Commitments have been made at the federal, state and local levels to improve the quality of instruction and other education services for all learners and their families. On the surface the provisions in IDEA, 1997 and ESEA, 2001 would seem to be hopeful signs that will ensure the availability of a highly skilled and appropriately supervised paraeducator workforce. Assuring compliance with the intent and spirit of the federal legislative actions is not an easy task. Although there has been some progress in developing policies and standards to improve the performance of teacher and paraeducator teams since the passage of IDEA, 1997, in far too many situations these efforts have been piecemeal and have not led to infrastructures and policies that are integral parts of statewide systems of personnel development. With the reauthorization of NCLB 2001, development of statewide standards that clearly define distinctions in teacher and paraeducator roles, identify knowledge and skill competencies for paraeductors, create standards, academic assessment instruments and other methods that enable paraeducators to demonstrate skill mastery is critical. As SEAs begin their efforts to address these and other issues connected with paraeducator preparation and supervision, these efforts are not always going forward systematically, and unfortunately many are being developed in isolation.
SEAs should not develop the standards and infrastructures alone. They need to work in concert with LEAs, IHEs, professional organizations, unions, parents and other stakeholders to establish standards for paraeducator roles, preparation, and supervision that reflect best practices. After that is accomplished, they need to move on and develop systems to ensure that the standards are met by providing pre- and in-service training for paraeducators, and that teacher education programs prepare graduates for their roles as planners of paraeducators assignments and directors and monitors of paraeducatorís day-to-day performance.
The lack of access to meaningful data and other information about paraeducator employment, roles, preparation and supervision within a state adversely affects the capacity of SEAs and their partners to improve the quality of paraeducator performance. It is the responsibility of SEAs to gather relevant data about all aspects of paraeducator employment in the various programs administered by LEAs and to maintain it in an accessible centralized database. When this is done, the different partners will have the information they need to make informed decisions about how best to address the needs of their state. Pickett (2003) has identified a series of issues that require the attention of SEAs working in concert with their partners, they include:
- Delineating teacher responsibilities that may not be delegated or assigned to paraeducators, and the responsibilities that may be shared with paraeducators;
- Determining similarities and distinctions in the roles and responsibilities of paraeducators working in different programs or positions;
- Identifying a common core of skills required by all paraeducators, and hierarchies of knowledge and skills for paraeducators working in programs where they have greater independence and require more advanced complex skills;
- Establishing standards for paraeducator supervision;
- Establishing standards for paraeducator performance as team members in different programs and positions;
- Developing and implementing competency based, comprehensive systems of pre and in-service training for paraeducators tied to opportunities for career advancement;
- Identifying the knowledge and skill competencies required by teachers who supervise paraeducators; and
- Establishing standards for preparing teachers to carry out their supervisory responsibilities.