School district aides’ credentials fall short

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A less well-known provision of No Child Left Behind requires that all education support staff—teacher aides, assistants and other academic paraprofessionals—be “highly qualified.”

By 2005-06, districts may only employ aides and assistants who have completed at least two years of college—60 credit hours—or have passed a “rigorous” state test that demonstrates knowledge in reading, writing and math. Previously, aides had been required only to have a high school diploma or GED; in some instances, 45 hours of college credit were required.

According to a CPS audit, more than 77 percent of the 5,147 teacher aides currently working for the district in core academic areas do not meet the new requirements. Since No Child went into effect last fall, CPS has hired roughly 300 aides who do meet the new requirements, according to district officials.

School-level information is not yet available.

Teacher aides and assistants, who earn about $17,000 to $28,000 a year, can be responsible for a variety of education-related duties, including working with students one-on-one or in small groups, helping teachers with lessons and class activities, and translating teachers’ instructions for students and helping communicate with parents.

Illinois is among the many states that have adopted test options as an alternative to taking additional classes. A few states, including Illinois, and school districts also are developing ways to measure aides’ abilities through work portfolios.

Since last month, CPS teacher aides who do not have an associate degree or two years of college have the option of taking a $40 test called ParaPro Assessment (from the Educational Testing Service) or a test called WorkKeys (from ACT that costs from $28 to $48) to demonstrate proficiency. The Chicago Teachers Union has asked CPS to offset the cost of test fees and preparation, but the district has not yet agreed to do so.

No Child does not require school districts to notify parents of teacher aides’ credentials, but parents can request such information at their child’s school. Those aides who do not meet the new requirements have two years to earn 60 credits or pass one of the new paraprofessional tests. However, aides who are laid off and do not meet the new requirements have just 60 days to find another job inside the system or they become ineligible to be re-hired.

No Child also prohibits schools from using aides to replace fully certified classroom teachers or perform instructional duties without the supervision of a classroom teacher. Several national reports during the late 1990’s showed that many schools and districts were using federally funded paraprofessionals as classroom teachers, despite their lack of sufficient qualifications.