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NCLB Outrages

Preschool assistant objects to test

Aide says test, required under No Child Left Behind, has nothing to do with job. I spent around $20 to order a Parapro practice test booklet. Developed in response to the NCLB legislation, ETS claims "the ParaPro Assessment developed by Educational Testing Service for prospective and practicing paraprofessionals measures skills and knowledge in reading, mathematics, and writing, as well as the ability to apply those skills and knowledge to assist in classroom instruction."


You can look at one stupid question .

By Sue Loughlin

Christy Todd loves her job as a special education preschool assistant at Franklin Elementary.

Her job is at risk, however, if she doesn't pass a test or become "highly qualified" as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Todd objects to the test, called Parapro, because she believes it has nothing to do with her job and the law does not require her to take it, she said.

The law applies to Title 1 education assistants as well as all instructional assistants at a school that has a schoolwide Title 1 program.

While Franklin has a school-wide Title 1 program, the special education preschool is not part of nor is it funded by Title 1, Todd said. The preschool teachers don't fall under the law, she said.

Todd's employer, Covered Bridge Special Education District and its board, has decided that Todd and other preschool education assistants must become "highly qualified," similar to assistants in Title 1 programs.

Other ways to become "highly qualified" include earning 60 college credits or an associate's degree.

Todd has done her research and has consulted an attorney. As a matter of principle, she objects to the test and refuses to take it.

She took her case to the Covered Bridge board Tuesday.

"I'm a voice for other teaching assistants" who are afraid to attend, she said. "I want my job. That's all I want."

She believes it's wrong for Covered Bridge to make her take the test. If preschool assistants are to be evaluated, it should be based on what they actually do in the classroom, she said.

She works with 3- to 5-year-olds on social and communication skills; changes their diapers or assists them in going to the bathroom; and helps out the teacher as needed.

"Parapro" measures skills and knowledge in reading, writing and math, as well as the ability to apply those skills and knowledge to assist in classroom instruction. The test includes some basic algebra and geometry.

Todd has looked at Parapro study guides and the questions have nothing to do with what she does in the classroom. "I've never had anyone tell me I can't do my job," she said.

Jeff Blake, Covered Bridge executive director, disagrees with Todd. "In our opinion, the law does apply to our preschool education assistants," he said.

He believes the wording in the legislation "is gray," and many special education directors agree with him.

If all other education assistants in a Title 1 school are required to become highly qualified, "it seems like an equity issue to me," he said.

Also, Blake believes that requiring preschool teaching assistants to meet the law's "highly qualified" provision is what is best for kids.

"I think having that requirement can only benefit instruction," he said.

Blake also believes local education agencies can set the criteria for their employees.

A few years down the road, the federal law might require all teaching assistants to become "highly qualified," he said.

Covered Bridge has 17 or 18 preschool teachers, Blake said.

Todd and other affected teaching assistants have until the end of the 2005-06 school year to pass the test. She doesn't plan to take the test.

She doesn't know what she'll do if she is fired.

"I'll see what the outcome is and how things progress," she said. She wanted to be sure the Covered Bridge board had the information that she has researched "so they can make a good decision."

She wants to remain a preschool education assistant. "I love my job. That is why I do my job, even though this is making me a nervous wreck right now," she told the board.

She said she's not trying to cause trouble. "I'm not a trouble-maker I'm taking a stand for what is right and what is true."

Victoria Herrmann, whose son is in the preschool program at Franklin, had strong praise for Todd and questioned why she had to take a test that isn't relevant to what she does.

What matters most to her is that the assistants are compassionate, patient and kind to the children, and Todd is exemplary, Herrmann said. "I don't want to see her fired just because she can't pass a test."

If Todd must take a test, it should be related to the job for which she was hired, Herrmann said.

Dan Tanoos, president of the Covered Bridge Special Education District board, said education assistants are highly valued, and school superintendents do have many concerns about No Child Left Behind - including the "highly qualified" requirement for teaching assistants.

Still, the Covered Bridge board did vote in June to require its preschool education assistants to meet the law's "highly qualified" provision.

Many school systems around the state are requiring all education assistants - regardless of the grade or program - to pass the test or become "highly qualified," Tanoos said.

"I appreciate your concerns," he told Todd. The board will consider Todd's concerns.

Vicki Knust, a preschool teaching assistant at Fuqua Elementary, supports Todd's position, although she didn't attend the meeting.

"I wish they would have grandfathered us in," she said. The test, which includes some basic algebra and geometry, "doesn't pertain to us. We're lucky to get those kids to tell us their colors."

She, too, pledges not to take the test. "I'll wait and see if I'm fired or not," Knust said.


— Sue Loughlin
Terre Haute Tribune-Star


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