State Policies, Standards and Systems

Increased reliance on paraeducators with greater emphasis on their instructional and learner support roles has not resulted in the development of policies and systems to improve their performance, supervision, and preparation; in many states where they do exist, written policies, regulatory procedures, and administrative practices have not been evaluated and revised since they were established in the 1960s and 1970s.

The continuing efforts of the NRCP and the work of other investigators indicate, that in addition to establishing a central database with employment and deployment information about all paraeducators, there are other critical issues requiring the attention of policy makers and SEA administrators working in concert with LEAs, personnel developers in IHEs, professional organizations, unions, parents, and other advocates for better schools. These issues are connected with the fact that while the majority of paraeducators spend all or part of their time assisting teachers, early childhood educators, and transition specialists in the instructional process they are rarely adequately trained to carry out their assigned tasks (Blaylock, 1991; Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; Fafard, 1974; Killoran, et al, 2001; Miromontes, 1990; Moshoyannis et al, 1999; Pickett, 1999; Passaro, Pickett, Lathem & Hongbo, 1994; Riggs & Mueller, 2001; Rogan & Held, 2000; Rueda & Monzo, 2000; Snodgrass, 1991).

Analysis of the most recent NRCP survey of CSSOs and a comparison with earlier surveys provides ample evidence of why it is so important for SEAs to join forces with other stakeholders to address issues that influence the performance of teachers and paraeducator teams. They can be summarized as follows:

  • During the past 20 years SEAs, LEAs, and IHEs have paid scant attention, either together or on their own to a) determining core skills and knowledge for all paraeducators and the specialized skills required by programs/positions they are assigned to, b)defining experiential and education qualifications for entry level employment, c) establishing criteria for advancement to paraeducator positions that require higher levels of knowledge and skill competencies, and d) setting standards and developing indicators for assessing paraeducator knowledge and ability to demonstrate mastery of skills required to assist teachers with the delivery of instructional programs.
  • Training for paraeducators when it is available is usually highly parochial, is rarely competency based or part of seamless systems of career development that include: a) systematic on-the-job training, b) opportunities for competency based pre- and in-service training, and c) access to flexible degree programs that enable skilled, talented paraeducators to continue to work while they earn academic credentials.
  • Only fourteen states have credentialing or licensure mechanisms for paraeducators. They range from multi-level systems that define roles, competencies, training and career advancement criteria to one-dimensional systems that do not specify role or training requirements. As we noted in the section on the history of paraeducator employment many of the systems were non-binding and LEAs were not required to provide training based on either statewide or local standards. This is still true today. The states with licensure/certification systems are found in Appendix 3.
  • Another thirteen states have chosen to establish standards or guidelines for paraeducator roles and competency based training. Some, but not all of these states provide support and assist LEAs with the development of training models. The assistance may be in the form of material development, sponsorship of statewide conferences for paraeducators, or technical assistance. Because these standards are not always part of the stateís regulatory procedures, LEAs are not mandated to follow the guidelines for developing and maintaining standards. The states that have established standards for paraeducator employment, roles, knowledge and skills, preparation are contained in Appendix 3.
  • Although contemporary education reform initiatives emphasize the team and program management functions of teachers, they have overlooked the supervisory responsibilities of teachers. Currently two states, Minnesota and Washington require as part of their teacher credentialing systems that special education teachers be prepared to supervise and work effectively with paraeducators. Eleven other states report that they have established standards for teacher responsibilities as supervisors of paraeducators. Analysis of the "standards" reveal that with the exception of Rhode Island and Utah, most are minimal at best. As a result, the overwhelming majority of teacher education programs do not provide their graduates with an understanding of the components of the instructional process they may not delegate to paraeducators and which tasks may be shared with paraeducators. Nor do they prepare them to 1) plan paraeducator assignments, 2) monitor the day to day performance of paraeducators, 3) provide on the job training to paraeducators, 4) objectively share relevant information with principals about paraeducator strengths and training needs..The states with standards or guidelines for paraeducator supervision are contained in Appendix 3.
  • The need to recruit and prepare committed highly skilled teachers for all education disciplines is well documented. The need to attract men and women from diverse ethnic, cultural and multi- language heritages is particularly acute throughout all geographic regions and demographic areas across the country (Bureau of the Census, 2001; Genzuk and Baca, 1998; NCES, 1995& 2000; Recruiting New Teachers, 1997). An important but overlooked resource for addressing these continuing shortages is the paraeducator workforce (Genzuk & Baca, 1998; Rueda & Monzo, 2000; Haselkorn & Fideler, 1996).

In response to these and other issues that impact the quality of education for all learners, Congress has amended both the IDEA, 1997 and NCLB Act, 2001 to include significant provisions that acknowledge the evolving roles of teachers and paraeducators as members of instructional teams. The amendments to these two federal laws call for higher standards for paraeducator preparation, improved supervision of paraeducators and opportunities for career development for paraeducators.

The 1997 reauthorization of IDEA was the first federal legislation to proactively recognize the critical need to prepare paraeducators to assist with the delivery of special education services and the need to prepare teachers for their emerging supervisory roles. This is reflected in provisions that allow LEAs to employ paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised in compliance with state laws, regulations, or written policy to assist with the provision of special education and related services for school age children and youth with disabilities (Part B, section 612 [a]). Part C (section 635[a]) is concerned with personnel who work with infants and toddlers and their families and mandates the preparation of professionals and paraprofessionals in areas of early intervention with the content knowledge and collaborative skills needed to meet the needs of infants and toddlers with disabilities in accordance with state approved or recognized certification, licensure, or regulations.

Amendments that are destined to have an even a greater impact on paraeducator preparation, roles and supervision have been made to Title I of the NCLB Act of 2001. The amendments set standards for the employment, preparation, and assessment of paraeducators, specify duties that may be performed by paraprofessionals, and require paraprofessionals who provide instructional services to be supervised by credentialed teachers. Although the amendments require paraprofessionals to work under the direction of teachers they do not require SEAs to set standards for preparing teachers for their roles in planning for, directing and monitoring paraprofessionals. There are amendments to several Titles throughout the bill that address paraprofessional roles and training. The most significant are found in Section 1119 in Title I. They address qualifications for teachers and paraprofessionals. (Note throughout this section we use the term paraprofessional, rather than paraeducator because that is the term used in the NCLB Act.)

Subsection (1)(c) requires LEAs receiving assistance under this part of the No Child Left Behind Act to ensure that all new paraprofessionals or those employed prior to January 8, 2001 who work in positions funded by Title I have:

  • A high school diploma or its equivalent-- no matter what their position is or their responsibilities. Paraprofessionals assigned to provide parent involvement or translation services are not required to meet any further education requirements beyond the high school diploma or a GED.

In addition all new paraprofessionals employed after January 8, 2002 in programs funded by Title I must:

  • complete at least 2 years of study at an institution of higher education prior to employment; OR
  • obtain an associate or higher degree prior to employment; OR
  • meet a rigorous standard of quality and demonstrate through a formal state or local academic assessment (i) knowledge and the ability to assist in instruction reading, writing, and mathematics, or (ii) knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness, as appropriate.

Subsection (1) (d) requires LEAs to ensure that all currently employed paraprofessionals shall:

  • not later than 4 years after the date of enactment satisfy the requirements of subsection (1) (c).

Subsection (1)(g) specifies duties paraprofessionals may be assigned. They may:

  • provide one-to-one tutoring for eligible for eligible students;
  • assist with classroom management;
  • assist in a computer laboratory;
  • provide support in a library or media center;
  • act as a translator;
  • conduct parent involvement activities.

Subsection (1)(g) also addresses supervision of paraprofessionals:

  • paraprofessionals may not provide any instructional service to students unless they work under the direct supervision of a teacher.

SEAs have started to develop standards and procedures to meet the requirements of NCLB Act. Many of them are taking a big deep breath, stepping back and initiating a very thoughtful approach to establishing the standards and infrastructures. There is reason, however for concern about what the final outcomes will be in many states that are rushing to get something on the books to meet the objectives of the legislation; thus raising the possibility that systems will be put into place that will still be highly parochial, will not recognize the similarities in the roles of paraeducators working in all programs administered by LEAs, will not be competency based, and will not facilitate career advancement for paraeducators.

Other concerns are linked to the development of the academic assessment instruments required by NCLB. Will the academic assessments adequately reflect the ability of paraeducators to provide instruction in reading, mathematics, and writing, and reading readiness, mathematic readiness, and writing readiness? Will SEAs or LEAs develop and recognize other standardized methods that will enable paraeducators to demonstrate competence to assist teachers to carryout instructional activities. Still other unanswered questions center on how the exemptions from meeting education standards for paraeducators who provide instructional services will impact on paraeducators who assist parents and those who provide translation services. How will these exemptions impact on their continuing employment, on opportunities for career advancement, the development of standards for the skill and knowledge competencies they require to assist parents, learners, and teachers?

At the present time Congress and OSERS have started the process of amending IDEA. Work on the reauthorization process is scheduled for completion sometime in 2003. While we cannot predict what the final outcomes of the Congressional debate will be, there are indications that the requirements for paraeducator roles, supervision and preparation will be the same or similar to those established by the NCLB Act of 2001.