NCLB IMPACT ON PARAPROFESSIONAL EMPLOYMENT
Presentation to the State Board of Education (SBE)
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 became the "law of the land" on January 8, 2002. The ideals and goals behind this historic legislation are admirable; every child should progress to his/her best abilities and every student in every classroom deserves quality professional educators working with them. For many educators and students, the full impact of this legislation was not felt until this year. However, for paraprofessionals or instructional teacher assistants, the law was immediate and requirements for employment standards became effective upon passage of the law. In North Carolina, this directly impacted approximately 15,900 of our 25,900 teacher assistants.
Who is Impacted and How Are They Impacted:
In general terms, NCLB applies to paraprofessionals who perform instructional duties in Title I funded schools. Slide # 2 of the Paraprofessional Flowchart (ppt, 38kb) illustrates this through a series of questions. The federal law applies to any paraprofessional educators paid with Title I funds in a Targeted Assistance School or to all paraprofessionals in a Schoolwide Title I funded program. Every school system receives some Title I funds and 114 of the 117 school systems have teacher assistants in either Title I Targeted Assistance programs and paid with Title I funds, or in schoolwide Title I programs.
In our State, this federal mandate immediately impacted 15,900 teacher assistants in 1,075 schools. Schools that do not receive Title I funding are not impacted UNLESS the local boards of education wish to adopt a policy setting these higher standards for all paraprofessionals. The majority of school systems have exercised this option and we will review that in more detail later in this presentation.
Many paraprofessionals have to meet the new federal standards for higher employment standards. Those hired after passage of the law, that is January 8, 2002, must meet the requirements prior to employment. For those employed prior to January 8, 2002, requirements must be met by January 8, 2006. Therefore, the date that one is hired has a huge impact on the requirements that that one must meet.
The federal government sets criteria that instructional paraprofessionals are to meet in order to be employed or stay employed in impacted schools. It is important to note that a paraprofessional only needs to meet one of the criteria options and this is illustrated in Slide # 3 of the Flowchart (ppt, 38kb). The federal legislation states that a paraprofessional who performs instructional duties must either have two years of study, which is 48 semester hours, at an Institution of Higher Education or have an associate's degree from a higher education institution. The federal legislation also allows the States or local school districts to development a rigorous assessment that may meet the employment criteria. The SBE approved our assessment options in the spring of 2002 and these were outlined in the Consolidated Plan submitted to the US Department of Education in May 2002.
There are basically four assessment options that are outlined in Slide # 3. However, before looking briefly at each option, we need to examine the guidelines that were provided in the Non-Regulatory Guidance and Federal Register that state what assessments should do. First, any assessment must have rigor. The guidance that we have received states that any assessment should be equivalent to two years of study beyond high school. Moreover, any assessment should be valid, able to be documented and assess one's abilities in reading writing and mathematics. Finally, any assessment must also address one's abilities to assist in instructing reading, writing and mathematics or in the reading, writing and math readiness. In short, any assessment must be rigorous, assess one's own personal academic skills and assess one's skills in assisting instructional activities. There is a "three-pronged" test that is to be met.
Paraprofessionals in North Carolina have four assessment options from which to select. Remember, anyone having an associate's degree or two years of study do not have to meet the assessment criteria.
Slide # 3 of the Flowchart (ppt, 38kb) briefly outlines the four assessment options. Two are staff development options that involve cooperative efforts with the NC Department of Labor and community colleges or the NC Teacher Assistant's Organization and community colleges. These programs have been available in previous years. Activities include coursework in instructional areas and completion of competency checklists of abilities. The other two options involve completion of standardized tests and staff development activities.
Many ask why is there a test and staff development? Before moving further, let's look at that issue. A test assesses one's abilities in their own reading, writing and math skills. It provides rigor. However, there is currently no test on the market that is developed to measure two years of post-secondary study. Nor do the tests assess one's abilities to assist in the instruction of reading, writing and math. The assessment of skills in assisting instruction can be determined through staff development activities and training. That is why we call our options "testing plus". Completion of a test is only a part of the requirement. The staff development that accompanies the testing can be done in areas related to reading, math, writing, classroom management, working with children with special needs and/or technology. Previously earned staff development may be used to meet the staff development requirements as long as the training was relevant, timely and documented. Local systems are to develop policies to address these issues.
Slides # 4-7 of the Flowchart (ppt, 38kb) look at each assessment option in more detail and provide general summaries of requirements. Slide # 4 summarizes the Teacher Assistant Professional organization's plan. Slide # 5 reviews the NC Department of Labor plan. You will note the similarities. Slide # 6 is a testing plus option that is available for those who wish to return to college or the community college for formal education. Slide # 7 summarizes the WorkKeys Occupational Profile test plus option.
Assistance with Training:
Before moving to what our school systems are doing to help paraprofessionals meet these requirements, we should note that additional federal funding through Title I Part A and Title II can be used to help defray costs. Additionally, teacher assistants in NC have two scholarship opportunities available for their use. The Teacher Assistant Scholarship Loan Program that is administered through DPI is sensitive to those needing to meet employment criteria. This scholarship program is designed for those returning to a community college setting to earn an associate's degree or additional training. The Teacher Assistant Scholarship Fund is administered through the NC State Education Assistance Authority and is designed for those entering a senior, four-year college or university.
Practices in Our Schools:
Several individuals have inquired about practices and opportunities in our schools. To gather this information, we developed a short survey for school systems to complete. This survey (pdf, 152kb) is provided for your review. We were looking for two primary items: the number of school systems expanding the federal requirement to all paraprofessionals, and the steps taken by school systems to inform and support their employees.
Questions 1-3 in the survey yielded valuable information to us. The first chart summarizes responses to the questions. All 117 school systems responded to the survey with 82 or 70% reporting that all paraprofessionals were being expected to meet the higher standards established in the federal legislation. Remember that this is a local decision and not a federal requirement for all paraprofessionals. We also see that 35 school systems or 30% are applying the federal requirements to only those in Title I funded schools. Again, this is a local decision. Three are delaying a decision to expand to all paraprofessionals but now require those in Title I schools to meet requirements.
Why are school systems requiring all paraprofessionals to meet the higher standards? Reason vary by school system, however, some of the information we have include:
- All students are held to the Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) standard, so we want all children to receive the highest quality of support possible. Therefore, we want all of our teacher assistants better trained and more skilled. We feel this will enhance our opportunities to meet AYP standards. Remember that if only one subgroup tested does not meet AYP standards, the whole school is in improvement.
- It gives all employees in the same job classification the same employment criteria. It provides for consistency in employment.
- Teacher assistants transfer between schools in our system on a frequent basis. Establishing identical criteria provides us with greater flexibility in the assignment of staff to meet the needs of our students.
- Most of our schools were already Title I funded schools anyway, so it made sense to include everyone. In some cases, all of our schools are Title I funded.
- Title I schools increased from 1009 to 1075 last year. As Title I schools grow, we will be ready and our employees will have already met the requirements. We want to be proactive and ahead of the learning curve.
- By 2006, all Title I school will have to have their teacher assistants meet the criteria. We are anticipating future requirements. This enables us to be prepared for changes in our schools' funding after 2006. By enacting requirements now, we actually give our personnel more time to meet the standards.
The second part of the summary details what school systems have done and are doing to inform, support and assist their teacher assistants. Many school systems are happy to report that they are well entrenched in their assessment options and that they have teacher assistants actively involved in acquiring new skills and learning new methods to assist their teachers and students. In several cases, teacher assistants have fulfilled requirements already.
The NCLB Act of 2001 requires instructional teacher assistants paid with Title I funds or assigned to work in schoolwide Title I programs to meet higher employment standards. The purpose of the standards is to increase teacher assistant skills and be able to demonstrate those skills in working with students and teachers. In North Carolina, 70% of the school districts have decided to require all of their instructional teacher assistants to meet the higher standards for reasons related to employment flexibility, for consistent criteria for persons in same job classifications, and for better support to teachers and students. Our assessment options are varied, designed to meet multiple needs and have been in place for 10 months. School systems are employing multiple strategies to inform their teacher assistants, have developed cooperative arrangements with community colleges and other agencies for support and have provided funding to support their employees' efforts. It appears that a large portion of our schools is well on the way to meeting the NCLB requirements for highly qualified and prepared paraprofessionals. In the final analysis, our students should be the beneficiaries of these efforts.