Paraprofessional Certification Program

Wanda Cook-Robinson
Assistant Superintendent, Oakland Schools, Waterford, Michigan

Introduction: Why Certification?

The specifics may vary from state to state, but the central arguments in favor of paraeducator certification are the same no matter where you work. In testimony before the Maryland General Assembly, Baltimore Teachers Union paraeducator representatives outlined the benefits of certification:

  • A carefully constructed certification program would give formal recognition to the importance of the work of paraeducators. It would establish a permanent place for them as valued members of the education team.
  • By setting standards and mandating specified training and experience, certification would guarantee higher level of quality in the services that paraeducators provide.
  • A good certification program would offer paraeducators real opportunities for upward mobility. With easy access to advanced training, paraeducators who worked hard and made the grade could move forward in their careers. This, in turn, would make it a more attractive and long-term career, helping to draw more qualified people to the ranks.
  • Certification would provide a clearer definition of the differentiated skills that are associated with different jobs and higher levels of responsibility and would enable districts to connect training to jobs. In many school districts, the duties of paraeducators vary widely. In some situations, they are expected to do things for which they are neither qualified nor paid; in others, their talents are underutilized.

Oakland Public School Paraeducator Certification Program

The use of paraeducators in pre-primary (ages 2 ½5) through 12th grade is increasing, leading to a multifaceted role for the paraeducator. To meet the changing demands for the paraeducator, the Student Performance Team of the Oakland Schools has developed a structured training program that leads to paraeducator certification.

The voluntary, interactive, and performance-based program requires the paraeducator who provides direct services to students to complete the following for certification:

  • 15 hours of structured training sessions in the following areas:
    • The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom
    • Communication Skills
    • Classroom Management Techniques
    • Populations, Pathogens, Procedures, and Precautions (PPPP)
    • Student Populations
    • Strategies of Instructions; and
  • 105 hours of one-the-job skill and knowledge application.

The roles and responsibilities of those involved in the certification program are:

  • Paraeducator
    • Attend the six structured training sessions
    • Demonstrate skill and knowledge competency for each structured session
    • Participate in evaluation discussions with supervising teacher or building administrator
  • Supervising Teacher
    • Coach the paraeducator in competency areas of each structured session
    • Observe the paraeducator in on-the-job demonstration of competencies for each session
    • Participate in evaluation discussions with the paraeducator
  • Building Administrator
    • Meet with paraeducator and supervising teacher to verify completion of the certification process
  • Oakland Schools Student Performance Team
    • Designs, presents, and supports structured training sessions
    • Verifies paraeducator participation in sessions (by stamping Worktext)
    • Prepares and forwards a Completion Certificate to paraeducator (when a Xerox copy of page 21 from their Worktext has been signed by a building administrator and forwarded to the Oakland Schools).

Features of the Paraeducator Certification Program

  • This program is voluntary.
  • Its structured training sessions are designed to provide basic skills to support students in the classroom.
  • The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom is the cornerstone of the program and must be attended before attending other sessions.
  • Participants will receive the program 3-ring binder and Worktext when they attend The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom.
  • After attending The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom , the five remaining sessions may be attended in any order desired (based on space availability).
  • Only structured training sessions that are designed and developed by Oakland Schools and endorsed by our Board of Education are part of the certification process.
  • Student Expectation is divided into age-appropriate sessions, elementary and secondary. Attendees are required to attend one of these sessions, but may attend others if they wish.
  • In addition to these sessions, each paraeducator must attend sessions on Strategies of Instruction, Communication Skills, Classroom Management, and a Population, Pathogens, Procedures, and Precautions (PPPP).
  • The time schedule for sessions (4:30-7:00 PM) was selected after surveying paraeducators on their best times to attend.
  • Oakland Schools is responsible for all record keeping of session attendance.
  • Participants must bring their Worktext to each structured session and have it stamped by an Oakland Schools staff member after completion of the session.
  • Classroom skill and knowledge competency for each structured session may not take place prior to session attendance.
  • Worktext pages must be initialed by a teacher and/or building supervisor after classroom skill and knowledge demonstration.
  • After completion of the six structured training sessions and classroom skill and knowledge demonstration, the paraeducator must meet with the building administrator and teacher to have the ãCertification Application Verification Formä signed.
  • A copy of the signed form is forwarded to Oakland Schools by the paraeducator.
  • Upon receipt, Oakland Schools will prepare and distribute a Completion Certificate.

On-the-Job-Skill and Knowledge Application

In response to continuing questions regarding the 105 hours of one-the-job knowledge and application requirement, the program Advisory Committee found that:

  • The 105 hours of on-the-job knowledge application requirement of the Paraeducator Certification Program are in addition to the 15 hours of structured training sessions. The certification training program is a process that involves demonstration and discussion of outcomes for each session.
  • The 105 hours can begin as soon as the paraeducator takes the first structured training session (The Role of the Paraeducator) and received the Worktext. The hours cannot end before the paraeducator completes the last of the six sessions. The time that it takes to complete the 105 hours of on-the-job training is dependent on how the paraeducator schedules attendance at the sessions and the demonstrated outcome observations with the supervising teacher.
  • If a paraeducator works with several teachers or in more than one building, he or she must choose which teacher and/or administrator will assist him or her through the completion of the certification process.
  • The Paraeducator Certification Program was developed for the working paraeducator, but it is important to understand that the 105 hours are not merely hours spent working, but hours focused on demonstrating the required outcomes to the supervising teacher over a period of time.Ê As the paraeducator attends each structured session, he or she should return to his or her worksite and focus on the anticipated outcomes as outlined in the Paraeducator Worksheet. The period of focus could be several days or weeks. There are no time limitations for demonstration each session.
  • Remember, the 105 hours are a summary of the skills learned during the six structured sessions.

Overview of the Paraeducator Certification Session Content

The Role Of The Paraeducator In The Classroom
Paraeducators will learn techniques and strategies for working with students as well as gaining support to build positive classroom teams with teachers. Practical how-to steps will be presented through the use of simulations, role play, and small-group discussion. All participants should come prepared to get involved.

Communication Skills
This 2 ½hour session will emphasize verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Participants will receive models illustrating examples of good communication. Communication perceptions and misperceptions will be thoroughly investigated through skill practice. Paraeducators will have opportunities to increase and enhance communication skills for use in the classroom through role playing both good and poor communication in the school setting and then analyze how to improve.

Student Expectations This session will be divided into age-appropriate sessions to investigate the various developmental stages of children and youth:

Elementary - This 2 ½hour session will look at how students think, grow, and interact with friends and teachers. The paraeducator will learn to use information to motivate, work with, and manage student behavior.

Secondary - This 2 ½hour session will focus on the principles of adolescent development. The paraeducator will explore strategies for effective communication and instructional support in the secondary classroom.

Classroom Management Techniques During this 2 ½hour session, the paraeducator will have opportunities to investigate aspects of classroom management, including proactive decisions that can reduce off-task behavior, while helping students make the best of learning time, and reasons that students misbehave and some appropriate responses that the paraeducator can apply to redirect the behavior.

Stratgies Of Instruction
This 2 ½ hour session will investigate the following paraeducator roles

  • offering teacher support in instruction
  • modifying instructional materials to work with students
  • tutoring individual students
  • effective instruction methods

Population, Pathogens, Procedures, And Precautions (Pppp)
This 2½ hour sessions will provide an overview of student disabilities by category with typical characteristics described, including instructional and/or behavioral strategies. Paraeducators will travel through the maze of special education while invaluable information about universal precautions and blood-borne pathogens is imparted. This hands-on, interactive workshop provides user-friendly materials in a programmed format to keep everyone involved, interested, and informed.

All 28 local school districts in the Oakland system are participating in the Paraeducator Certification Program. The total number of paraeducators enrolled is 1200.

Wanda Cook-Robinson
Assistant Superintendent
School Performance Team
Oakland Schools
2100 Pontiac Lake Rd
Waterford MI 48328
Phone (248) 209-2047