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Understanding the paraprofessional's important role

Paraprofessionals play important roles in our school communities. That is evident when you look at a state-developed job description for paraprofessionals.

Many education professionals are surprised to learn that the PA Department of Education has developed job descriptions for most job categories in education, known as the Certification and Staffing Policy Guidelines, or CSPGs. These guidelines define what duties are included in each education job role, such as subject-specific certified teachers, behavior specialists (one of the newest CSPGs), speech and language therapists, and paraprofessionals.

According to CSPG 101, paraprofessionals support the work of professional employees who, in turn, offer guidance to paraprofessionals as they provide services to students. These services may include student practice, remediation, and assessment, as well as non-academic services like cafeteria duty, hall monitoring, or escorting students. Specifically, CSPG 101 provides:

"A paraprofessional or aide supplements an appropriately certified teacher in the teacher's performance of their instructional duties. The identification and diagnosis of learning activities, the assessment of learner achievement and progress, the prescription of personalized learning activities, and the direction and conduct of instructional activity (other than drill) rest only with the certified staff and cannot be delegated to a person employed as a paraprofessional or aide. In addition, any instructional programs that are part of the curriculum and are open to all students must be staffed with certified professional personnel."

School entities may also assign paraprofessionals to assist with providing non-medical support to students who have grooming and hygiene issues, such as needing help with washing hands, brushing teeth, and toileting.

The CSPG does not address certain issues relating to paraprofessionals, such as the number of hours worked, Chapter 14 staff development hours, and guidance for paraprofessionals who are assigned to work in a room without a professional. Hours worked and working conditions, however, may be addressed in a collective bargaining contract, and Chapter 14 regulations provide that special education instructional paraprofessionals must take 20 hours of professional development per school year.


Pointers for case managers at the start of the school year

The beginning of the school year can be very hectic. Here is a list to review to help you start off the year organized and ready to go:

  • You should receive and review a case management list of students with individualized education program plans (IEPs) that you will be responsible for implementing during the 2017-18 school year. It is always a good idea to ensure that you have an updated copy of this documentation because over the course of the year you may have additional students added to the list, and in rare cases, you may be asked to serve as case manager for students who attend private schools during initial evaluations and during development of IEPs for these students.
  • Review students' schedules to make sure that they comply with the students' IEPs in terms of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and course selection. In some cases, you will be checking to make sure that students are assigned to the classrooms that have the supports listed in the IEP.
  • Notify teaching staff of accommodations and modifications as well as behavior plans and academic and functional goals. Each entity has different policies on how this information is relayed to staff. Abide by those policies.
  • Check to determine whether your employer provides due dates for re-evaluations and IEPs. Many employers have master lists containing such due dates retained by the special education director or pupil services director; otherwise, you will need to go through each student's file to review dates and establish your own timetable. This is critical because administrators have been known to write staff up for missing special education due dates. There are serious consequences for the district if due dates are missed and the parent proceeds to due process hearings.
  • Have an initial communication with parents identifying yourself as the special education teacher responsible for case management. It is always good to reach out early in the school year.
  • Carefully review any information provided on health-related issues the student may face. There may be protocols that must be followed if the student has a health emergency. In some cases, the information provided to you may include strategies on handling health-related materials, such as inhalers and injectors. The nursing staff in the school can address any questions you may have before the student arrives.
  • Figure out what data need to be collected to establish your baseline for academics and behavior (as needed). Determine what data will be collected from general education teachers and what data you will collect.
  • Map out your own schedule taking into consideration models in use: co-teaching, resource room, self-contained, social groups, etc.
  • Decide who else in the school needs pertinent information about the child, especially information about procedures related to dealing with medical emergencies and behavior plans. For example, it may be appropriate to share this information with the bus driver and paraprofessionals who serve as hall monitors, playground assistants, and library assistants. In addition to these individuals, there may be a variety of other school employees who have a legitimate need to know about medical and behavioral issues and procedures which must be followed. Before sharing student information with others, it is important to ensure that you are complying with your employer's policies regarding disclosure of student information. If you do not know what the employer's policies are, request copies and guidance from the administration.
  • Do you need to have an emergency plan due to a student's recent history? Whom can you contact quickly in case you need additional help? Who is the backup to be contacted if the primary responder is unavailable? What method is to be used for contacting — intercom, sending a student, phone, etc.? Discuss these issues with your administrators and with members of the IEP team.
  • Be sure the staff who are responsible for ordering equipment needed to help students access their academic content have done so. Think in terms of assistive technology (for students working with a speech therapist), FM system (for students working with a hearing therapist), braille, braille printer, or large print books (for students working with a vision teacher).
  • Plan to have a successful and outstanding school year!

Changes made to requirements for teaching candidates

Teaching candidates who struggle with high-stakes testing will now have another option on the road to certification.

The PA Department of Education announced in July changes to the math requirements for college students seeking teacher certification. Since 2014, students were required to take the Basic Skills Assessment in math, language arts, and writing. Over time, the Department of Education found that many candidates were unsuccessful on the high-stakes test.

The Wolf administration found no data showing a correlation between math assessments and great teachers. There were, however, data that correlated between scores on the language arts and writing assessments and being a good teacher. Data also showed a decline in the number of black candidates seeking teaching certificates, and that many candidates were missing the math assessment cut-off score by one to three answers.

Policymakers are reluctant to change the cut-off score because it could be construed as reducing the rigor for certifying math teachers. Instead, the PA Department of Education is working with higher education institutions to identify a math course that includes the topics covered by the Basic Skills Assessment in math and permitting students who earn a B or higher in that course to substitute that grade for the assessment.

Aspiring teachers who failed the Basic Skills Assessment were spending lots of money retaking the exam, adding more money to the testing company's coffers. Under the Department of Education's new program, those individuals can take a course that will count toward the credits they need to graduate, receive support along the way from a professor or tutors, and satisfy the assessment requirements for certification.

Our hope is that the higher education institutions will identify the appropriate courses and submit them to the PA Department of Education in a timely manner. Considering there has been a 53 percent drop in the number of college students pursuing careers in teaching, this pathway may help turn this trend around.


Save the Date: The PSEA Special Education Conference is Feb. 2-3, 2018

Mark your calendar: The PSEA Special Education Conference will be held Feb. 2-3, 2018, at the Omni Bedford Springs near Bedford.

The cost to register is $35 per member, and the hotel room rate will be $169 plus taxes.

Additional conference information and online registration will be available on www.psea.org/specialed in late autumn. We hope to see you there.


Conference to include track for speech and language therapists

The 2018 PSEA Special Education Conference will include for the first time a track for speech and language therapists. There will be 40 spots in the new conference track.

The first step is to find conference speakers who are willing to bring their expertise to the conference Feb. 2-3, 2018, at the Omni Bedford Springs. Please spread the word to PSEA members who work in this field.

Speakers will receive free registration for the conference, which includes all sessions and lunch, as well as one night's stay, mileage, and tolls.

PSEA will cover the cost of submitting the application to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) for CEU approval. We would like to submit the training sessions to ASHA for CEU approval and to the PA Department of Education for Act 48 hours approval as soon as possible.

Speech and language therapists who are interested should contact Bernie Miller at bmiller@psea.org between now and Sept. 30 to submit and discuss their ideas. After that date, please contact Bonnie Myers at bmyers@psea.org.


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