Identifying Paraprofessional Competencies for Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education

Article excerpt

Help! Paraprofessionals needed! This cry is going out across the United States, even as the increased demand is not seeing a corresponding supply of trained personnel.

Because few state institutions of higher education can produce the numbers of professionals needed to work with young children with disabilities and their families (Gallagher, Malone, Cleghorne, & Helms, 1997), it is only logical that state and local programs have increased their use of paraprofessionals in the delivery of needed services (see box, "The IDEA & Paraprofessionals"). In addition to the increased numbers of personnel currently needed to provide services, the training needs of these personnel are increasing. Here are factors contributing to the training needs of paraprofessionals:

The changing nature and increased cultural and linguistic diversity of children and families.

Advances in effective and researched-- based practices.

Changes in instructional models, such as the use of natural environments and community settings (Slobof, 1999; Stayton & Bruder, 1999).

Despite these needs, few states, prior to the 1997 IDEA amendments, required demonstration of specific competencies or provided ongoing competency-based training for paraprofessionals.

This article provides a set of competencies for paraprofessionals and demonstrates ways to document the various mastery levels of paraprofessionals. We have found this structure useful; and it forms the foundation of Oregon's personnel development system for the state's early intervention/ early childhood education special education services.

The Changing Role of the Paraprofessional

The role of the paraprofessional is dramatically different from that of the attendance taker of the past. Paraprofessionals are assisting and providing services that range

From implementation of positive behavior strategies for children with disruptive behaviors to being part of schoolwide discipline programs.

From assisting with fluoride treatments to conducting highly complex life-sustaining health procedures delegated by physicians and nurses for medically fragile children.

From implementing articulation programs for groups of children tc conducting tactile communication strategies for young children who are deafblind.

The paraprofessional has become the backbone of inclusive early childhood education and is frequently serving as a child's primary interventionist in inclusive and community settings (Hammeken, 1996; Winton, 1993). More frequently than ever before, paraprofessionals are performing not only instructional duties, but are also involved in daily administrative duties (Pickett, 1990; 1996). As such, state and local Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD) models and technical assistance systems must address basic core competencies needed for paraprofessionals working with young children with disabilities and their families.

Identifying Paraprofessional Competency Needs

But what are the competencies paraprofessionals need? What are the standards, competencies, and skills that states should consider and that local agencies must ensure are demonstrated by their paraprofessionals? And perhaps most important, what are the competencies that paraprofessionals themselves have identified as critical in their roles and in which they are in need of training and support?

The Initial Identification of Competencies

To answer these questions, as well as many others related to the development and implementation of a statewide CSPD system for early intervention and early childhood special education (EI/ECSE) practitioners, the Oregon Department of Education, as the state lead agency for Part C and ECSE services, formed a multidisciplinary task force of more than 50 professionals to assist in identifying needed competencies and to recommend methods by which people could document their level of mastery for each of the identified competencies required for their position. …