NCLB Makes Scholastic Demands of Locally Hired Teacher Aides
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They are mostly women and mostly part-time workers, with very modest incomes.
Whether you call them teachers' aides or paraprofessionals, they are the people who nurture and tutor your child in the classroom. And now many must meet strict federal guidelines to keep their jobs.
By the numbers
• There are 9,000 teacher aides in Arizona.
• There are more than 640,000 teacher aides across the country.
• Nationwide, full-time pay for aides can be as low as $11,000 per year.
• In Arizona, teacher aide salaries generally run from $7 to $12 an hour or from $11,200 to $19,200 per year.
The 9,000 teachers' aides in Arizona perform a variety of duties, everything from tutoring children in reading and math and translating lessons from English to Spanish to walking students to the lunchroom and assembling workbooks.
Those hired before January 2002, when the federal No Child Left Behind Act went into effect, have until the 2005-06 school year to complete 60 college credits, earn an associate's degree or pass a state-approved test in math, reading and writing. Aides hired this year must already be in compliance.
Only aides who work in Title I schools or programs, which receive federal money to boost achievement of students from poor families, must meet the new rules. But that's a sizable number, since nearly 1,000 of Arizona's 1,800 public schools receive Title I money.
Most will opt to take the test, since the cost for college courses is bound to be steep.
"The test wasn't hard, but a lot of the things on it I haven't used for a long time, like the math," said Veronica Flores, 42, a paraprofessional in the Isaac Elementary District in central Phoenix. "But the reading and writing was mainly common sense. When I walked out, I was confident."
Flores, who is bilingual, volunteered at Zito Elementary before getting her $9.53-an-hour job in the resource room. She works with children who are not learning at grade level, helping with reading and math. She passed the test in May. Colleague Sally Padilla did not.
"I think I froze in the middle of the test," said Padilla, who works at Mitchell Elementary School. "I took too long on the math and then I was trying to hurry at the end."
Padilla, who is in her 50s, has been a bilingual paraprofessional for 14 years. She plans to take the test again.
"We're accountable to our kids here, and we should have a certain standard we need to meet," she said. "But I think a lot of us stressed out because we were afraid of losing our jobs."
Penny Aldrich, 44, a special education aide at Sunridge Elementary Preschool in the Fowler District in southwest Phoenix, said there is a wide diversity among aides as far as education, income and family life. "Some aides count on every penny; some don't even need to earn the money," she said.
Since Aldrich is involved in hands-on activities with her special-education students, she must meet the new federal guidelines even though special-education aides focused solely on the physical care of their charges are exempt.
Most districts are encouraging aides to take the state-approved test as soon as possible, and many are picking up the $40 tab. Some will even foot the bill for college courses.
The Scottsdale Unified District, where about 50 teachers' aides are affected by the new law, plans to pay for up to 60 college credits per aide who opts not to take the test.
"We'll have a training program and a class partnership with a community college," said Cathy Rivera, executive director of educational operations in Scottsdale. We want them to focus on education classes and training."
Other districts are still hammering out the details. In Peoria, for example, where only five teachers are affected by the new law, administrators are planning some kind of professional development to help employees pass the test.
"We've not discussed them going back to school," said Dennis Williams, director of human resources for the Peoria Unified District.
Need for bilingual aides
Teacher aide duties
Teacher aides' duties in your child's classroom depend on the needs of the school and individual teachers. New federal guidelines list the allowable duties and prohibit paraprofessionals from offering any instructional help unless under the direct supervision of a teacher. Here's what's allowed:
• Providing one-on-one tutoring to eligible students if the tutoring is scheduled at a time when a student would not otherwise receive instruction from a teacher.
• Assisting with classroom management, such as organizing instructional and other materials.
• Providing assistance in a computer laboratory.
• Conducting parental involvement activities.
• Providing support in a library or media center.
• Acting as a translator.
Source: National Education Association.
Perhaps the most challenged under the law are districts with large Hispanic populations.
Finding qualified bilingual aides is a "mega issue," said Randall Blecha, superintendent of the Fowler Elementary District, where about 44 percent of the students are English-language learners. "We're having a hard time finding bilingual aides who can meet the requirements, and we are trying to decide what to do. A lot of the people who have until 2006 are frightened."
Bilingual aides, critical to districts with high numbers of Spanish-speaking students, are nervous about passing the test or taking college courses because of their own English skills, Aldrich said. In addition, many aides are supporting families, and finding time to study for the test or take college courses is difficult.
Yet finding an employee who meets the new guidelines is only one of the challenges to filling the job, educators say.
"The pay is low for paraprofessionals," said Kathy Wiebke, a deputy associate superintendent at the Arizona Department of Education, "and it is difficult to find people who will work for that salary." The average salary for aides in Arizona ranges from $7 to $12 an hour. They often work part-time hours, Wiebke said, in conditions that are less than ideal.
Yet she remains optimistic. "I have had some paraprofessionals calling me, saying they're concerned," she said, "but I think districts are getting the word out very well."
Although it's too soon for districts to feel the hit, educators agree that the loss of teachers' aides could be devastating.
"They serve many different responsibilities," said Kent Scribner, superintendent of the Isaac District. "They assist students who are not English-proficient, and they reinforce and clarify instruction of teachers. In tight budgetary times with large class sizes, having another responsible adult in the classroom is of great benefit to the students."
What a teacher aide needs to know
Here are sample questions from one of the teacher aide tests that is approved by the Arizona Department of Education:
1. What digit is in the hundredths place of the number 5,123.6487?
2. 445.76 x 9.634 is approximately equal to
3. Where is the grammatical error in the following sentence?
The role of technology in the nation's public schools have been increasing steadily for more than 20 years.
4. Because there are no refrigerators on the U.S. space shuttles, all of the food the astronauts eat must be in a non-perishable form.
In the previous sentence, the italicized word is being used as . . .
A. a noun
B. a verb
C. an adjective
D. an adverb
5. Which word is NOT spelled correctly?
Source: ParaPro Assessment
Correct answers: 1. B, 2. C, 3. B, 4. C, 5. A.
Teachers' aides must meet new guidelines
August 9, 2003
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