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January 16, 2003

Teacher Aides get draft guidance for meeting requirements of federal No Child Left Behind Law

School districts will soon get draft guidance from the State Board of Education on ways that current teacher aides can meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

NCLB, signed into law by President Bush January 8 of 2002, requires paraprofessionals with teaching duties hired after that date to meet specific qualifications outlined in the law. All paraprofessionals with teaching duties must meet the new requirements by January 2006. The draft guidance that the State Board approved for distribution to school districts outlines short-term and long-term procedures for teacher aides to meet the NCLB requirements.

NCLB establishes three ways that teacher aides may meet the qualifications in the law:

  • Complete at least two years of postsecondary study at an institution of higher education (60 semester hours) or
  • Obtain at least an associate's degree, or
  • Meet a rigorous standard of quality and demonstrate, through a formal State and local academic assessment, the knowledge of and ability to assist in the instruction of reading, writing and mathematics or reading readiness, writing readiness and mathematics readiness.

Prior to NCLB, teacher aides in Illinois were required to complete at least 30 semester hours of college credit in a recognized institution of higher education. Illinois must now align its requirements with those established by No Child Left Behind.

To enable teacher aides to meet the NCLB requirements, the State Board is collaborating with the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board on a long-term strategy to establish a statewide training curriculum using paraprofessional standards developed by the American Federation of Teachers. When completed, the curriculum will lead to an Associate of Applied Science degree and recognition as a Paraprofessional Educator.

The model curriculum was recommended by a Paraprofessional Task Force that includes representatives of community colleges, regional offices of education, Title 1 paraprofessionals, Title 1 teachers, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, teacher preparation colleges and universities, Community College Board staff and State Board staff. Plans call for the training program to be available this year, presented for approval of the State Board of Education, the Community College Board and the Board of Higher Education in the spring of 2003.

The short-term solution recommended by the State Board for current teacher aides and the districts that employ them is an assessment to measure the knowledge and skills needed by paraprofessionals. The "ParaPro" assessment has been developed by the Educational Testing Service to measure the classroom skills of teacher aides and would be accepted by the State Board as meeting the requirements of NCLB. The WorkKeys assessment, developed by the American College Testing Service, Inc. (ACT) will be considered for acceptance when the State Board is able to verify that it aligns with the NCLB requirement on the assessment of "the ability to assist in instruction."

NCLB also provides for a local assessment option, and the State Board will adopt the United States Department of Education guidelines for local assessment and require that districts adhere to these criteria and submit assurance statements to the agency if the district chooses this option.

School administrators report that many teacher aides have acquired the 30-hour approval, but most do not meet the requirements of NCLB. Special education aides typically have fewer than 30 hours since they have not been required to obtain that approval. Precise data on the number of approvals issued are not available, but State Board staff estimate that 8,000 to 9,000 teacher aides would be affected by the NCLB requirements.

Regional offices of education, community colleges and teachers' unions have indicated they are prepared to provide mentoring classes and workshops for teacher aides to assist them in preparing for a paraprofessional assessment.

The State Board will distribute this guidance to school districts to help them and their paraprofessional staff members prepare to meet NCLB requirements by the statutory timelines. State Board staff will contact the Educational Testing Service to begin the standards-setting process and convene a standards-setting panel to advise on acceptable scoring. Subject to recommendations from that panel, staff will report back to the State Teacher Certification Board and the State Board in March for final action.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777