knowledge and learning, all agree that it is the communal context that develops and frames the understanding and interpretation of learners and practitioners (Lave & Wenger, 1990), and it is the interaction among the participants that constitutes learning. We suggest that these contextual qualities of successful teaching can present difficulties for those preparing for NBPTS certification.


NBPTS candidacy for certification involves producing a written portfolio of ones teaching, thus demanding a certain amount of writing ability. The concept of writing ability, however, has been reconceived by some researchers over the last two decades. Rather than conceiving of a general writing ability, researchers talk about situated writing knowledge (Berkenkotter, Huckin, & Ackerman, 1988; Herrington, 1985; McCarthy, 1987). For example, consider the problem of college freshman English composition. In traditional freshman composition courses, students are taught to write academic essays, generally concentrating on the most common features of academic prose: an argument with a thesis and evidentiary support. The problem is that an argument in sociology is much different from an argument in biology. This is a shorthand way of saying that different disciplines have different ways of knowing (Anderson et al., 1990; Bazerman & Russell, 1994; Faigley & Hansen, 1985; Langer, 1992). There is some evidence that even within disciplines, there are various ways of constructing arguments (Herrington, 1985). The resulting problem for a freshman writer becomes, as David Bartholomae characterizes it, one of inventing the university as students learn to speak not only academic English, but physics English, sociology English, or history English (Bartholomae, 1985).

To learn to write, then, is to learn the specific knowledge and practices of a field and its characteristic discourse. The concept of a discourse community is one way of describing the norms and shared knowledge that influence composing practices in a discipline, or indeed any social group. The concept has its roots in both sociolinguistics (Hymes, 1974) and literary studies (Fish, 1980). Hymes (1974) used the term speech community to refer to speech practices that are specific to a given group of speakers; Fish used the term interpretive community to refer to textual values and practices specific to groups of readers. Bizzell (1982) and Swales (1990) applied the notion of group values and practices to the field of writing and composition, using the term discourse community. For example, Bizzell (1982) defined discourse community as an audiences shared expectations, embodied in the discourse conventions, which are in turn conditioned by the communitys work (p. 219, quoted in Beaufort, 1997).

In an attempt to analyze the various components of knowledge that members of a discourse community share, Beaufort (1997) identifies three critical features of communicative activities required to create a discourse community. First, she identifies the modes of communication, including the interplay of oral and written language; second, she identifies the over-arching norms for texts with regard to genre features; and third, the roles for writers and specific tasks as defined by the communicative situation (p. 489). She proposes three additional factors that interact with communicative activities to define discourse communities: (1) a set of underlying values and goals for the community that influence all productions of text; (2) certain material conditions like spatial relations among participants; and (3) individual writers histories, goals, and skills (p. 489).

Beauforts analysis allows us to see not only the complexity of composition knowledge that members of a community possess, but also the importance of the interplay between individuals values and skills and communities values and norms for texts. Learning to write, in Beauforts terms, becomes learning how to negotiate individual and community values as they are instantiated in particular texts. In the section that follows, we analyze the task of NBPTS candidacy from the perspective of Beauforts (1997) features and factors of a discourse community, arguing that NBPTS candidacy constitutes a discourse community. We will pay particular attention to the values that NBPTS espouses, later contrasting those with the values of individual candidates.


Our analysis of the NBPTS as a discourse community will begin with an explanation of the values and goals that underlie the NBPTS. We then will analyze the material conditions and the roles and tasks that certification presents, followed by our analysis of the norms for texts and the communicative activities involved in candidacy. The data collected for this study, which categorizes candidates difficulties with the NBPTS portfolio process, constitute Beauforts (1997) final factor of writers individual values, goals, and skills.

NBPTS community goals and values. In its broadest terms, NBPTS certification values articulateness in teaching. That is, accomplished teachers are those who are able to articulate reasons for the many practices they engage in as teachers. From the boards perspective, these reasons include, but are not limited to, being able to discuss such classroom practices as why certain actions were taken, what other actions might have been taken, and what future actions could be taken. Such a notion of the articulate teacher is inherent in the boards conception of certified teachers as leaders. Teacher leaders who engage in such roles as professional developers, district liaisons, or mentors to beginning teachers need to be able to articulate the reasons behind their teaching.

As a discourse community, NBPTS bases its goals and values on the standards that it has developed to measure accomplished teaching. The board has created five core propositions about teaching, out of which the standards for the individual certification areas are derived. Table 1 lists the core propositions.

The first point we wish to make about NBPTS standards is that these propositions are broad statements about teaching, open to wide interpretation. For example, proposition 3, Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning, can be interpreted in a number of ways. At the time of the study, the NBPTS provided some, but rather limited, elaboration of the core propositions. Although almost every teacher would agree with this proposition, there may be disagreement about how the proposition is instantiated in classroom practice. One teacher might see a series of worksheets as managing and monitoring, while another might see student portfolios as a way to manage and monitor. In either case, the teacher (or reader) supplies the context in which to understand the proposition.2 The proposition itself is highly decontextualized.

The second point is that the propositions are represented in written language. While this seems natural and obvious, it is worth noting that the NBPTS is certifying teaching, an act or series of acts that can be characterized as a performance. As we will explain below, one of the consequences of this is that candidates are certified based on their language about their teaching, not their teaching itself. As a result, the certification process can be characterized as based on written and decontextualized language about teaching.

Each certification area has created a number of standards specific to that area. For example, the early adolescence/generalist certificate contains 11 standards. Table 2 lists the standards for that certificate.

Here again we would note that the standards are written as decontextualized propositions about teaching. Unlike the core propositions, however, the certification area standards are elaborated in a 49-page booklet that accompanies the candidates portfolio instructions. Most of the 11 standards are elaborated in 2 pages of text, though Standard II: Knowledge of Subject Matter, is elaborated in 10 pages of text. While the elaboration provides more context in which to understand the standard and provides a more detailed interpretation of the core propositions, the elaborations still require candidates to interpret the standard within their own context. For example, Standard III: Instructional Resources (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 1996a) provides the following elaboration under the subheading Developing a diverse resource base from which judicious selections are made:



The resourcefulness and creativity of these teachers lead them to locate and construct alternative materials and activities as necessary, which might include adapting materials for students with exceptional needs. They carefully judge a range of materials, for quality and suitability, choosing those most appropriate to their students needs. Their goal is to blend materials from several sources to serve their broad curricular objectives. (p. 27)

Though candidates learn in this paragraph that the NBPTS values variety in materials, the candidate is still left to contextualize in her own teaching what carefully judg[ing] might mean or which materials in which circumstances would be suitable and appropriate. Our point is not that NBPTS language is vague, but rather that it requires a certain kind of decontextualized thinking about teaching.

Within each certification area candidates prepare a portfolio of responses to a number of written exercises, which the NBPTS calls entries, and respond in writing to an additional number of entries at an assessment center. In total, candidates respond in writing to 10 different entries, seeking to demonstrate that their teaching meets the standards identified with each entry. (At the time of this study, as NBPTS materials were evolving, candidates actually responded to 12 entries.) Generally, entries are of three different types: entries focused on student work through copies of artifacts; entries focused on videotapes of classroom teaching; and entries focused on professional work outside the classroom. Though entries may focus on different artifacts like student work, videotapes, or conference presentations, those artifacts are interpreted and contextualized in writing. Hence, like the standards on which the assessment is based, candidates practices are represented in writing.

Given this format, candidates must present a written description of their practice that is relatively decontextualized, in the sense that candidates must supply the context for assessors. Unlike daily classroom life, which is continuous and whole, NBPTS entries require candidates to focus on a few salient features of their practice (e.g., whole-class discussion, literacy development of a child, a science lesson) and contextualize those in writing. In addition, the writing is oriented toward an imagined and distant audience, rather than the known and immediate one in practice. Because the NBPTS focuses on a few salient features of teaching, the assessment necessarily employs a knowledge system that is based on sample logic (Delandshere & Petrosky, 1998). For example, the middle childhood/generalist portfolio describes the entries based on video clips as

entries [that] sample a teachers classroom practice across different classes if the teacher teaches different classes and across different topics during the year. In addition these video clips are designed to sample different kinds of instruction and classroom interaction. (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 1996b, p. 5, emphasis added)

In constructing an entry response, then, candidates must think of each entry focus (e.g., student artifact, videotape) as a representative sample of their teaching, arguing that this part of their teaching is indicative of the whole of their teaching.

Finally, the portfolio entries require candidates to present artifacts as evidence of their meeting the standards. Implied in the presentation of evidence is the rhetorical task of explaining and justifying the evidence. Like legal exhibits, artifacts are available to provide evidence for claims, but are rarely transparent or self-explanatory. The notorious videotape of Rodney King, an African American beaten by Los Angeles police, is a case in point. Though the videotape showing King repeatedly beaten was broadcast by national media and roundly condemned, police defense lawyers in the eventual state trial successfully convinced a jury that the police restraint was necessary. What had seemed a self-explanatory videotape showing police brutality became evidence of police procedure in another venue and within another argument.

In sum, the goals and values of the discourse of the NBPTS require candidates to represent their practice in writing to meet the boards standards. In this instance, written language presents teachers with a task that decontextualizes their teaching and requires them to represent it to an imagined and distant audience. Moreover, candidates must represent their practice within a particular system of knowing, the salient features of which are sampling logic and evidence-driven arguments.

Material conditions. Within discourse communities the material conditions of composing can be significant. For example, researchers have found that physical proximity among communicators affects writing practices (Gunnarrson, 1997). Again, NBPTS candidacy creates an arena in which oral communication is minimal and written communication is paramount. Moreover, candidates are often working in isolation, though NBPTS encourages collaborative thinking in the preparation (if not the authorship) of portfolios, emphasizing again the relatively distant nature of the imagined audience.

Roles and tasks. The roles that writers assume in relation to tasks varies also by discourse community. For example, Beaufort (1997) describes the role that novices assumed in the writing of business letters in the nonprofit company she studied. A novice writer of business letters assumed the role of solicitor, using the letter as an opportunity to solicit an action or favor from the recipient. Experienced letter writers in Beauforts study, however, used the letter as an opportunity for confirmation of oral agreements, assuming the role of partner. NBPTS candidates are in the role of applicants, not unlike applicants to a club or a job. Such a role highlights unfamiliarity, as an applicant seeks to understand the rules of a club or the requirements of a job. The particular rules of NBPTS application require, in addition, tasks composed of largely discursive writing in forms that are themselves unfamiliar.

Norms for texts. Beaufort (1997) argues that discourse communities have norms for texts. Though norms is an inclusive category that might refer to the thinking (knowledge system) that underlies a text as well as the form a text takes, we are using the word to focus on the format of the text. For example, in Beauforts study, she found that texts like business letters and grant applications had certain forms that writers accessed, sometimes varying the forms depending on the audience. NBPTS portfolios also have a distinctive form for the entries that candidates submit. The instructions for every entry follow the same format and instructions offer candidates an explicit outline for their written presentation (though candidates are free to use the outline or not). At the end of the instructions for each entry, a section entitled How will my response be scored? provides a number of guidelines by which candidates can monitor their submission.

Though candidates are given explicit instructions regarding the entries, almost none of those applying for certification have ever written a document of this form. NBPTS portfolios are not a readily recognizable genre like business letters or APA research reports. In addition, because NBPTS certification is a relatively recent phenomenon, norms for texts are still evolving. At the time of this study, the NBPTS had yet to standardize the instructions format for portfolios, nor were instructions as explicit as they are currently. As a result, candidates in our study faced the following task regarding the form of their written response: They were writing in an unfamiliar form, with format instructions that were less explicit than they are currently. In sum, though the discourse of the NBPTS is seeking to establish norms for its texts, candidates generally have little experience in the formats that the NBPTS uses.

Communicative activity. Within some discourse communities, communicative activity is characterized by oral, as well as written, activity. In Beauforts study (1997), for example, memos were infrequently used because face-to-face communication was highly valued. In NBPTS portfolios, oral activity is almost nonexistent. The performance is almost entirely rendered in writing, even when videotapes and student artifacts are included within an entry. In those cases, videotapes and artifacts are contextualized and interpreted in writing.


Given the discourse community, how do candidates perceive their task and what difficulties does the task present? Over the course of two months, we observed and interviewed four candidates, Beth, Joy, Cathy, and Sally (all pseudonyms), participating in an NBPTS support group funded by a midwestern state department of education situated at a large midwestern university.


The purpose of the university-agency program was to provide teachers with both intellectual and practical support. Practical support included advice on videotaping, the purchase of videotape, and reimbursement to school districts for one day of release time. Intellectual support included such activities as group discussions of interpretation of standards, peer editing of portfolio exercises, and response to drafts by university faculty and agency staff.

Candidates met with others in the support program on a monthly basis from September to May with university faculty, a National Board certified teacher, and staff from a local county education agency. The first three meetings were orientation, followed by weeks in which candidates formed certification area groups.

Support varied by certification area. Beth and Cathy, the two middle childhood candidates, were part of a group of middle childhood candidates who met frequently as a group. From January to March, the group met about every two weeks, with each meeting devoted to sharing and critiquing of drafts of one particular portfolio entry. The first author was a member of the group, providing feedback and critiques of drafts. Sally and Joy, on the other hand, were not members of a comparable small group of early childhood candidates. Sally worked with a colleague at her school, attending some of the support sessions but not all. Joy similarly worked with a colleague at a nearby school, and attended even fewer of the support sessions.

Case-Study Participants

The four teachers in this study were selected based on a stratified purposeful sampling method (Patton, 1990) to provide contrasts of certification area (early childhood or middle childhood) and teaching site (urban or suburban). We contrasted sites because we wondered whether a candidates teaching context might affect his or her interpretations of the standards. For example, some researchers have noted the importance of social conditions in evaluating the academic progress of urban students (Liston & Zeichner, 1991; Weiner, 1993). Since the two certification areas included different portfolio entries, we sought a contrast in certification area because writing research has revealed that writing can vary by the task attempted (Durst, 1987). After observing candidates in the support group for several months, the first and second authors categorized all candidates by certification area and teaching site. Based on this, selected candidates were invited to participate based on their willingness to be candid about their difficulties with the tasks of applying for NBPTS certification.

Of the four teachers who agreed to participate in the study, two teachers, Sally and Joy, were seeking elementary certification; the other two, Beth and Cathy, were seeking middle childhood generalist certification. Two candidates taught in urban schools, two in suburban schools. All four teachers were very experienced teachers, ranging from 12 years of experience to 25. One teacher was African American, Joy; the other three were Caucasian. Although we originally hoped to contrast teaching sites within certification areas, an initial informant dropped out of the study, so the resulting design contrasted urban early childhood/generalist candidates with suburban middle childhood/generalist candidates. Table 3 summarizes relevant characteristics of participants in the study.

Teacher profiles. Beth was a very experienced teacher, having taught for 20 years in suburban and urban midwestern districts. Her college major was in elementary education, and she since had taken just enough [graduate credit] to get my continuing [credit for certification]. An NEA member, she was active in the local state association and all the professional [groups] connected with [those] associations.

At the time of the study Beth taught third grade at Oak Elementary, a suburban school enrolling about 850 students. The school was located in a mostly middle-class neighborhood, with a few people who are in the upper middle. Beth says she has noticed a demographic change in the last five years with upper-middle-class people moving out of the neighborhood and lower middle moving in. But basically it has four of each grade level and so its a nice middle-class suburban school.

Joy was a very experienced teacher who had been teaching for more than 25 years, most of which had been in the current urban district in which she taught. Her undergraduate degree in elementary education was from the local state university, and she had done graduate work at a local private university and another nearby state university.

Joy taught kindergarten at Willow Elementary, a primary school for students enrolling in prekindergarten through third grade. The school was located on the edge of a factory zone, within a low-income housing project. As Joy explained, Most of the children are from the immediate seven block radius of the school. Joy was in her second year of teaching at Willow, which itself was in the second year of implementing an all-school reading program designed to ensure that all graduating third-graders could read on grade level. The district had instituted new exit criteria for students and the state had instituted a statewide proficiency test. As Joy said, Because of the new proficiency standards, and this being the third grade [exit year], a lot of our children have problems.


Sally, a veteran of 19 years, describes herself as a vocal and influential teacher who throughout her career has assumed numerous teaching and administrative leadership positions in various settings within her district. At the time of the study, Sally was enrolled as a full-time doctoral student in the local state university. In addition, she taught full-time in a combination kindergarten-first-second grade classroom at Hale Elementary, a neighborhood school within a large urban district, and she taught a math education course at a small Catholic college in the city.

Besides being a teacher of all sorts, Sally has taken leadership positions throughout her career. In addition to being a mentor for beginning teachers, Sally served as an assistant elementary school principal, cochair of a district-wide language arts curriculum committee, consulting teacher, curriculum coordinator, and lead teacher for her school at the time of the study. The year prior to the study, Sally participated in a pilot mini-district program.

Sally claims her teaching philosophy is rooted in the Montessori tradition. During her graduate work, she had the opportunity to work with a prominent educator in the field of Montessori education. She cites this as being influential in her formation as a teacher. Working in a large urban district after graduate work proved difficult for Sally because the practices and philosophy of the district did not reflect her own beliefs. For Sally, teaching is a process of collaborating with students: I see my role as a collaborator rather than a guide, rather than a facilitator . . . I am an active collaborator with my children (3/25/96).

Cathy is a sixth-grade teacher in a suburban intermediate school. She has degrees in elementary education and curriculum supervision. At the time of the study, Cathy served as a team leader and as the reading/language arts subject area leader. Part of her duties with these roles included choosing materials for the language arts department. Prior to her work at the intermediate school, Cathy taught for six years in a variety of settings in suburban and urban settings and in a variety of positions, including special education teaching positions. The majority of Cathys teaching career has been spent in the middle or junior high setting.

Professionally, Cathy has been a participant, then facilitator, and finally a member of a focus group in the Language Arts Academy within her current district. Although first intended to disseminate language arts methods, the Academy became a place where teachers shared ideas with one another. Cathy particularly enjoyed that part of the experience because she sensed an appreciation for her practical knowledge as a teacher. In addition to her involvement with district-level language arts professional development, Cathy reports growing professionally from her experiences in graduate school.


The first and second authors each followed two candidates as they prepared portfolios for NBPTS certification. We collected data via participant observation attending support group meetings from September to May. We sat in on certification area groups as candidates discussed NBPTS entry requirements and standards, taking field notes. We made field notes in working sessions with drafts of portfolio pieces, and the first author, as support project director, read and critiqued drafts for the middle childhood/generalist group of candidates. Based on these observations we focused on the difficulties that candidates seemed to be experiencing in composing portfolio entries.

Interview data were also collected. Each researcher conducted two interviews with two candidates during March and April of their NBPTS candidacy year. Interviews were conducted in the candidates classroom or over the telephone, depending on the teachers convenience. The first interview focused on teachers background, teaching site, and attitudes toward the NBPTS standards and process (Appendix A). The second interview was more open-ended, allowing teachers to identify difficulties or successes they experienced in preparing the portfolio. Interviews ranged in length from 30 to 45 minutes.

Because our focus was on the difficulties that candidates experienced and their thinking behind the difficulties, we did not systematically analyze the drafts that candidates produced. All four candidates shared some drafts with the first and second authors during their composition, as an informal check that candidates self-reports in interviews roughly matched their written drafts. Again, because our purpose was not to judge the quality of candidates submissions, but to investigate their representations of the difficulties, we did not trace in their drafts the final written solutions to their perceived difficulties.

Analysis. All field notesparticipant observations from whole group sessions, notes from certification area discussions, etc.were considered twice. Initially, field notes provided data about context. All interviews were taped and transcribed. Interview transcripts were coded for difficulties candidates faced. Field notes were then reconsidered for additional information about individual candidates. Once the categories of difficulty emerged, individual candidates were considered as cases, and profiles of each candidate were written. Understanding the candidates as cases allowed cross-case comparison of both content and process. According to Miles and Huberman (1984), cross-case analysis allows for greater generalizability and for greater explanatory power. In this instance, we were more interested in how the analysis might help us explain the variable performance of the candidates. We found this method particularly useful in instances when candidates identified the same difficulty, but some candidates were able to overcome the difficulty and others not. The data describing such instances were re-interrogated to discover the strategies and approaches candidates developed to overcome the difficulty.


In general, all four candidates participating in the study reported difficulty representing their practice in writing. Five categories of difficulty emerged: writing apprehension, representing tacit knowledge, understanding sampling logic, negotiating the standards, and providing evidence from teaching.


Three of the four candidates reported difficulties in writing because of a general apprehension concerning writing. For example, Beth stated, My writing . . . really worries me. I dont think its clear enough, but it is, its way too wordy, and I dont feel I could write as clearly as I like (3/15/96). Beth also worried about her grammar and whether her style was appropriate to the task. In one peer group meeting in which teachers read their writing to each other, discussion focused on several grammatical concerns, including active and passive voice. Beth reported feeling kind of dumb because she was unsure of active and passive voice. Similarly, Joy worried about her ability as a writer: The writing is difficult for me because I know what I want to say, I just cant say it to make you understand what I want to say at the time. Thats the complicated part (3/15/96).

Like Beth, Sally expressed concern over her writing; however, Sallys concern focused not so much on her ability to write but the attention given to the details of her writing (issues of brevity, clarity, and editing). Sally comments: [This task] made me choose my words very carefully. It made me go back and do all kinds of proofreading and editing (3/25/96). What was at stake for Sally was making sure she relayed the desired message to her audience: [I had to] try and refine the words and [it made me] realize that in a very short period of time [page limits] I cannot afford to be superficial (3/25/96). Embedded in Sallys concern about writing is a concern for the opinions and reviews of a distant and imagined audience to whom she must communicate her practice.


All four candidates reported some version of difficulty with representing their tacit knowledge in writing. For example, Sally reported a common difficulty of representing ones tacit knowledge about teaching: Its real hard for me to represent things because there is so much depth and so many dynamics going on [in the classroom] (3/14/96). The difficulty of Sallys task becomes apparent in Yinger & Hendricks-Lees (1993) characterization of learning as systemic interaction. The many dynamics going on would include cultural, sociohistorical, physical, and personal systems of the students, as well as disciplinary systems (language arts, for example) in which Sally orchestrated student engagement.

Beth echoed: Teachings been so easy for me that in having to go back through it now and thinking about it, its been a lot more difficult than teaching. She had taken few graduate courses and was not used to talking about teaching, especially her own teaching. Having to think about it and write it down was an unusual and at times difficult experience for Beth.

Joy, like Beth, found it difficult to represent her practice in writing: Its hard to tell why Im doing something a certain way, and my concern is that the assessors may question it, and since I didnt write it, theyll never know why (3/15/96). Here Joy is having trouble identifying the relevant aspects of her classroom context that will indicate the conditions that helped to determine her course of action. Also in this passage is the recognition that meaning is not invariant but a product of negotiation within the community (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, p. 33). Isolated from the assessors, Joy will not have the opportunity to negotiate the meaning of her practice with members of the professional community.

Yet, for Joy, the problem was deeper. She doubted that writing would ever capture what she does in the classroom and what she knows about teaching and learning:

I still think that someone from the National [Board] still needs to come on my site, because I can do it, and I can say it, but I may not have written it so that you see it, or you may not see it in the video, you know. (3/15/96)

In particular, Joy believed that writing was incapable of capturing the excitement of the classroom. She described a science lesson where children had planted some seeds: We planted a mystery seedit just started to come upI havent told them what it is, but [assessors] need to see the excitement when [students are] writing in their journals (3/25/96). Joy realized that she could try to describe that excitement, but she believed the assessors would not get the full impact without being in her classroom.

Another example of Joys frustration surfaces in her discussion of preparing the entry in which she shares the literacy development of a single child in her classroom. The child she selected showed tremendous growth, but Joy expressed fear that assessors would not be able to see that growth, unless they came to the classroom to see for themselves:

Yeah, its a big development, but its through some things that weve done and all of that. That is the difficult part for me to write because I need for them to see this child in action. And that wasnt a video part and I wish it was, because Id like for them to see when she was the teacher in charge. And Im trying to write what she says and how she does it, but shes the perfect model to me. I mean perfect, and they wont see that on the video. (3/15/96)

Joy is worried that videotape cannot reveal the childs emersion in literacy and her ability to engage her classmates in literacy activities. Throughout the preparation process, Joy consistently expressed the desire to have assessors visit her classroom; in other words, to dwell with her and her students in order to fully understand.


All four candidates seeking certification expressed tensions as they worked to represent the kind of language and practice they deemed the reviewers wanted to see in portfolio entries. As these candidates worked to enter the community of NBPTS, they struggled not only to write the language, but also to write the language within certain guidelines.

As Beth was trying to put [her practice] into words, she was also trying to show that her practice matched the standards.

Youre matching [narratives] up to the standards and you know, though, usually they do match up, its just finding that exact place where they do match up and seeing how their wording is. (3/25/96)

Beth needed to match the narratives of her practice to the requisite standards. She felt like she was trying to predict those [standards and practices] they [reviewers] would think most valuable (3/25/96). As she worked to accomplish this, she reported that she was resentful of all those specific requirements (3/25/96).

Sally felt the same. She reported that in writing portfolio entries she wrote as if she was jumping through a lot of hoops (3/14/96). Sally manipulated the language of her practice to fit what she felt the NBPTS assessors expected. She stated: [I felt like I was] trying to predict those [standards] they would think were most valuable. I had to jump through hoops thinking How do I isolate and is that the right way of doing it? (3/25/96). Both Beth and Sally recognize that negotiation is a joint activity, difficult to achieve in isolation. Their need to predict what the assessors will valueto supply the missing components of the transactionfrustrated them.

Part of the difficulty for Joy was rooted in her perception of a right way represented in the standards. Youre thinking they want to see everything right (3/15/96). The problem for Joy was that with a right-way attitude the test would miss important things about learning in her classroom.

But, it says: engaging in a science learning, so youre going to make sure its [an experiment] that works. [Assessors] are not going to see the fun stuff, or hear the questions like when we were doing colors, and somebody put too many drops of one into, they didnt get red and yellow makes orange, and they didnt understand why. (3/25/96)

In this comment, Joy attests to the situational, improvisational, and emergent nature of learning, which she characterizes as the fun stuff. Whether an experiment is performed accurately is less important to Joy than the responses of the students, who have their own questions. However, because of the constraints of the portfolio, Joy feels compelled to force a teaching episode into the framework of a standard and to ignore the value she found in the learning experience. [In] developing the portfolio . . . some of the standards may not apply, but were doing a portfolio [so] we have to make them apply (3/15/96).

Completing portfolio entries entails using the right words to reflect the right practice. Cathys reactions reflected both Beths and Sallys reactions: It makes you wonder . . . hey, if I can talk the talk here, Ill get through this (6/5/96). These candidates felt that writing portfolio entries was a game of putting the right words in the right place to describe the right practices reflected in the standards.


Candidates differed in their acceptance and understanding of the sample logic that underlies the NBPTS assessment. Beth and Cathy seemed to understand and accept the logic; Sally expressed reservations about it, while Joy seemed to reject it altogether.

Accepting sampling logic. Beth and Cathy showed little difficulty with the sampling logic of the assessment. For example, Beth was able to use the written articulation (putting it into words) and the sampling logic of the assessment to her advantage, stimulating her to a metacognitive levelthinking about how to think about teaching. In particular, an entry focusing on a particular child as a sample of her practice had stimulated her thinking about students in general. She talked about this in relation to a journal, or reflective diary that she had begun to keep:

I have been keeping a journal, its like 24 pages now, but the thing is as Im doing it, Im thinking, now is this a diary or a real reflective journal cause I do go back and I think where this worked and this didnt work. Like, the kids were picking books for this interest group thing that I do, and I had several books up there. And one of the kids just didnt like any of the books, and so I went home that night and I thought and thought: Was it the way that I advertised these books to them, or what was it about what I did that turned them off to doing it? And then it made me really stop and think of the child because hes a child who doesnt like to work with the group, and I would have just glossed over it and said, no, you just have to do it this way. But this has really made me more aware of each of the kids, how they feel about things. (3/20/96)

Writing and focusing on the single child as a sample of her teaching became for Beth a way of seeing her teaching, which had been somewhat invisible (tacit) to her before. [The portfolio] has brought things to where I can focus in on them and think why do I do this.

Doubting the sampling logic. Sally, however, had more reservations about the sampling logic. First, Sally wondered if the writing process could even capture what she saw as the complexity of her classroom:

Have someone, have anyone come into my classroom for a week. Have a team of observers . . . meet with me at the end of the day, ask me what I was teaching, what was the rationale behind it, tell me something about this child, any number of those things. None of that can be communicated in a 10-minute tape. If I do want to back it up and try to explain whats happening in the videotape, because of the page-number constraints, I cant do it. (3/25/96)

Sallys doubts are questioning the basic sampling logic of the assessment. She wants someoneanyoneto observe her teaching for a week, though that would also be a sample of her teaching, of course. Failing that, Sally requests a kind of oral exam, in which she and a panel of observers might discuss the videotape and explain what is happening. Yet, even in that wished-for discussion format, Sally seems to doubt that a 10-minute tape is capable of providing a meaningful sample of her teaching: None of that can be communicated in a 10-minute tape. But Sally goes on to say that no matter what, the written format constraints are too rigid for her to represent her knowledge of teaching in writing: because of the page-number constraints, I cant do it. Earlier in the interview Sally is even more explicit about linking the problem of sampling, and its attendant page limits, with the problem of written representations of teaching knowledge: I think [in] some situations you have to be allowed to exceed the page limit, because its real hard for me to represent things . . . (3/14/96).

Not only did sampling present a problem in writing, but it also presented a problem in selection. In the early childhood/generalist portfolio, one entry required candidates to profile the literacy development of a single child. This case study would then provide a sample of the candidates literacy instruction, as well as an example of the candidates ability to reflect on a childs literacy development. In an interview Sally explained, in detail, a situation with a child in her classroom who had been identified as schizophrenic and returned to the classroom after several years of home instruction, emphasizing the dynamic of this element in her classroom and its impact on instruction. Because the context of the instruction with this child was so complex, Sally decided to profile another child for this entry, saying, How do I demonstrate/explain that dynamic? (3/14/96). Given Sallys reservations about sampling as a representation of her teaching and her perceptions of the written task involved in the entry, such a rhetorical move makes sense, even though it meant sacrificing the opportunity to illustrate the complexity of her knowledge.

Rejecting the sampling logic. Like Sally, Joy had doubts about the sampling logic undergirding the portfolio. Unlike Sally, however, Joy didnt seem able to adjust her rhetoric to compensate for her doubts. To begin, Joy doubted that the various kinds of portfolio entries represented a valid sample of her teaching knowledge: You know, Ive taught 25 years, I kind of know the direction education is headed in the multi-age, and all of that. But, some of this [portfolio] would not give me a clue as to who is good, and who isnt (3/25/96). Joys doubts stemmed from her belief that the entries really didnt reflect what she did as a teacher. The exercises showed too small a slice of her teaching, and not the most important part, she believed:

The organization of the portfolio doesnt make me look at my teaching, because what Im doing doesnt really fit in this, because of the things that they ask. If they focused on my teaching, but when they tell me to focus in on a child, then my teaching is geared for that child. So, its not really my teaching for the total. (3/25/96)

Joy ultimately expressed the idea that the test didnt really reflect my teaching (3/25/96).

Like Sally, Joy struggled with the entry focusing on the literacy development of a single child. First, Joy claimed that the task wouldnt show how she taught the entire class of students she had: When they tell me to focus in on a child, then my teaching is geared for that child. So, its not really my teaching for the total (3/25/96). Focusing on one child would not show how she dealt with different individuals. For example, there was Erica, who needed models to imitate; or there was Marlon, who was almost autistic and responded best to listening to instructions on audio tapes. But focusing on these individuals didnt give an assessor the big picture of her teaching, she believed:

Youre going to see, oh, I know how to handle this child whos possibly autistic. Then, youre going to see heres a child who is a very capable learner, then youre going to see how I deal with her. Thats how youre going to see. Youre not going to see the average child. (3/25/96)

Unlike Sally, who seemed to find a rhetorical solution to the complexity of the problem by focusing on a different child, Joy seemed to reject the task altogether, believing that the case study (sample) did not represent her classroom or her knowledge about teaching. What appears to be important to Joy in this instance is not the support she provides for the individual child, but her ability to provide individualized support for all the children in the classroom while maintaining the instructional activity. To focus on one child would be to miss the community of learners that constitutes her classroom and reduce her teaching to a series of dyadic interactions rather than an orchestration of multidimensional interactions that support all learners.


Our sample of candidates varied less in their understanding and acceptance of the role of evidence and artifacts in their written responses for the portfolio entries. Three of the four candidatesBeth, Cathy, and Sallyaccepted the role of evidence in the process; only Joy seemed to reject it.

Accepting the role of evidence. Beth, Cathy, and Sally all accepted that evidence and student artifacts functioned as support for their claims that their teaching met the standards. For example, in talking about a portfolio entry that included a videotape, Beth understood that she needed to analyze the videotape, which consisted of vignettes of her classroom community. She characterized the problem as one of piecing the pieces together like a puzzle. She realized that presenting the vignettes was not enough, that she had to explain and interpret them as well, showing how they did or did not reflect the standards:

Interviewer: And so for you the puzzle of the pieces was a vignette where you started with the vignette and began to what, explain them or . . .

Beth: Basically, thats what I did because I went back to the standards and I looked at the vignettes that I had and I said do these standards and these vignettes go together. (3/20/96)

In regard to this entry, Beth later talked about having trouble with a standard (respect for diversity) and in determining and representing that this tape (evidence) reflects this standard (respect for diversity). Though she expressed some concern about the standard, she did not challenge it or the process of evidence; her difficulty was in providing evidence for the standard.

Similarly, Cathy realized that without evidence to bolster ones claims about practice, the validity of the process would be compromised: It makes you wonder . . . you can sit and write all this glowing . . . these wonderful things about what you do, but then you have to prove it (6/5/96, emphasis added). Moreover, Cathys observation about proving suggests her tacit understanding of the task: candidates have to construct an argument in which artifacts are claimed as evidence of having achieved a certain NBPTS standard.

Sallys understanding of the role of evidence in the NBPTS portfolio seems also to have deepened her knowledge of assessment concerning her own students. In having to document her own practice, Sally reported learning more about assessing her students:

I think there was a heavy emphasis [in the entries] on assessment and a lot of writing and I find my assessment, for the most part, has room for improvement. It made me realize that I need more growth in the area of performance assessment . . . I learned that documentation is a vital, vital component of it. (3/25/96, emphasis added)

Rejecting the role of evidence. Joy seemed to reject the role of evidence and artifacts within the portfolio entries. She believed that artifactslike student work, documents, etc.were self-explanatory. Joy felt that the explanation of artifacts and reference to evidence created a redundancy in the test.

Joy: It . . . its the redundancy and then the explanation of artifacts. To me artifacts are self-explanatory. When I go into a museum and I pick up a piece, and I say, Oh, this represents the Stone Age. Well,

I can tell because its very jagged very blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The explanations of the artifacts is very difficult, because I mean, if I show. . . . You know, if I show you this, why do I have to explain that this was an emergent writing lesson. . . . I should be able to say in my writing of it that we were doing an emergent writing lesson. . . . But, then they want all these details on each artifact. Heres Erica, self-explanatory! She came into my room knowing the letters, but not understanding the writing concept. Today, here we are. You know? And she does this [holding a sample of Ericas writing] on her own. And you know they, like where are the artifacts? This is the artifacts! (3/25/96, emphasis added)

Though Joy claims that the artifacts are self-explanatory, her example of the Stone Age tool in a museum reveals a tacit understanding of the need to explain: the tool represents the stone age because it has a jagged shape, etc. She can infer that it is a tool, because of its jagged shape, and perhaps other characteristics (blah, blah, blah). Yet, immersed in her world of practice, Joy seems to have greater difficulty seeing the need to provide the interpretation of her own artifacts in the same way that jagged provides for the stone tool. Ericas work ought to be transparent, Joy believes, not needing explanation, especially to a visiting interviewer who is able to see the writing.


This study focused on the difficulties that candidates pursuing NBPTS certification reported experiencing. Relying on the concept of a discourse community, we interpreted the teachers difficulties with candidacy as difficulties with the certification discourse. Because NBPTS discourse relies on decontextualized propositions about teaching written for distant audiences, we hypothesized that teachers, who work in local, situated learning communities, might have difficulty negotiating the boards discourse.

Indeed, all four of our candidates did experience difficulties with some parts of the process of NBPTS candidacy. Some months later, the four candidates in our sample received the result of their assessment, and three of our four candidates were certified by NBPTS; only Joy was not. Clearly, then, the majority of our sample were able to solve the difficulties that NBPTS discourse presented. In the discussion that follows we propose dividing the difficulties candidates experience into three levels. First-level difficulties focus on the writers skills and attitudes about oneself as a writer; second-level difficulties concern the content of ones writing; third-level difficulties engage the values of the discourse community. Using this division, we will draw on Beauforts (1997) metaphor of discourse community borders as an explanation for candidate successor failurewith NBPTS certification.

The first level of difficulty is the writers attitudes (usually fears) toward the task of writing, either a general apprehension of writing or an unfamiliarity with the task of representing tacit knowledge about teaching in writing. All four candidates experienced one or both of these kinds of difficulties. Joy, the unsuccessful candidate, experienced both of these difficulties, which may begin to explain her lack of success with the process. Yet three of the four candidates were successful in reaching certification, so this level of difficulty seems insufficient to explain either success or failure.

The second level of difficulty concerned the actual content of the writing, the teachers language meant to describe ones practice as meeting the NBPTS standards. Here again, all four candidates struggled with the tensions inherent in matching the written representation of their practice to the boards standards. Yet, although all four expressed difficulty, three of the four were successful in achieving certification, so this level again seems unable to explain the certification of some candidates and not others.

The third level of difficulty focuses on the underlying values of the discourse; in this case the sampling logic and handling of evidence demonstrated in arguing that ones practice meets the boards standards. Here again, Joy struggled with this level of difficulty, as she did all the other levels of difficulty, eventually rejecting both the sampling logic of the task and the role of evidence in the assessment. Although Sally expressed some doubts about this level, she was able to move beyond them to at least work within the constraints of sampling and evidence, if not embrace them. Both Beth and Cathy accepted the sampling logic and the role of evidence and did not report difficulties with this level. Table 4 summarizes the difficulties by candidate.


Although Joy clearly had difficulty with the process at every level, those candidates who were successful in achieving certification were not stymied by the difficulties with what we are calling the third level of difficulties. We propose Beauforts (1997) metaphor of discourse community borders as a possible explanation of Joys eventual failure, as well as the other candidates eventual success.

As discourse communities instantiate a groups communicative patterns, they also create boundaries between groups, which Beaufort (1997) refers to as border crossings (p. 524). In the present case the values, material conditions, norms for texts, and communicative activity sponsored by the NBPTS create a discourse community that privileges written representations of teaching performance employing sampling logic and evidence in pursuit of decontextualized standards. Candidates, however, work in situated communities, where complex knowledge is shared and implicit and communicative activity is most likely to be oral, rather than written. Engaging in NBPTS candidacy requires an ability to move from one discourse community to another; it involves crossing borders using written articulation and explicit examination as the passport.

For Beth and Cathy, the passage was fairly straightforward. Though they expressed difficulties with the first and second levels of difficulty they were able to successfully negotiate the standards because they accepted the deeper logic of the assessment. They took on the values of the NBPTS discourse and were able to cross the boundaries, articulating their practice with evidence and explicitly examining it through the sampling logic. Sally, on the other hand, can be said to have paused at the border. She too expressed difficulties with writing and the standards, but she also questioned the values of the community when she questioned the sampling logic on which the articulation is based. Sally was eventually able to cross the border partly because she was able to draw on past professional and academic writing experiences that prepared her to relay the content of her message while adhering to the form and function of the NBPTS guidelines. At least for the time of her writing, she was able to take on the values of the NBPTS discourse, even as she harbored doubts.

Joy, however, was not able to cross the boundary. She experienced all the difficulties and self-doubts of the other writers but also was unable to embrace the values of the discourse (at the very least during the time of the portfolio construction). It would appear that Joy was so situated within her own discourse of practice in which case samples were a hindrance and evidence was self-explanatory that she was unable to assume the discourse of NBPTS. Beaufort (1997) notes that individuals values, as well as skills, are negotiated in novices learning of new discourses. In Joys case, this difference in values regarding logic and evidence seemed crucial in her not passing from one community to another.


Professions create and maintain their status partly through discourses (Abbott, 1988; Yinger, 1999). As argued in this paper, NBPTS standards can be seen as discourses that represent knowledge in particular ways. NBPTS claims that the accomplished teacher has mastery of a codified professional knowledge base (King, 1994, p. 99). Within the NBPTS, the professional knowledge base of the teaching profession is codified in the form of the standards. These standards may be able to form and reform the profession by influencing how teachers think about teaching. We applaud these aims of the NBPTS and agree that the NBPTS, along with the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), has contributed substantially to the professionalization of teaching. We believe that the assessments of the NBPTS are better developed and better aligned with practice than the licensing and certification examinations for other professions, including law, medicine, and nursing. However, such development and alignment can cause difficulties. Graduates from nursing, medicine, and law schools do not expect their qualifying exams to approach practice; furthermore, they are familiar with the form of their examinations and, more than likely, have experienced success with these types of assessments in the past. In contrast, the knowledge base for teaching only recently has been identified, and articulating ones practice, verbally or in text, has not been a required or necessary skill.

As Yingers (1999) analysis makes clear, articulating practice will become increasingly important as the teaching profession argues for social jurisdiction. Our study suggests that teachers movement toward a national, professional discourse might not be natural, nor an easy process. The practical knowledge of teachers as members of communities of practice is local, contextualized, personal, relational, and oral. The success of an effective practitioner, in this case a practitioner of teaching, lies in the realm of performance, which is improvisational and emergent. On the other hand, the knowledge of the NBPTS community is decontextualized and is represented in written language rather than oral language. As candidates move from their knowledge of communities of practice to the knowledge of NBPTS discourse, they face the challenge of effectively representing performance of teaching in written language about teaching. We are not suggesting that teachers cannot or should not learn the discourse of NBPTS. Rather, our admittedly small sample suggests these systems of knowledge may be at odds with one another. Delandshere and Petrosky (1998) raise a similar concern when they suggest that the key measurement assumptions, including sampling logic, underlying the NBPTS portfolio may not truly measure the performance of teaching. While our study highlights that concern, we are less troubled by the performance/language dichotomy than others (Ballou & Podgursky, 1998; Delandshere & Petrosky, 1998; King, 1994) might be.

In our study we see the dueling values as two ways of thinking about teaching: teachers as members of communities of practitioners and teachers as members of an NBPTS discourse community. We see in the case of Joy a value placed on oral communication and an assumption about the role and value of implicit, tacit knowledge. Of course, our vision of such values is based on a very small sample and it is perilous to overgeneralize from such a sample. The cases presented here are certainly suggestive, yet too slender to support a full-scale explanation of why candidates succeed or fail in certification. The case of Joy is particularly complex: As she is an African American urban teacher of primary grades, we hesitate to conclude which, if any, of the factors are salient in her candidacy. Other research on NBPTS candidates offers some suggestions. In a sample of more than 300 candidates in Ohio, Moore (1999) found that both race and school site were statistically significant as predictors of NBPTS certification, though his subsample of African American teachers was not large. Candidates from suburban districts were more likely to be certified than candidates from either urban or rural districts; African American candidates were less likely to be certified than other candidates. Grade level taught may be another factor in success, though as yet uninvestigated in the literature. It may well be that some teaching positionslike high school English, for exampleprepare teachers for the task demands of NBPTS portfolio entries better than others, like primary grades.

Yet if discourse is a factor in success or failure, research like Bonds (1998) studies of NBPTS certification rates of African American teachers suggests that cultural differences may play a role in how some NBPTS portfolios are read by assessors. Irvine and Fraser (1998) have argued that African American teachers may use a culturally specific pedagogical style at odds with that valued by NBPTS discourse. An alternative interpretation is that these teachers have not fully created the context and/or explicated the logic underlying their practice; their educational aims for their students might include cultural, social, and economic issues that lie outside the constraints of the NBPTS entries. Research on cultural markers suggests that such alternate discourse styles may affect how NBPTS assessors score texts written by African American candidates (Bond, 1998). Such discourse variation, of course, may not be limited to African American teachers. King (1994) has claimed the language of the standards tends to mask the fact that [they] will be created/invented to serve certain purposes that may not align with classroom teachers purposes (p. 101) and that the process ultimately den[ies] the impact of specific local conditions (p. 104). Further research like Bonds (1998) into discourse differences, whether generated by culture or context, is needed to explore this problem.



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ROBERT BURROUGHS is an assistant professor in the College of Education at University of Cincinnati. He is co-director of the Cincinnati NBPTS

Support Project, a state-funded consortium that works with teacher candidates applying for NBPTS certification.

TAMMY A. SCHWARTZ is a doctoral student in the literacy program in the College of Education at University of Cincinnati. She is a recent recipient of a Spencer Pre-Dissertation Fellowship.

MARTHA HENDRICKS-LEE is a research associate in the College of Education at University of Cincinnati. She specializes in research on situated cognition, especially as it applies in Professional Development Schools (PDSs).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 2, 2000, p. 344-374
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10449, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 8:37:00 PM

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About the Author
  • Robert Burroughs
    University of Cincinnati
    E-mail Author
    Robert Burroughs is an assistant professor in the College of Education at University of Cincinnati. He is co-director of the Cincinnati NBPTS Support Project, a state-funded consortium that works with teacher candidates applying for NBPTS certification.
  • Tammy Schwartz
    University of Cincinnati
    Tammy A. Schwartz is a doctoral student in the Literacy program in the College of Education at University of Cincinnati. She is a recent recipient of a Spencer Pre-Dissertation Fellowship.
  • Martha Hendricks-Lee
    University of Cincinnati
    Martha Hendricks-Lee is a research associate in the College of Education at University of Cincinnati. She specializes in research on situated cognition, especially as it applies in Professional Development Schools (PDS).
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