Academic journal article Rural Special Education Quarterly

TAPS: An Innovative Professional Development Program for Paraeducators Working in Early Childhood Special Education

Academic journal article Rural Special Education Quarterly

TAPS: An Innovative Professional Development Program for Paraeducators Working in Early Childhood Special Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article describes an innovative professional development program for paraeducators working with children with disabilities in early childhood special education settings. The model includes four components: (a) assessment of learning needs, (b) the formation of an individualized professional development plan, (c) participation in self-directed training using the TAPS curriculum materials, and (d) feedback and support by supervisors. The model was implemented with three cohorts of participants in Early Childhood Special Education programs serving rural and suburban communities in Oregon. Positive outcomes were found for all paraeducators, regardless of experience or education level. Implications for alternative potentially cost-effective rural professional development programs for paraeducators are discussed.

Paraeducators are playing an increasingly prominent role in providing instruction for children with disabilities (Downing, Ryndak & Clark, 2000; Fenner, 2005; Giangreco, Broer & Edelman, 2002) and, when properly trained and supervised, can provide a viable and cost-effective means to support their needs (Ashbaker & Morgan, 2006; Giangreco, Yuan, McKenzie, Cameron & Fialka, 2005). As a result, the training and supervision of paraeducators has received increased attention from federal and state lawmakers as well as local education agencies (Beale, 2001; Education Commission of the States, 2006; French, 2003; IDEA, 2004; Pickett, Likins & Wallace, 2003). Even with greater awareness there has been little progress in finding viable solutions to the problems connected with the employment, preparation, and supervision of paraeducators.

Training has been identified as a critical element in the effective utilization and retention of paraeducators. However, providing relevant and cost-effective professional development to paraeducators continues to be a challenge, especially in rural communities (Bugaj, 2002; Passaro, Pickett, Latham & Hong Bo, 1994; Sealander, Eigenberger, Peterson, Shellady & Prater, 2001; Williams, Martin & Hess, 2002). Training for paraeducators in some rural areas may be impacted by reduced access to professional development opportunities, greater costs, and travel challenges (Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, 2004). Paraeducators in rural areas may not have access to the expertise of a wide range of instructors or the greater selection of professional development opportunities that are available to their peers in urban and suburban settings. Often, because of geographic isolation, agencies in rural areas may be faced with higher costs to send their paraeducators to trainings, conferences or other professional development opportunities outside their communities. Rural paraeducators seeking professional development may also face travel challenges such as travel over mountains, inclement weather, or inadequate roads. The time necessary for paraeducators from rural areas to travel to participate in professional development activities away from their home community may also require increased non-work time (such as weekends) or time away from their main responsibility of working with children.

Since there is no one set of paraeducator personnel standards established, states are striving to develop and implement their own to align with requirements outlined in the IDEA reauthorization. They are also faced with establishing methods for training paraeducators to meet these standards. Although some states have initiated or adopted standards for paraeducators (Beale, 2001; Education Commission of the States, 2006) and some curricula have been developed to address these standards (Council for Exceptional Children, 2004; Etscheidt, 2005; Pickett et al., 2003), many focus on working with students in elementary and secondary programs and do not address the unique competencies needed by paraeducators serving young children ages 3-5 who have disabilities in Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) settings. …

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