Helping Teacher Assistants Meet "Highly Qualified" Standards
Eugene, OR, School District and the Oregon School Employees Association
To verify that more than 150 teacher assistants in the district's 12 Title I schools meet the "highly qualified" standards mandated in the federal No Child Left Behind Act
WorkKeys Proficiency Certificate for Teacher Assistants
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that by the end of the 2005-06 school year, all current paraprofessionals, or teacher assistants (TAs), be "highly qualified" to work in schools that receive Title I funds (money from the federal government to schools in high poverty areas). The Eugene School District has more than 150 TAs in its 12 Title I schools and at least 200 more who work in the district's 34 schools without Title I designation.
To comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, TAs can verify they are "highly qualified" by having at least two years of higher education or an associate's degree or higher, or by passing a rigorous academic assessment. The Eugene School District needed a "rigorous academic assessment" for TAs who did not choose to go back to school.
The Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) offers a program that guides TAs and school districts through the WorkKeys Proficiency Certificate for Teacher Assistants. The OSEA offers tutoring and access to practice tests and training materials to prepare TAs for the WorkKeys assessments.
"For our district, it was quite a relief to recognize that there was already a really good program created and available at little or no cost to us," said Jill Simmons, management assistant for the Eugene School District and chapter president for the employees' union. "One of the benefits for our district was that we didn't have to put time, energy, or effort into creating an assessment to meet the 'highly qualified' standard. That's quite a struggle for most districts."
In late 2003, the Eugene School District became one of the 80 Oregon districts to choose the WorkKeys certificate. More than 90 TAs district wide have either received training materials or begun testing. The district pays for a workbook or Internet access to training materials; optional tutoring sessions; the three WorkKeys assessments that make up the certificate-Applied Mathematics, Reading for Information, and Writing; as well as the Instructional Support Inventory, a performance-based assessment.
- More than a third of the TAs from Eugene's Title I schools have begun taking the assessments. Twenty TAs have notified the district that they have completed all of the requirements to receive the certificate.
- "The employees, once they have been successful in the assessment, feel like they are more secure in their work environment, and they don't want to leave," Simmons said. "For the district, that's a huge benefit because the less turnover we have, the better off we are as a district providing education for our children and our community."
The district will require all of its TAs, whether they work in Title I schools or not, to meet the "highly qualified" standard by the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year. Simmons says she believes most TAs will choose the WorkKeys program because it is more flexible than spending two years going back to college.
The district also is using WorkKeys assessments as the baseline for consideration into its classified professional apprenticeship program. Positions include for office support, educational assistants, custodians, maintenance and groundskeeper staff, transportation, and food service.
"With academic success of 98 percent for all OSEA test-takers, and 100 percent passage of their pedagogy, we feel we are doing it right. Educational assistants prove to themselves that they can do their jobs and do them well, and they prove it to the district. I think there's a really profound sense of self-esteem." Connie DeYoe, training specialist
Oregon School Employees Association
"With the WorkKeys system, districts are going to get highly skilled people, and they're going to get it on paper. They're going to prove to the federal government that they have highly skilled people." Jill Simmons, management assistant
Eugene School District