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For a more detailed examination of the NCLB mandate that teacher aides get an associate's degree, see http://www.susanohanian.org/show_nclb_stories.html?id=38

FORT WORTH - Hoping to ease concerns over new federal education laws that require teacher aides in poor schools to be more qualified, Fort Worth school district administrators will present trustees with a four-option plan today under which aides can remain employable after January 2006.

The new No Child Left Behind Act mandates that teacher aides at all campuses using federal Title I funds aimed at low-income students must possess an associate's degree, 48 college credit hours or certification through testing.

Until passage of the act nearly two years ago, aides needed only a high school diploma to apply.

Two of the options, if approved by the board, would allow aides to work toward a college degree and receive partial reimbursement. Employees can earn an associate degree in two years or meet the 48 credit-hour requirement while working toward a bachelor's degree.

But administrators think that most will choose the third option, which would prepare them for an online certification test -- the ParaPro Assessment. The U.S. Department of Education allows districts to pick from a number of tests, or even create their own aide certification criteria.

"We wanted to give them as many options because we want to keep those aides that we already have. They have experience and that's hard to come by," said Juanita Silva, associate superintendent for instruction.

"We also wanted to give them as many tries as possible to meet this certification because some of these aides have been out of school for a long time."

Aides who do not pass the assessment by 2006 would have a fourth option, a one-on-one evaluation of their performance with the district that would include videotaped conferences, some basic college courses, letters of recommendation and other documents.

Aides still not in compliance by the January 2006 deadline would be transferred to a noninstructional position within the district, with a possible pay cut.

Holly Eaton, a director of professional development with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said offering both a college and a test option is the right thing for Fort Worth to do, but she warned about the effects of requiring college for traditionally lower-paid employees.

"When an employee who normally is paid $9 an hour is asked to have college experience, it merits a considerable salary increase that most districts right now can't afford," she said.

Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association, said the assessment for those employees who don't perform well in a paper-and-pencil test should favor many of the longtime aides who have been out of school for decades.

"Some of these aides have been out of the classroom for more than 20 years and they know a lot about kids that the younger teachers don't always know," he said. "There has to be a way to test someone based on their classroom activity rather than what they can prove to know on paper."

Shaw and others said providing compliance alternatives to college is the right decision.

"If they were to stick to the college requirement, I think there would be a lot of worried people in the district," said Yvonne Barron, an aide for 20 years at Kirkpatrick Elementary. "I know everybody is sick of testing, but if they keep those questions to things we already do in the classroom, most of us should be OK."

— Gustavo Reveles Acosta
Teacher aides may get certification alternatives
May 13, 2003


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