Teachers' aides must meet new guidelines
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 9, 2003
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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
Perhaps the most challenged under the law are districts with large Hispanic
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."
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.
Source: Arizona Department of Education and Arizona Education Association.
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
• 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
• Assisting with classroom management, such as organizing instructional and
• 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.