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Research Connections
Spring 2003


Ensuring a High Quality Workforce

IDEA called upon states to ensure a high quality paraeducator workforce. Spurred in part by IDEA, and now the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states are focusing more attention on the skills and knowledge of paraeducators. Following are examples of how states are taking the initiative to ensure that paraeducators are well prepared.


IDEA requires that paraeducators be supervised. In creating supervisory systems, what should states and local districts consider?

“When teachers and administrators understand what is necessary to prepare and support paraeducators, their efforts will ultimately contribute to better instruction, a stronger team atmosphere, and increased confidence and job satisfaction among paraeducators,” reports Teri Wallace, researcher at the University of Minnesota. “Teachers must learn strategies for directing the work of paraeducators and administrators must promote effective instructional supervisory relationships and create infrastructures that reward teacher-paraeducator teams.

To determine supervision competencies, Wallace conducted a statewide study. She found competencies were required in the following areas:

  • Communicating with paraeducators.
  • Managing the work of paraeducators.
  • Modeling for paraeducators.
  • Planning and scheduling.
  • Providing instructional support.
  • Carrying out public relations on behalf of paraeducators.
  • Training paraeducators.

For almost a decade, Wallace also has been conducting tri-annual statewide needs assessments of paraeducators. “Recognizing paraeducators’ training, responsibilities, experience, and skill levels, increases the probability that they will be placed in positions for which they are qualified, and which effectively and efficiently use their skills to enhance the quality of services for students. Data from these needs assessments help to uncover real issues and concerns.”

In addition to conducting research, Wallace has contributed to many paraprofessional initiatives in Minnesota— the Para eLink (online training for paraprofessionals), and ParaLink newsletter for paraprofessionals supported by the Minnesota Statewide Paraprofessional Consortium. Check out the Consortium’s web site at http://ici2.umn.edu/para/.


Recognizing the increasingly important support roles paraeducators perform, stakeholders in Iowa decided to tackle status and training issues. The result: A state law that created a paraeducator voluntary certification system.

“Paraeducators want to do the best job possible with the children they serve and are interested in learning effective techniques and strategies,” explains Susan Simon, professor at Kirkwood Community College (KCC) in Cedar Rapids. “Now, paraeducators can receive specific, focused training in their local communities, and be acknowledged for their education by the state. Some school districts are providing additional salary for paraeducators who complete their certification.”

Paraeducator training programs are approved by the state. Certification requirements specify competencies for:

Level 1-Generalist: Training includes 90 clock hours on topics such as behavior management, exceptional child and at-risk child behavior, collaboration and interpersonal skills, child and youth development, technology, and ethical responsibilities and behavior.

Level 2-Areas of Concentration: Participants who hold a Level 1 Generalist Certificate may complete an additional 45 hours of study in one of the following concentration areas: special education, early childhood, limited English proficiency, or career and transition.

Level 2-Advanced: Candidates also must hold an associate degree or have earned 62 hours at an institution of higher education. To complete the certificate, candidates also must successfully complete 100 clock hours of supervised practicum with children.

With OSEP support, Simon has created a project at KCC designed to increase the quality and quantity of paraeducators. “We try to accommodate paraeducators’ schedules by offering courses at various times and via different mediums, such as distance learning,” Simon tells us. “Also, we have made it possible for certification courses to lead to an associate degree.” Currently, the KCC model is being replicated in six other community colleges. For more information, contact Simon at ssimon@kirkwood.cc.ia.us.


How do you plan and deliver training statewide for more than 3,500 paraeducators? This was the challenge facing Hawaii as officials set out to meet state, IDEA, and NCLB requirements.

Dale Asami of the Hawaii Department of Education explains that since 1999 that state has offered voluntary training. “The training is free. However, paraeducators may opt to register for college credit,” says Asami. “The college credit can be applied toward a certificate and/or be used to meet career ladder requirements.” The training is organized by levels:

  • Level 1: The one-day orientation training introduces participants to paraeducator roles and responsibilities. The training is open to paraeducators, as well as parents, volunteers, and other interested individuals.
  • Level 2: Paraeducators participate in weekly 4-hour sessions for a total of 72 hours. Topics include roles and responsibilities, communication skills, behavioral management, instructional practices, and organizational issues. A practicum component provides an opportunity for resource professionals to observe and assess paraeducators in their school settings.
  • Level 3: This advanced training provides more in-depth study in addition to formal practicum observations.

“The practicum observation component adds an important element of accountability,” states Asami. “The observation tool uses rubrics that are unique to paraeducators’ roles and responsibilities in such areas as instruction, collaboration, and behavioral management.” For more information, contact Asami at dale_asami@notes.k12.hi.us.


“Rhode Island is committed to ensuring that children achieve to high standards, and thus, we need personnel who demonstrate high standards,” asserts Peggy Hayden, who serves as a consultant to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). “Since the mid 1990s, RIDE—with the joint commitment of resources of the RIDE Office of Special Needs and the Office of Teacher Preparation, Certification and Professional Development—has established an infrastructure to support paraeducator standards implementation.”

In 1998, RIDE established paraeducator standards that specify paraeducator competencies as a result of an approved training program. To be RIDE approved, a program submits an application demonstrating how it will meet standards. Currently, approximately 30 programs have been approved. A typical training program is 27 hours over multiple weeks, with most involving classes, practica, and the development of portfolios. To support state standards, RIDE has used financial resources in a strategic way, establishing:

  • Regional paraeducator networks
  • A quarterly newsletter
  • Professional development materials that are loaned
  • State sponsored trainings
  • Web site resources at www.ridoe.net and www.ritap.org

Rhode Island is addressing the new NCLB requirements for paraeducators by building on their current foundation. “RIDE is applying the IDEA requirement that personnel serving students with disabilities meet the highest standard in the state applicable to that job type,” Hayden explains. “Thus, the NCLB requirements are applicable to all paraeducators working in an instructional capacity with students with disabilities regardless of funding source.” RIDE is recommending that NCLB requirements apply to all instructional paraeducators, setting a uniform standard.

For more information, contact Peggy Hayden at peggy_hayden@ids.net.


In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released regulations for the NCLB Act and non-regulatory guidance on paraprofessionals working in programs supported by Title I funds. With regard to paraprofessionals working with students with disabilities, federal requirements differ depending on the situation. [Note: States may have additional requirements.] NCLB requirements pertain to paraprofessionals who are:

  • Working in a Title I targeted assistance program, have instructional support duties, and are paid with Title I funds.
  • Working in a Title I schoolwide program school and have instructional support duties, without regard to the source of funding that supports that position
  • .

NCLB requirements do not pertain to paraprofessionals who do not provide instructional support. For more information on NCLB, visit the ED web site at: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/SASA/paraprofessional.html.

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