Paraeducators and IDEA 2004: Promoting Paraeducator Training
Why This Topic Is Important to Paraeducators
Properly trained paraeducators play an important role in reinforcing and enhancing teacher effectiveness in the classroom. Lack of training may impede your ability to help students succeed. You should never be put in situations for which you have little or no training.
IDEA 2004 recognizes the importance of well trained paraprofessionals. Qualifications for paraeducators who work with students with disabilities must be consistent with any state-approved or state-recognized certification, licensing, or registration program or with other comparable requirements that apply to them. States must establish and maintain qualifications to ensure that you are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained, and that you have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities. Each state also must adopt a policy that includes a requirement that local education agencies take measurable steps to recruit, hire, train, and retain highly qualified personnel to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities.
Funding for such training can come from the new State Personnel Development Grant program authorized in IDEA 2004, which provides federal funds through a competitive grants program. Funds may be used to improve paraeducator knowledge of effective educational practices . These grants require states to include a plan that identifies and addresses state and local needs for preparation and professional development of personnel—including paraeducators—who serve students with disabilities.
Additional funding for paraeducator training may be available in school districts— referred to as local education agencies (LEAs) in the law—that use IDEA 2004 funds to provide early intervening services for students not identified as needing special education or related services but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment. Training activities include professional development.
How to Promote Paraeducator Training
Professional development for paraeducators is a relatively new concept. Because of the emphasis in IDEA 2004 on properly trained paraeducators, you must be provided with the preparation and ongoing professional development you need to be effective.
You may need to advocate for high quality training opportunities. What can you do to help make sure that IDEA 2004 is implemented in your state in a manner that is good for you, your students, and your school? What can you do to help others understand and acknowledge the importance of providing training to paraeducators?
The suggested activities that follow are intended to be coordinated with the assistance of your local Association and UniServ staff. Study the activities below and discuss them with your colleagues, local Association leadership, and UniServ staff. With the assistance of your local and/or state Association leaders and staff, develop an action plan to promote training opportunities for paraeducators.
Becoming Informed—Advocacy Activities to be Coordinated with Local Association Leadership
Find out if the school district and/or state offers paraeducator training opportunities.
- Contact your state department of education or state board of education to ask how the State Personnel Development Plan will address the training needs of paraeducators.
- Ask for a copy of any memos the state department of education or state board of education may have sent to local school administrators regarding the issue of appropriate training and supervision of paraeducators. This is extremely important, because policy decisions are frequently formulated in such memos, and you might not other wise be aware of decisions that pertain to the training and supervision of paraeducators.
Explore funding possibilities that may be available to paraeducators.
- Find out if your state department or board of education has applied for and received a federal State Personnel Development Grant. If your state has received one of these grants, request that your local leaders ask in writing how much money was awarded and how much money will be used specifically for the training of paraeducators.
- Attend the meetings of your school board’s budget committee and find out how much money is being allocated for paraeducator training. Remind committee members of the IDEA 2004 requirement that paraeducators must be appropriately trained in order to assist in the provision of special education and related services to students with disabilities.
Spreading the Word—Advocacy Activities to be Coordinated with Local Association Leadership
Make sure state and local decision makers know about the training requirements in IDEA 2004 and that they have taken steps to implement plans.
- Write letters to your state department of education or state board of education urging that strong language on training for paraeducators be included in the State Personnel Development Plan. Offer to provide paraeducator assistance in drafting the language.
- Write to the chairs of your state House and Senate education committees and tell them what IDEA 2004 says about training. Ask them to take testimony from paraeducators about their training needs.
- Contact the state to find out how the IDEA 2004 requirement that each state must establish and maintain qualifications to ensure that the personnel who are necessary to carry out the requirements of IDEA are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained has been addressed. Those personnel qualifications state that properly trained and supervised paraprofessionals and assistants may be used to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities [20 U.S.C. 1412(a) (14)(B)(iii)].
Make paraeducator training needs known to the local Association.
- Organize meetings of paraeducators in your school to brainstorm about training needed to help them meet the needs of children with disabilities. Make sure this information is sent to the administrators responsible for staff professional development, reminding them that IDEA 2004 requires that paraeducators who assist in the provision of special education and related services to students with disabilities be appropriately trained in accordance with your state’s qualification requirements.
- Raise concerns about being asked to perform tasks for which you have not been adequately trained or for which you are not adequately supervised. In such cases, reference the requirement for appropriate training under IDEA 2004. Cite the best interests of the students as well as issues of liability for the school district.
- Survey paraeducators to find out whether or not they have received appropriate training for their tasks. Forward the survey results to administrators, school board members, and the state department of education or state board of education as evidence of the kind of training needs that must be met.
- Network with paraeducators in other districts to learn about training they have received. Document your findings for your own administrators and ask for similar training if necessary or appropriate.
Troubleshooting—Advocacy Activities to be Coordinated with Local Association Leadership
Document cases in which paraeducators are expected to perform duties for which they are not properly trained.
- Seek guidance from Association leaders and/or UniServ staff. Paraeducators who are required to perform a task without training should perform the task rather than risk a charge of insubordination. You should also immediately consult Association leaders or your UniServ director for guidance as to whether training should be provided for the particular task and how to proceed in seeking such training. If there is a pattern in your school of assigning tasks without adequate training or supervision, contact your local Association and/or UniServ director to request assistance.
- Consult with your UniServ director regarding concerns about being asked to perform tasks for which paraeducators have not been adequately trained and for which they are not adequately supervised. In such cases, reference the requirement for appropriate training under IDEA 2004 and cite the best interests of the students as well as issues of liability for the school district. Such issues may be a subject for bargaining.
- Determine if lack of training is affecting job security for paraeducators in your school district. If school districts have not provided adequate training, make sure that paraeducators are not receiving negative evaluations for failure to perform such duties adequately.
To next Section: "Promoting Appropriate Supervision of Paraeducators"