Paraeducators constitute an important and significant portion of instructional delivery to all students. Legislative requirements and expanding paraeducator responsibilities increase the need to identify standards that are linked to specific training practices. Nationally, very little has been done to develop credentialing systems for paraeducators and few standards exist for either credentialing or administrative guidelines. However, states have begun to recognize the importance of developing state standards, credentials, and guidelines. This paper presents a review of state standards for paraeducators and training requirements based on defined competencies.
Legal Mandates for Paraeducators
State regulation and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997 (IDEA) require that states provide fully qualified professional personnel to work with children with disabilities [20 U.C. Sec. 1412(a)(15)(B)(ii); 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1435(a)(8)]. The statute requires that states' appropriately train and supervise paraprofessionals and assistants. These requirements, in addition to the use of paraeducators in Title I and other compensatory programs such as Head Start, have increased the use of paraeducators in the classroom (French & Pickett, 1997). However, despite the growing number in the education system, paraeducators remain a largely untrained work force that is given increased levels of responsibility in the classroom (French & Pickett, 1997; Pickett, 1994).
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that of the 500,000 classroom and library assistants working in the public schools between 1993-94, 89 percent of these worked as "teacher aides" (NCES, 1999). Of these, almost half of the paraeducator work force was employed in special education programs. The final Report of the National Assessment of the Chapter 1 Program (February, 1993) reported that almost half of the Chapter 1 staff was made up of paraeducators (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). The Follow-up Survey of Schools (1997-98) reported that paraeducators were employed in 69 percent of Title I schools. NCES reported that the use of paraeducators continues to increase over the employment of certified teachers. According to statistics reported by the National Industry-Occupational Employment for 1998 (National Industry -- Occupation Employment, 1999), 1.25 million teacher assistants are employed in both public and private education settings. This number is projected to increase to 1,371,613 by 2008, or an increase of 33.7%. With a projected increase of 346,035 teacher assistants, state hiring standards and training programs will be a necessity (figure 1).
While many states have established guidelines for paraeducators, little has been done to develop credentialing systems for paraeducators; however, the increased use of paraeducators in schools, along with federal requirements, have led states to recognize the importance of developing state standards, credentials, and guidelines for paraeducators. (French & Pickett, 1997; Hilton & Gerlach, 1997). The development and strengthening of standards for credentialing and administration can serve to define roles and responsibilities for paraeducators as well as help to ensure a higher level of quality service (AFT, 2000). Administrative guidelines and credentialing systems regulate the education or experience that is required for paraeducators. However, formal systems that provide "symbolic recognition" (U.S. Dept. of Ed., 1999, p3) undermine credentialing, lead to low morale, and are ineffective in establishing competencies.
Professions outside education have recognized the importance of establishing standards and certification requirements. An occupational comparison for paraprofessionals indicates that certification requirements for occupations other than paraeducators include minimum standards for a wide range of professions, including bus driver, cosmetologist, dental assistant, home health aide, manicurist, nurse aide, paramedic, and plumber. …