Career Ladder Articles

Paraeducator Professional Development Programs

These articles outline several professional development models designed to:

  • prepare paraeducators for their roles and responsibilities,
  • provide opportunities for advancement, and
  • encourage and assist with entry into the professional ranks based on the career choices of individuals.

These documents Include programs created through collaborative efforts among provider agencies, community colleges, teacher education and other professional preparation programs. They were done to facilitate career advancement as well as models developed by local school districts to increase the productivity of paraeducator employees. They are also representative of educational opportunities to prepare paraeducators to work in different disciplines and program areas. Finally, they provide examples of training models that are being used to meet the needs of paraeducators who live and work in urban, rural and suburban areas across the country.

These monographs were developed through the recourses of two grants from the Division of Personnel Preparation, Office of Special Education Programs of the United States department of Education. The first is a project of national significance (H029K970088-98) Teacher and Paraeducator Teams: Strategies for Building Them. The second is another project of national significance (H029K0136) A Core Curriculum & Training Program to Prepare Paraeducators to Work with Learners who have Limited English Proficiency. The content in these monographs does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Department and no official endorsement should be inferred. The editor of these articles was Andrew Humm.

A Paraeducator Training Program and Mentoring System

Arlene Barresi, Training Coordinator and James Fogarty, Executive Director of Instructional Services,Board of Cooperative Services - Eastern Suffolk County, New York.

The Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), located on the eastern end of Long Island in New York State, has launched a comprehensive inservice program for training the district's paraeducators.

BOCES provides a wide range of services to children and youth from birth to 21 years of age who have diverse developmental levels and learning styles and require individualized and compensatory education services. Many of the education and related services for school-age students who have disabilities or other special needs are designed to provide a transitional bridge from BOCES-based programs to general education classrooms near a student's home. Among the direct services provided by BOCES are home- and center-based education and support services to infants, young children, and their families. BOCES also offers opportunities for junior and senior high school students with challenging behaviors and learning or other disabilities to gain academic, vocational, and social skills that will enable them to return to their home district or to live and work in their community.In addition, BOCES administers learning centers for students who have drug or alcohol dependency or are at risk because of chronic health problems.We also provide specialized technical and occupational training for teenagers and adults to prepare them to (re)enter the workforce.Training for careers as automotive technicians, child care workers, computer technicians, medical and laboratory assistants and, in other fields is available through this program.

To provide these services, BOCES uses a differentiated staffing arrangement. Members of instructional teams include teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, vocational specialists, and paraeducators.Indeed the 730-plus paraeducators employed by BOCES are integral members of the team who work alongside their professional colleagues and participate in all phases of the educational process.

Developed jointly with the local affiliate of the New York State United Teachers, the BOCES training program is a flexible system that may be used to train paraeducators working in general, special, compensatory, and early childhood education.

In addition to the training, there are several other components that have contributed to the success of the program, including:

  • the recruitment and training of paraeducators and teachers to serve as mentors and trainers;
  • workshops to prepare teachers to supervise and work effectively with paraeducators;
  • regular briefings about the goals of the training for principals and other district personnel;
  • orientation seminars for substitutes and new paraeducators.

The following sections describe the procedures that we used to develop the curriculum and plan the model.

The Model

Planning, implementing, and maintaining a viable staff development program for paraeducators is not an easy task. We believe that personnel at all levels must be committed and actively engaged in the process.It is the administration that sets policy, establishes the guidelines for

managing the program, and provides fiscal support.Trainers and mentors develop and carry out the program.Principals and teachers provide opportunities for paraeducators to practice and master skills learned in the training.

During the developmental phase for the BOCES paraeducator training program, administrators and representatives of the paraeducators identified several issues that needed to be addressed. First, we needed to make sure that we were fully aware of the diverse tasks that paraeducators perform in varied learning environments.Second, we needed to know what skills paraeducators require to perform these tasks. Third, we needed to develop a process that would enable us to provide ongoing training of the highest quality using cost-effective strategies.Fourth, we needed to gain the support of district personnel and building staff, including principals, teachers, and paraeducators.

Defining Training Needs

The methods that we used to define current roles and duties of paraeducators included spending time in classrooms and other education settings observing and interviewing paraeducators and teachers.In addition, we obtained lists of duties from other districts across the country and compared them with what is happening in BOCES.Based on our findings, we developed a set of skills required for all paraeducators employed by the district.

Once we determined the skills needed by the BOCES paraeducators, we began a search to find appropriate training models and instructional materials.It was easier to find resource materials to meet our needs than to find training models that had been tested, had achieved longevity, and could be readily integrated into our personnel development system.

Developing thet System

After reviewing several instructional programs, we selected a series developed by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services (NRCP). These competency based materials are designed to prepare paraeducators to work in inclusive classrooms and transitional/vocational programs for children and youth with disabilities. They have also proven to be easily adapted to train paraeducators working in Title 1 other compensatory and general education programs.

There were two primary concerns that confronted BOCES administrators and paraeducators as we began to develop a paraeducator training system.The first was to meet the needs of both new employees and experienced paraeducators that have, in some cases, worked for the district for as long as thirty years. The second was to develop a viable process for maintaining ongoing and structured opportunities for training.

Meeting the Needs of New and Experienced Teachers

To address this issue, we established two goals. They were to develop a training program that would: 1) recognize the similarities in the duties of all paraeducators working with students of different ages in a broad range of programs, and 2) prepare more experienced paraeducators to take on duties that are continuing to evolve and become more complex and demanding.

During the start-up phase of the training, we decided that because systematic training had not been previously available, all paraeducators would benefit from participating in three core courses that include: 1) Roles and Duties of Paraeducators; 2) Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of Paraeducators; and 3) Communication and Problem Solving.All of these courses are part of the NRCP curriculum. In addition, the NRCP curriculum offered us a framework and resources for preparing paraeducators to use effective instructional techniques and behavior management strategies developed by teachers, observe and document data about student performance and to report the results to teachers, understand principles of human development, and respect the diversity in cultural heritages, values, and lifestyles among students.

Because paraeducators require additional (specialized) skills in order to work in different programs that serve children and youth who have different learning needs, levels of ability, healthcare and physical needs, we also incorporated opportunities for building-specific training.

Providing Structured Ongoing Training

In order to meet our second challenge, we had to look beyond content and address the process.After exploring many approaches, we decided to develop and implement a Paraeducator Mentor Trainer Program that would allow us to: 1) orient new paraeducators and substitutes; 2) conduct program and building specific training for more experienced paraeducators; and 3) establish and maintain an ongoing paraeducator training program.

Skilled and experienced paraeducators are the key to ensuring that structured/systematic training and support for new paraeducators are available.They are mentors for paraeducators in their building and they welcome substitute paraeducators to their building.They also participate in the delivery of the core courses to their colleagues. In the BOCES training model, the paraeducator mentors/trainers:

  • Provide guidance to new paraeducators about general performance expectations, information about district and building policies, and emergency procedures;
  • Provide new and current paraeducators with a common core of knowledge and skills;
  • Select topics and coordinate the delivery of training responsive to unique program/building requirements;
  • Orient substitutes; and
  • Brief principals, and other BOCES personnel about the goals and content of the training program.

Selecting and Training Mentors

Paraeducator mentors/trainers are selected using the following criteria.They are:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to improving the performance and enhancing the status of paraeducators in the delivery of services to students and their parents.
  • Demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively with professional colleagues, paraeducators, students, and other people with whom they come in contact on the job.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to learn new skills in order to provide and facilitate training for the paraeducator workforce.

As the training model evolved, we identified two new issues that required our attention. The first was the need to add more courses to the core curriculum for all paraeducators.And the second was to develop inservice workshops to prepare teachers to direct and work more effectively with paraeducators. (The development of training for teachers was based on the requests we received from teachers.)

To expand the paraeducator curriculum and to provide training to teachers, we decided to add teachers to the training staff.Now teachers and paraeducators work together to develop workshops for members of the BOCES instructional teams.

Similar criteria are used to select teacher trainers.

Paraeducator and teacher trainers receive ongoing training provided by the program coordinator and a consultant. They are provided release time from their day-to-day responsibilities in the classroom to attend the training seminars and conduct the core courses for paraeducators, teachers, and substitutes. The paraeducators and teachers participate in 2 two-day training sessions annually and meet with the training coordinator periodically.Depending on the number of new paraeducators and teachers entering the system each year or the need to train substitutes, individual trainers conduct an average of three or four training sessions annually.These sessions require approximately two hours depending on the content being covered and the skill levels of the participants.

The procedures used to prepare the trainers are designed to provide them with the skills that they need to carry out their instructional and mentoring responsibilities. The training utilizes methods that recognize adult learning preferences and styles.

Specifically, paraeducator and mentors/trainers learn to:

  • Develop lesson plans using the NRCP core curricula.
  • Identify materials and equipment required to conduct a workshop.
  • Use effective communication skills.
  • Deliver training that builds on the life and work experiences of the trainees.
  • Revise sessions based on feedback from participants in the workshops, the program consultant, and other trainers.
  • Schedule building-and/or program-specific workshops.
  • Understand and interpret BOCES policies that affect paraeducator and teacher roles and team performance.
  • Identify and articulate paraeducator and teacher needs.
  • Cope with day-to-day problems.

The trainers learn and practice using role plays, case studies, small group discussions, brainstorming activities, and problem-solving strategies.They are also provided with opportunities to review audio-visual and other resource materials they will use during various workshops.In addition, they identify their own learning styles and assess their individual strengths as effective communicators.

Once again we turned to the NRCP curriculum for paraeducators.In addition to the core courses described above, we have added the following workshops: 1) Human Growth and Development; 2) Instructional Techniques; 3) Behavior Management; 4) Observing Behavior and Recording Data; and 5) Appreciating Diversity.

We also selected instructional materials developed by the NRC for Paraprofessionals for the teacher training. Some of the topics addressed in the modules are identical to the core training for paraeducators.They include: Distinctions in the Roles and Responsibilities of Teachers and Paraeducators, Communication, and Problem Solving. In addition, teachers learn to plan paraeducator assignments, direct and monitor the performance of paraeducators, and provide on-the-job coaching of paraeducators in order to help them master the skills learned during their inservice training.

Training Procedures

Most of the core courses and program-specific training are provided at the building level. It is, however, sometimes more efficient to provide various workshops at the district level.Attendance is limited to no more than 25 to ensure that the district-level workshops enable trainers to use a wide range of instructional methods that meet the needs of adult learners. The time needed to present the core courses is approximately ten (10) clock hours.We have reached the point where we are able to provide training to paraeducators and teachers during their first year of employment. In subsequent years, they attend sessions on human development, instructional techniques, behavior management, observing behavior and recording data, appreciating diversity, and more and teachers participate in more in-depth courses to enhance their supervisory skills. The district provides these training sessions during the school day and employs substitutes for the teachers and paraeducators.

Program-specific training topics for paraeducators may include but are not limited to: assistive technology, using adaptive equipment, positioning, turning and transferring children and youth with physical disabilities, working with learners with challenging behavior, and health, safety and emergency procedures. These training sessions are conducted by occupational and physical therapists and/or nurses with skills in the content area or, when appropriate, the paraeducator and the teacher-training teams.

Training Paraeducator Substitutes

The paraeducator mentors in the individual buildings in collaboration with teachers and principals have developed a handbook for substitutes that contains information about building policies and procedures, schedules, and guidelines for working with the students in the program.The mentors are also available to orient and assist substitutes new to their building or program.

In addition, substitutes who are interested are offered an opportunity to attend a more formal training session that includes a brief overview of the skill-building information presented in the core courses for paraeducators.These workshops are delivered by the paraeducator and teacher trainers.

Enlisting The Support Of Principals And Teachers

The development of the BOCES paraeducator staff development model was based on the concept that a successful inservice program could not take place in a vacuum.Establishing and maintaining a standardized, systematic training program requires the commitment of many players.Policymakers and administrators at the district level, principals, and teachers must: 1) be aware of the contributions that paraeducators make to the delivery of individualized education for children and youth; 2) recognize the need to enhance the on-the-job performance of paraeducators; and 3) work together to create an environment that accepts paraeducators as integral members of the instructional team.

Sharing information with the different audiences about the goals of the training program, the instructional activities, and the content is an ongoing process.Policymakers and administrative staff at the district and building levels are kept up to date about the training in several ways including: 1) reports during regularly scheduled district wide meetings from the Executive Director of Instructional Services for BOCES; 2) district and union publications; and 3) periodic briefings provided by the training coordinator and paraeducator mentors in specific programs and buildings.

Managing The System

The day-to-day management of all components of the project is the responsibility of the Training Coordinator. The Coordinator, who is a paraeducator, spends about 1/3 of her time on work connected with administering the program.She, too, receives release time from her classroom duties to carry out these responsibilities. To emphasize its importance and enable us to forge a strong program, we decided that the Coordinator would report to the Executive Director of Instructional Services, who ensures that the training and other activities are based on the district's philosophy of service delivery, staffing patterns, and other personnel practices.The Director also sets the guidelines for managing the program and delegates tasks to the Coordinator.

Evaluating The System

Evaluation activities are designed to assess the quality of the training and to provide us with information that we need to revise and strengthen the model.The evaluation activities include participant surveys and structured opportunities for feedback from the trainers/mentors about the effectiveness of the training and issues that need to be resolved in order to ensure that the quality and integrity of the model is maintained. Mentors also periodically submit written reports about training sessions held in their buildings.This enables us to maintain a database about the training the paraeducators receive through the various components of the training.

The Director of Instructional Services, the Training Coordinator and a program consultant review the results of the evaluations and determine how to improve the program and to make it more relevant to the needs of the paraeducators and teachers in the diverse programs administered by BOCES.


Perhaps reactions from paraeducators who have participated in the training provide the best insight into the value of the program and why it has been so universally accepted by all members of the BOCES staff.A few comments taken from training evaluation forms and feedback sessions with the paraeducator trainers/mentors are presented here.

"I'm not just an aide anymore. I'm a paraeducator who is an important member of the team. "

"Participating in the trainer/mentor program has given me my own identity in addition to being someone's spouse or mother."

"I appreciate what my teacher does much, much more!"

"The training is enabling me to bring a new dimension to my work.It forces me to think about what I do, why it needs to be done, and how I do it."

"As a trainer/mentor, I've seen the self-esteem of the other paraeducators grow."

"The training has given me an understanding of the wider world, what teachers really do, and what paraeducators contribute beyond the classroom and building."

"Being paraeducator trainer/mentors and doing the training has given us so much confidence in ourselves."

"I wish I could have had this training years ago.It has helped me recognize the impact I have on the kids."

"We make a difference."

If you have questions or want more information about the BOCES model write:

Arlene Barresi
Training Coordinator
40 Pine Street,
Seldon, NY 11784.

Career Pathways in Idaho for Paratherapists

Thomas M. Longhurst, College of Health Professions, Idaho State University, Pocatello and Boise, 1997

Paraprofessionals make up about 20 percent of the early intervention and education workforce (Hebbeler, 1994). Striffler (1993) and Longhurst (1997) provide an overview of current trends in the utilization of paraprofessionals in early intervention and preschool services. The focus of this chapter will be on physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology and particularly those individuals that work in partnership with or alongside of professional level therapists as aides or assistants, which will be called paratherapists (Longhurst & Witmer, 1994).

The Idaho Board of Vocational Education (1994 a, b, c, d, e, f; 1993) has developed Technical Committee Reports and Curriculum Guides that include appropriate performance standards, work setting task lists (competencies), duty areas, enabling objectives, practica suggestions, scope of practice statements, and supervision standards for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology aides and assistants.

It is hoped that the information contained in these curriculum guides and in this chapter will be useful to educators in high school vocational-education programs, community colleges, vocational-technical schools, colleges and universities, as well as those involved with planning health occupation programs. The information is also provided as an aid to early intervention or special education administrators in program planning and implementation that involves aides and assistants in therapy services. This information should become even more relevant as the current shortages of therapists and paratherapists in early intervention, education and rehabilitation settings become even greater in the future (Hebbeler, 1994; Job Trends 2005, 1994).

There should be significant cause for concern for the future of therapy services in early intervention and the schools. With salaries in rehabilitation settings often twice those in schools and significantly better benefit packages, more and more therapists are focusing on rehabilitation in their training and signing on with rehabilitation hospitals or private practices after graduation.

The special focus of this chapter will be on an attempt to (1) clarify the differences between aides and assistants, (2) present the need and demand for paratherapists, (3) review appropriate pre-service training, subsequent on-the-job training, and structured career advancement training that provides career pathways for paratherapists in Idaho, and (4) present an efficient and effective model for the implementation of therapy services utilizing an intradisciplinary team approach, for example SLP Aide, R-SLPA, CCC-SLP. As the demand for more and better trained paratherapists increases, production of current high school and community college programs can be expanded and new programs created to graduate more and better-trained paratherapists for an expanding job market.

Striffler (1993) has provided an excellent overview of current trends in the utilization of paraprofessionals in early intervention and preschool services. Longhurst (1997) has provided an overview of team roles in therapy services.

Occupational therapists (OT) and physical therapists (PT) have for many decades utilized paraprofessionals, both at the aide and assistant levels, to make their therapy more productive and efficient. The profession of speech-language pathology (SLP) has studied the issue repeatedly over the last three decades (ASHA, 1970; ASHA, 1981; ASHA, 1995) with paraprofessional use increasing but without fully recognized educational standards or practice controls.

There has been minimal consistency in occupational titles. Bachelor level speech-language pathologists are called aides in Texas and persons with only a high school diploma called assistants in California.Ê No national guidelines have existed and there are essentially no training programs, accreditation of training programs, nor national credentialing available for paratherapists in speech-language pathology. All that is changing with the official endorsement of the use and credentialing of associate degree (or bachelorâs degree) speech-language pathology assistants by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

The question now is not if the speech-language pathology profession will accept the use of assistants, but how community college programs can best train these paratherapists. ASHA will register speech-language pathology assistants (R-SLPAs) and approve the educational programs in which they are trained. The Council for Exceptional Children (1997), along with a consortium of educational organizations, including ASHA, have a set of guidelines that differ somewhat from ASHA's and are specifically directed to service delivery in early intervention and education settings.

Generally speaking, ASHA-CCC speech-language pathologists will be required by ethical code to supervise only ASHA-credentialed R-SLPAs. That is, in the future (there will be a 1998-2001 grace period), speech-language pathologists with the CCC could not supervise any assistants who are not R-SLPAs. ASHA does limit the number of R-SLPAs supervised by one CCC-speech-language pathologist to three FTEâs while the Consortium Report is silent on this issue. To supervise more would likely be an ASHA code violation if the supervisor holds ASHA-CCC.

The Consortium Guidelines (CEC Consortium Report, 1997) leave credentialing at three levels (I, Aide; II, Assistant; III, Associate) to the state (licensing boards or state education agencies). The supervisor need not have the ASHA-CCC, but would generally be expected to have a masterâs degree in speech-language pathology. With regard to supervision, the Consortium Guidelines require, as a minimum, direct supervision of the first 10 hours of therapy after training and then 10 percent of all sessions, to include at least one in every ten consecutive sessions. ASHAâs supervision requirements are more stringent. The ASHA Guidelines specify that supervision of R-SLPAs consist of a minimum of 30 percent for the first 90 days of service (20 percent must be direct, on-site); and 20 percent after 90 days (10 percent direct). Both the ASHA and Consortium Guidelines specify the scope of responsibilities or scope of practice of assistants and they detail the exclusive responsibilities of the supervisor.

Aide vs Assistant Distinction

Appropriate assignment of paratherapist roles is addressed in state practice acts, licensure and certification regulations, as well as scope of practice statements of professional organizations such as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Aide is a paratherapist title typically given to individuals with a low level of training and a very limited scope of practice. The aide is typically a non-licensed, non-certified employee who works under the direct supervision of the professional therapist. The aide carries out designated or specifically assigned routine tasks. These typically include transporting patients/students; maintaining, cleaning, and assembling materials, devices, and equipment; performing clerical duties, and working with patients/students in a very closely monitored and supervised therapy environment. On-site supervision by the therapist is typically recommended for best practice.Ê Typically, the aide is required to have a high school diploma or GED, be at least eighteen years old, and have completed some aide training in high school, a post-secondary educational facility, or on the job in a school, clinic, or hospital setting. Aides are often hourly employees with slightly above minimum wage pay and few fringe benefits. Some states recognize additional training or experience through pay grades or levels (I, II, III) within the aide category.

Assistant is a paratherapist title given to individuals with an associate degree from an accredited program in physical therapy or occupational therapy. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) (1988) or the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) (1991) accredit such programs. There are only a few associate degree programs in speech-language pathology and currently there are no national program approval procedures for speech-language pathology assistants (SLPA), but one will be implemented soon (Longhurst, 1997). The Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) are typically certified and in most states a licensed employee. Some states certify or license SLPAs, however, ASHA is the nationally recognized credentialing organization. ASHA will provide registration for SLPAs (Paul-Brown, 1995). Assistants work under direct or indirect supervision of the therapist and continuous, on-site supervision is not required, although this may vary from state to state. Their scope of practice is significantly expanded from that of the aide. ÊTheir education, expertise, and clinical training allow them to focus their efforts on patient/student treatment. While they typically donât diagnose, develop or even change treatment programs, they work somewhat independently in carrying out treatment programs planned by the professional therapist. Salaries are typically about 50-75% that of an employed professional therapist and fringe benefits are typically much better than the aide and relatively comparable to that of the professional therapist.

Current and Future Needs

For all professions requiring at least a bachelors degree, therapists are well represented in the ten fastest growing professions. Physical therapists are listed third, with occupational therapists, sixth, and speech-language pathologists, eighth (Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 1994). It is expected that these professions will show an 88 percent, 60 percent, and 48 percent growth rate respectively by the year 2005 (Job Trends 2005, 1994). U.S. schools of allied health are gearing up to meet current and future needs (Blayney & Selker, 1992).

Actually, the demand for paratherapists exceeds, and will continue to outstrip the need for therapists. For occupations requiring some post-secondary education, physical therapy aides and assistants are ranked first with a projected 93 percent growth and occupational therapy aides and certified occupational therapy assistants (COTAs) are ranked third with a growth rate of 78 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 1994). The use of speech-language pathology aides and assistants is not as well developed as in physical therapy and occupational therapy and employment statistics are not readily available. It is expected that demand in the future for speech-language pathology aides and assistants may be as great as in occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Several factors are driving this tremendous demand for therapists and paratherapists. Federal policy has had a significant impact over the past three decades (Hanft, 1991), particularly with implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was reauthorized in 1997. Advanced medical science is saving more extremely low-birth-weight babies and those with significant birth defects. Early intervention programs are successfully involved in identifying infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with mild to severe disabilities who then move into school programs. Many of these children need the services of therapists and paratherapists (Yoder & Coleman, 1990).

The health care industry's use of therapy rehabilitation services, especially for adults, is growing at a very fast pace (McFarlane, 1992) and will continue to do so because of the demographics of the aging population (Spencer, 1989). This growth in rehabilitation services draws many therapists, especially in speech-language pathology, away from employment in early intervention and the schools. Although the nature of health care and educational reform is uncertain, essentially all proposed plans bode well for significantly increased utilization of paratherapists in both settings. It is likely that the early intervention and education will benefit most from increased production of paratherapists.

The need for paratherapists in rural communities is particularly great (Center for Disability Policy and Research, 1995). In general, these communities have low population density and are separated by distance and geographic barriers from metropolitan areas with their larger hospitals. Few professional-level therapists locate in rural communities. Expanded education in community colleges, which are much more likely to be in rural communities, could supply more paratherapists for employment there.

There is also an increasing recognition of a need to reduce the barriers that prevent students in rural areas, members of minority groups, displaced homemakers, the disabled, school drop-outs, alternative school students, and the impoverished from entering career pathways that may lead first to a paratherapist job and eventually professional therapist status. It is no secret that the therapy professions have been remarkably unsuccessful in attracting, recruiting, and educating members of underrepresented groups into their ranks and few therapists are multi-lingual (Campbell, 1994; Campbell & Taylor, 1992; ASHA Committee on the Status of Racial Minorities, 1991; Holmes, 1987).

The cost and rigor of university education, the lack of articulation agreements among institutions of higher education, high admission criteria, limited program seats, and the length and cost of university, professional school programs have been major barriers to persons from underrepresented groups entering the therapist workforce. Most OT and PT schools now charge very high program fees (often $5,000-$10,000 per year) over and above tuition. Post-secondary vocational/technical schools and community colleges have an exemplary record of reducing these barriers and providing program access. The use of paratherapists who are more likely to be from underrepresented groups would provide a cultural and linguistic link to the community served.

It is also apparent that professional therapist training programs have been minimally successful in providing the family-focused (Jeppson & Thomas, 1995 Bailey et. al., 1990), multidisciplinary, or transdisciplinary training (Rooney, Gallagher & Fullagar, 1993) that is typically acknowledged as best practice in early intervention, education, and rehabilitation. Opportunities for a strong family focus and especially for cross training (or, as it is sometimes called, multi-skilling) are much more feasible in post-secondary vocational/technical schools and community colleges at the aide or assistant levels than in universities at the professional therapist level. Many competencies at the aide and assistant level are comparable and cross-training or multiskilling should be the goal of any paratherapist training program (Pew Health Professions Commission, 1995).

Many of these barriers will remain or be exacerbated in the future, so a well-defined career pathway for paratherapists, with opportunities for cross-training and career advancement through well-articulated programs, takes on increasing social, economic, and best-practice importance.

We clearly need to train more professionals, decrease attrition, and distribute professionals more equitably (rural vs. urban, schools vs. hospitals). However, it is also clear, as Hebbeler (1994, p. 28) so appropriately, stated, that ã[o]f all of the possible responses to the problem of personnel shortages, restructuring how programs are staffed (utilizing paraprofessionals) may hold the most promise.ä

Career Pathways

Many post-secondary, vocational/technical school, and community college certificate or degree programs are viewed as tickets to the job market. Vocational educators are fond of calling their programs ãhireä education.

Their focus is often on providing well-qualified technical or support staff to schools, business, and industry.

This is especially true for the rapidly expanding allied health occupations field. Only rarely are they viewed as entry ways to the healthcare professions.

There are clear distinctions between a health care job and a healthcare career and between health occupations and health professions. While preparation for a job is good, career education should be planned and executed to provide access to career advancement through paratherapist levels into the therapy professions, if the student has the financial resources, intellectual capacity, and motivation. Barriers for advancement should be removed and opportunities made readily available.

Career pathways for paratherapists in Idaho (see Appendix A) provide school guidance counselors, educators, parents, and students with an innovative way to look at preparing for the post-secondary transition to the workforce and the need for further education in a vocational/technical school or community college.

Within the paratherapist career pathway, students initially choose health occupations as a career major. The health occupations major includes high school coursework that prepares Idaho students to (1) enter directly into the workforce as a Developmental Disabilities Aide (DD), OT, PT, or SLP aide upon graduation; (2) continue education in a vocational/technical school or community college focused on technical preparation as an OT, PT, or SLP assistant; or (3) eventually pursue advanced baccalaureate or graduate study at a university to enter the professional therapist ranks. Every student in the health occupations major follows an educational plan for their major. Early in the high school years, students should receive competent counseling so that they can choose a career pathway and develop an appropriate educational plan. With this early career guidance, parents and students can make better-informed decisions about the studentsâ high school and post-secondary education and choose relevant courses and related volunteer and part-time work experiences to improve their practical skills.

Through an integration of academic and vocational programs, career pathways help Idaho educators design appropriate curricula. Vocational, academic, and clinical competencies are required in health occupations. For example, students need the academic competencies contained in psychology, human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and physics courses as well as applied vocational competencies contained in courses in keyboarding and computers, medical records, medical terminology, and emergency and safety procedures.

Career pathways help to integrate the academic curriculum with the vocational curriculum and, in turn, with clinical practicum by requiring high school educators not only to be proficient in their own discipline (psychology, biology, chemistry, physics), but possess collaborative competencies across disciplines to better meet studentsâ needs. A paratherapist career pathway provides high school educators in Idaho with a framework for developing and coordinating an integrated health occupations curriculum. The material being taught in one course, such as biology, is reinforced in vocational coursework (e.g., in instruction in universal precautions for infectious disease control) and this material in turn is then applied clinically in proper work-surface cleaning, hand washing, and latex glove use.

A health occupations major helps students, parents, educators, and guidance counselors clarify the relationship between education and the world of work. Whether the goal is pursuing a graduate degree, four-year degree, associate degree, short-term secondary training, on-the-job training or a high school diploma, students need to follow a career pathway to be most efficient and effective in acquisition of competencies.

Career pathways help both the university preparatory student and the vocational education student make relevant course selections in high school. Both students would choose the health occupations major. One may focus on courses in university preparatory mathematics, human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and physics, while the second might focus on applied mathematics, applied biology, applied chemistry, and applied physics. Both would complete coursework in applied technology in health occupations (keyboarding and computers, medical records, medical terminology, and emergency and safety procedures) as well as appropriate workplace experiences.

Health occupations (and professions) require clinical practicum and work experience before one is considered fully prepared. Initial work-based learning activities should be exploratory such as clinical observations, job shadowing, short-term work experiences after school or in the summer, and community volunteer service. As the student progresses in the career pathway, experiences might include more concentrated clinical practicum, clerkships, and internships.

When these clinical activities are incorporated into the curriculum within the career pathway, they complement classroom training by providing related practical experience in the world of work. These experiences answer the question in the studentâs mind, ãWhy should I learn this?ä

Rush (1996) suggests that successful work-based learning experiences should include:

  • careful planning of what students will learn and how they will learn it;
  • competent clinical supervision, job coaching, and mentoring;
  • evaluation and documentation of learning;
  • opportunities at school and at work for thoughtful reflection on what has happened and what it means;
  • multiple connections between school-based and work-based learning;
  • work experiences related to the classes in the career pathway;
  • school credit granted for work-based learning;
  • parents knowledgeable about both school and work; and
  • work-sites free of bias and stereotyping.

The students' academic transcript documents coursework that has been successfully completed. A portfolio of certificates of training documenting program completion and records documenting work-based experience (volunteer experiences, part-time work, clerkships, internships) are maintained by the student and guidance counselor. Just as official transcripts are transferable among higher education institutions, experience portfolios are transferable in Idaho. If competencies have already been met, there is no reason to meet them again (except re-certification as is required in CPR training).

Idaho High Schools

Through a career pathway, high school students graduate with one or more aide certificates in hand so that they can enter the job market immediately after graduation. The paratherapist career pathway should begin in the sophomore/junior years of high school or even earlier.

The intent is not for students at this point to decide on a specific occupation or profession, but to select an initial career pathway into which they can begin to direct their learning energies. Identifying a career pathway early can help students in selecting courses, school activities, volunteer and service activities, and even part-time employment.

There is some early preparation in life sciences and applied biology and then in general human anatomy and physiology. Keyboarding and computer skills are essential. Some background in applied chemistry, physics, and mathematics, as well as sociology/psychology is helpful. Typically a sophomore year class in Exploring Careers in Health Services is provided (McCutcheon, 1993). In the junior year, a full-year course in Health Occupations is completed (Simmers, 1993).

The senior year starts in the first half-year with a program in Developmental Disabilities Aide (DD Aide) training (Idaho Board of Vocational Education, 1993) with a certificate awarded upon completion.

In the second half of the senior year, students may elect to complete one or two aide programs with the most popular being PT Aide or, if time is available in the studentsâ schedule, the combined OT Aide and PT Aide program. A number of students have elected to complete classes required for high school graduation in the early morning, after school, or in the summer so that they can participate in aide training during the regular school schedule.

Two important national movements in vocational-technical education support high school career pathways for paratherapists. These are the School-to-Work movement (Perry, 1994; American Vocational Association, 1994) and the Tech Prep initiative (American Association of Community Colleges, 1994; Hull & Parnell, 1991). The School-to-Work program provides a practical system of integrating the high school classroom with real world experiences through schools and health care, community and work place partnerships. In this work-based learning program, the high school student participates in education at the work site that is closely connected to the high school curriculum. The immediate goal for students is aide training completion certificates that lead to a job in the chosen field upon high school graduation.

Idaho health care facilities, state agencies, and school district employers benefit from the School-to-Workprogram through lower training costs, an opportunity to shape the high school curriculum, and a larger and better skilled employee pool from which to hire. Because the students are working in the agencies, employers have an opportunity to see the quality of the studentsâ work before hiring full-time. The Tech Prep initiative, while similar to School-to-Work, has as its goal preparation in the high school curriculum for entry into a post-secondary vocational/technical school or community college associate degree program such as physical therapy assistant (PTA), certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA), or speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA). Completion certificates earned in high school as a DD Aide, PT Aide, OT Aide, or SLP Aide provide part-time employment opportunities while the student is pursuing an associate degree.

Idaho Post-secondary, Short-term Training

While the most efficient approach to training new employees at the aide level is through high school programs, access to training opportunities and entrance into a paratherapist career pathway also need to be provided at the post-secondary level. Post-secondary, short-term training is necessary for the 60 percent of high school students who pursued a general track in high school and neither obtained a marketable skill through high school vocational education nor successfully completed a college preparatory course of study.

The paratherapist career pathway can be entered through post-secondary, short-term training after high school graduation, sometimes many years later. For example, short-term training is made available in a highly accessible schedule through six regional, vocational-technical schools in Idaho. Students typically complete the DD Aide training of about 60 clock hours of instruction and then go on to one or more aide (PT Aide, OT Aide, SLP Aide) training programs, each about 60 contact hours in length. Each includes a supervised clinical component and mentored transition to the work place. Each training package is competency based and provides a completion certificate documenting that competencies have been demonstrated.

Idaho Vocational-Technical School/Community College Training

About 30 states have developed programs for training PTAs and COTAs, but there are currently only a few training SLPAs. Again, the APTA or AOTA accredit such programs to document at least minimal quality while ASHA is planning to approve SLPA programs.

Idaho State University, within its community college role, has completed initial curriculum planning and is proposing initiation of one of the first associate degrees in Speech-Language Pathology Assistanting. This curriculum development was planned to coincide with ASHA initiating program approval of training programs and registering of SLPAs (Paul-Brown, 1995), over the next few years.

The ISU course sequence for training SLPAs is shown in Appendix B. Most of the first year is used to fulfill general education requirements for an Associate of Science Degree. These courses are comparable to a typical freshman year and all courses can be utilized in the future for a Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology and Audiology degree, if the student continues in the career pathway. The second year is focused on coursework in speech-language pathology assisting with a final spring-summer term consisting of closely supervised clinical practicum and associated applied seminars. ASHA requires two different, six-week placements totaling at least 70 clock hours supervised 50 percent of the time by a supervisor with the ASHA CCC in SLP.

University Baccalaureate/Graduate Education

A number of states have bachelorâs degree programs that lead to full certification/licensure in OT and pre-PT. There is a trend toward moving professional-level education in OT/PT to the graduate level. COTAs or PTAs should have the option of moving up the career pathway into upper division coursework after the associate degree to either complete a bachelorâs degree in OT or PT or to complete a preprofessional, or pre- OT or PT degree in majors such as biology, psychology, or special education. Usually admission requirements to most OT or PT programs are high and seats in programs are limited. Work experience as a COTA/PTA often provides some preference to applicants, but high GPA in specific prerequisite coursework, high Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, and excellent recommendations are required. Tuition is very expensive, frequently requiring additional and significantly higher professional school or program fees.

Baccalaureate degrees in speech-language pathology are readily available in most states but they have been viewed as pre-professional degrees for the last two decades that do not lead to work in SLP. A masterâs degree has been viewed as the minimum practice requirement by ASHA. Most states recognize the masterâs degree as the minimum for state licensure/certification and to meet the qualified provider provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

There are still a number of persons with bachelorâs degrees in the schools nationwide, but often they are working in some other position classification. With some minimal retraining, these persons could become R-SLPAs.

There are a number of baccalaureate in SLP graduates each year who for one reason or another do not go on to graduate school. Again, these persons, with some minimal retraining÷primarily the fieldwork experience÷would make excellent R-SLPAs, significantly expanding the SLP workforce available to the burgeoning service needs of infants, toddlers, school children, adults, and the elderly.


Utilization of paratherapists should be viewed positively. Certainly, those that choose not to supervise paratherapists should not be forced to do so. However, those that choose to qualify themselves and devote the time and energy to supervise paratherapists should be provided appropriate supervision time and resources (CEC, Consortium Report, 1997). When the Dallas (TX) Independent School District hired speech-language pathology assistants in 1994, the SLPs that agreed to supervise SLPAs received a pay raise.

Then they received a 25 percent reduction in their caseloads to allow for that supervision (Moving forward on support personnel, 1995). That is a good example for other school districts nationwide.

With appropriate utilization of paratherapists, service deliverers can provide more services to more persons with disabilities at a more reasonable cost. Paratherapists can increase the current, typical frequency of one or two sessions per week to five-days-a-week intervention that automatically increases the possibility of improving outcomes and clearly may reduce the overall duration of therapy needed. If paratherapists can be used as extenders of services provided by therapists, the whole service delivery system can move forward a giant step with minimal, if any, erosion of quality of service, and at great cost savings. While some therapists fear paratherapists will cost them their jobs, their real fear should be that they will lose their jobs to healthcare and education reform if they donât provide intervention more relevant to the educational needs of students and become more cost effective. Clinical efficacy is an increasing concern in our cost-conscious and outcomes-based world. The appropriate training and use of paratherapists is the future of therapy services in early intervention and the schools.


American Association of Community Colleges (1994). The Tech Prep associate degree challenge. Washington, DC, Association of Community Colleges.

American Occupational Therapy Association (1991). Essentials and guidelines for an accredited program for the occupational therapy assistant. Rockville, MD:

American Occupational Therapy Association.

American Occupational Therapy Association (1987). Guidelines for occupational therapy services in school systems. Rockville, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association.

American Physical Therapy Association (1988). Accreditation candidacy program of the commission on accreditation in physical therapy education. Alexandria, VA:

American Physical Therapy Association.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Committee on the status of racial minorities. (1991) Multicultural action agenda 2000. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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American Vocational Association.

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Shortages in professions working with young children with disabilities and their families. Chapel Hill, NC: National Early Childhood Technical Assistance System.

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Help Wanted: Blacks in Allied Health Professions. Black Issues in Higher Education, 4:19, 18.

Hull, D. & Parnell, D. (1991). Tech Prep Associate Degree: A win/win experience. Waco, TX, Center for Occupational Research and Development.

Idaho Interagency Coordinating Council (1992). Position Statement on paraprofessional training and utilization. Boise, ID: Idaho Interagency Coordinating Council.

Jeppson, E.S. & Thomas J. (1995) Essential Allies: Families as Advisors. Washington, DC:

Institute for Family-Centered Care.

Job Trends 2005: Interviews with economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment force costs for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. (1994, Fall).

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Longhurst, T.M. (1996a).

Career pathways for related service paratherapists in early intervention and education, Journal of Childrenâs Communication Development, 18:1, 28-30.

Longhurst, T.M. (1996b). Idahoâs three-tiered system for speech-language paratherapist training and utilization. Journal of Children's Communication Development, 18:1, 57-74.

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Exploring Health Careers, Delmar Publishers Inc., Albany, NY.

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What does the future hold? American Rehabilitation, Summer, 3-7.

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Our schools in the 21st century.

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Moving forward on support personnel. (1995, February).

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Speech-language pathology assistants:

A discussion of Proposed Guidelines.

Asha, September, 39-42.

Rooney, R., Gallagher, J., & Fullagar, P. (1993). Distinctive Part H: Three case studies. Chapel Hill, NC: Carolina Policy Studies Program, frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rush, W. (1996). Career Pathways-Idaho: Moving to a focused education. Boise, ID: The State Division of Vocational Education.

Simmers, L. (1993). Workbook for Diversified Health Occupations, Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc.

Spencer, G. (1990). Projections of the population of the United States by age, sex and race: 1988 to 2080. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Striffler, N. (1993).

Current trends in the use of paraprofessionals in early intervention and preschool services. Chapel Hill, NC: National Early Childhood Technical Assistance System.

Yoder, D. & Coleman, P. (1990). Allied health personnel: Meeting the demands of Part H, Public Law 99-457. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Author Note

I wish to acknowledge the work of Dorothy Witmer, Ed.D., former Health Occupations Supervisor, Idaho Division of Vocational Education for facilitating the development of the paratherapist Technical Committee Reports and Curriculum Guides (DD Aide, Vo. Ed. 269; PT Aide, Vo. Ed. 283; PT Assistant, Vo. Ed. 285; OT Aide Vo. Ed. 282; COTA Vo. Ed. 284; SLP Aide Vo. Ed. 293; SLP Assistant Vo. Ed. 292). These documents are available for $5.00 each from: Vocational Curriculum Dissemination Center, College of Education, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-3083, (208) 885-6556.

The thoughtful discussion and document editing of the many professional therapists and paratherapists in Idaho who made up the three (PT, OT and SLP) technical committees are also gratefully acknowledged.

Also acknowledged is the financial support from the Idaho Infant-Toddler Interagency Coordinating Council and the Idaho Infant-Toddler Program, Mary Jones, Manager, that was used to provide travel and operating expenses to the technical committee meetings as well as document preparation and printing expenses.

And finally to my long-time administrative assistant, Karen Lewis, thanks are extended for many hours of committee scheduling, preparing correspondence and drafts of the technical documents as well as preparing this chapter for publication.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to the author at:

Idaho State University
Pocatello, Idaho 83209-8116
Phone (208) 236-2204
FAX (208) 236-4602

Lives in Transition

Lynn Safarik

Coordinator of Career Advancement Training Program at California State University, Long Beach from 1989-1995.

Teresa was among the first students to enroll in the Career Advancement Training Program in the fall of 1992. A friend who knew of her interest in working with children with disabilities referred her to the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) program. She had never been to college but had acquired some post-secondary training through the military. She had worked as a truck driver in shipping and receiving and, at the time she interviewed at CSULB, was employed as a grocery checker. Teresa, a young mother of two, was enthusiastic about beginning a new career in special education; her past volunteer experiences had sparked an interest. Despite her apprehension about going back to college, she clearly had a sense of determination.

The program advisor recommended that Teresa begin by taking the Job Coach class at one of the articulated sites, Coastline Regional Occupational Program (CROP). It was close to her home and would enable her to get some immediate hands-on experience. Teresa excelled in the classroom and in the practical component of the program where she learned how to job coach students with a wide range of disabilities in a vocational program under the supervision of a certified instructor.

Feedback from the CROP site advisor to the Career Advancement Training Program coordinator was positive. She appeared to be a natural teacher and was skilled in working with students and employers alike.

Feeling confident about her progress, Teresa contacted a friend who was employed at the Disabled Students Program and Services at Fresno College coordinating summer white water rafting trips for persons with disabilities. Teresa volunteered to go along on the next trip. This experience proved to be inspirational, further convincing her that she had found her niche. Other volunteer experiences enhanced her training; in fact, she earned extra credit hours for her job coach class by participating in the International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament.

During her first year in the program, Teresa had gained the training, experience, motivation, and confidence that she needed to begin her program at CSULB. Upon advisement from the CROP site advisor, she enrolled in the Winter Bridge Program at CSULB, a class designed to orient new transition students to the university program. Teresa was assigned a peer advocate, Margie, a student in her final year in the CSULB Undergraduate Transition Services Program. Margie was selected because she worked at Coastline ROP in the career guidance department and could help Teresa with her studies as well as with her new position at Coastline ROP. (Teresa had been hired as a part-time assistant in the Learning Handicapped Program, part of the California State Transition Partnership Program.)

Teresa continued her academic program by enrolling in an English 100 course at the community college. Concurrently, Teresa enrolled in her first university course, Introduction to Transition Services. In Fall 1993, one year after her application to the program, she was hired as a full-time job coach and instructional assistant at Coastline ROP.

Four years later, Teresa has made considerable progress in both her studies and professional development. She has only a few courses left toward completion of her bachelorâs degree. When she graduates, she will also have accumulated a wealth of experience in classroom and community settings. With the help of a network of friends and colleagues both at CSULB and Coastline ROP, she will soon reach her goal of becoming a certified special education teacher.


Teresa's story shows how a multi-agency program is well suited to address the needs of paraprofessionals who are seeking training and career advancement. Adult students must coordinate work and family responsibilities when they are planning their educational program. Often, this means that they must alternately take classes at different institutions, depending on when classes are offered and considering travel distance from home, work, and childcare facilities. Their support network includes co-workers, college advisors, friends, classmates, and family. Paraprofessionals may change jobs frequently or combine several part-time jobs. The need for employment is more than financially-based; adult students need to grow professionally as they complete their education in order to sustain a high level of motivation and to establish a career path.

A program that offers flexibility, practical training, and builds the student's support network is necessary to accommodate the complex lives of adult students. The importance of extra-institutional factors, such as community and employment-related social support, is emphasized in sociological models of college impact that are used to describe how and why students persist and attain their goals in higher education institutions (Weidman, in Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Drawing upon this model, the career-ladder program described in this monograph integrates training, education, work, and community experiences to facilitate the professional growth of returning adult students.

The Career Advancement Training Program for Transition Services Personnel is one of several titles used to describe a program that began in 1989 and that has undergone several permutations over the ensuing eight years. Today, the program is referred to as the Transition Services Training Program for Paraprofessionals . The name change reflects the program's increased focus on paraprofessionals. Initially, the program was designed as a certificate program for vocational instructors and other support service personnel who work in schools and adult service agencies with persons with disabilities. The need for trained transition services personnel grew out of the state and federal special education and rehabilitation services policy that emphasized employment preparation and independent-living skills training for youth and adults with disabilities.

Spearheaded by vocational/special needs faculty in the Department of Occupational Studies at California State University, Long Beach, the original program content and structure were based on local training needs research (Morehouse & Albright, 1991). Its eighteen-unit curriculum was designed to augment traditional vocational instructor coursework, but was conceived primarily as a stand-alone certificate option for school and agency-based paraprofessionals such as job coaches or employment training specialists.

The program has grown into a multi-level, multi-agency training system that includes two secondary regional occupational programs 1, four community colleges 2, and California State University, Long Beach. Recently, the program has been extended to include an outreach effort to local school districts that provides intensive, on-site training for district paraeducators who receive a certificate through University College Extension Services at CSULB 3. Over the years, multiple contingencies shaped the program; some were unanticipated; others were predictable but unavoidable. In retrospect, the program that exists today is a result of both purposeful fine-tuning and adaptation for survival.

This monograph describes the transformation of the program from an externally funded special program to an articulated, institutionalized degree program and career-ladder system which links multiple agencies. By examining the adaptive process, the successes and obstacles, and the outcomes--anticipated and unanticipated--this case may provide insights for others interested in organizational change and the innovation process. Elements of the innovation process, as summarized by Palumbo, are readily recognizable:

No single individual or group generally is responsible for getting an innovation routinized in an organization (Yin, 1979), although there generally are policy entrepreneurs, catalysts, or fixers who play large and important roles in the adoption and diffusion process (Bardach, 1980; Doig, 1981; Palumbo, Musheno, & Maynard-Moody, 1985). It usually is impossible to fix the exact date when a particular innovation began, and the innovation will be reinvented a number of times or modified to fit into the specific needs of those who will use it (Rice & Rogers, 1980). Many years usually pass for the diffusion process to unfold, and along the way a number of unanticipated consequences are likely to occur, so that the end results are likely to be quite different from those anticipated earlier in the process (Lincoln, 1985, p. 7).

These aspects of the innovation process can be roughly translated into three ideas about innovation. It is:
1) a messy, dynamic process that is largely consumer-led,
2) a collaborative endeavor, and
3) a long and bumpy ride leading to an unplanned destination. These themes are present throughout this analysis of the processes and program features that appear to have been critical to the program's viability.

Three central components of the implementation and development of the Transition Services Training Program for Paraprofessionals are the focus of this paper. They include: 1) the collaborative curriculum development approach which formed the foundation for the program, 2) the institutionalization of the university program through the establishment of a formalized degree option, and 3) the student support strategies and mechanisms that link the articulated programs to form a career-ladder system.

Of interest to higher education professionals, issues of leadership, college impact and nontraditional student development, and the relationship of policy to practice are raised in consideration of the details of the career-ladder program. For those interested in the training and career-development of paraprofessionals in education and related services, this piece may contribute to the evolving dialogue on how their unique needs may be more systematically addressed by two- and four-year institutions. Since the majority of paraprofessionals who participate in the program are women who have re-entered post-secondary education, those interested in the college experiences of women who combine work, school, and family may also find useful information here.

The Post-Facto Action Plan

Implementation research and organizational theory has shifted in focus in recent years to macro-organizational behavior (Lincoln, 1985). Macro-organizational behavior refers to the numerous horizontal relationships between participating agencies that are required for the implementation of social programs. Palumbo stresses that rationality in organizational behavior is retrospective rather than prospective. He explains why this is true:

What is crucial about the focus on macro-organizational behavior is the complexity of joint action. The large number of participants, perspectives, and decision points necessary for the completion of a program brings into stark relief the problems associated with injecting prospective rationality into organization behavior. As successful implementation in such ambiguous circumstance requires mutual adaptation among the actors involved, the only kind of rationality that seems to exist in organizations is retrospective as opposed to prospective. Retrospective rationality involves explaining events after they have occurred, whereas prospective rationality is an attempt to predict and control events before they occur. Although at times organizations attempt to be rational in the prospective sense, most often they are rational only in the retrospective sense. Hence organizational behavior is rational, but only in the sense that organizations act first, then analyze what they did, rather than the other way around (Palumbo & Nachmias, 1983). As Karl Weick (in this volume) explains, intention seldom, if ever, controls action; but because we assume that what appeared to happen did happen, we often conclude that rational models actually work when, in fact, they do not. (1985, p. 9)

This observation about the implementation process aptly describes the way the collaborators proceeded in planning and developing the Career-Ladder Program. After the initial planning session, the original action plan became less and less useful as we plowed through the multiple bureaucracies of our respective institutions. A few of the steps were salvaged, but in the end an entirely new process was delineated and it occurred to us that the step-by-step plan had little relevance to the way we actually worked. Instead, our method was more pragmatic; we worked on aspects of the project that inspired us as a group or on those items that were of pressing concern to individual members. Somewhere in the middle of the process, we constructed a plan that more accurately depicted our course of action.

The above explanation withstanding, for the collaborative team (which consisted of representatives from each of the participating regional occupational programs, community colleges, and the university) these steps describe our general direction and activities:

  1. Identify a task force.
  2. Establish an advisory board within each community college, regional occupational program and at the university.
  3. Conduct a regional survey of employment characteristics and opportunities for paraprofessionals in transition.
  4. Develop and analyze competencies for the various paraprofessional roles in transition.
  5. Conduct an external and internal review of the competencies.
  6. Organize competencies with respect to training settings.
  7. Match competencies to existing curriculum.
  8. Recommend additional courses be developed to match competencies not covered in courses currently offered.
  9. Articulate curricula among the three training settings.
  10. Set up procedures for recruiting, advising, and monitoring student progress across training levels.
  11. Document the collaborative process by creating a guidelines manual for transition service program developers.
  12. Maintain regular communications through collaborative team meetings, site visits and other professional exchanges (e.g. collaborative proposal development).

Whereas the above steps represent the guiding process for coordinating the articulation of the individual programs, in a multiple-site collaborative, each agency must operate within the structure, policies, and timetables of its own setting. Procedures for obtaining course approval and administrative support and for navigating communication channels are unique to the participating agencies. The central steps, which involved development of the curriculum and the conceptualization of the articulated programs, comprise the essence of our work together. They were as follows:

  1. Using competency review data to identify which competencies should be part of the training programs at each level.
  2. Using competency-to-course matrix to identify which competencies are part of existing courses and where new courses need to be developed.
  3. Revising existing course outlines to incorporate new competencies.
  4. Matching clusters of competencies to whole courses.
  5. Identifying a course that will serve as the articulation link between levels, e.g. the job coach class.
  6. Developing a course outline for the "linking course" for all three programs- regional occupational program (ROP), community college (CC), and university- and review for alignment with competency review data.
  7. Bringing courses through curriculum committees at all sites.
  8. Working with articulation officers at each site to establish formal articulation agreements between ROP's and CC's; and CC's and universities.
  9. Arranging for the appropriate publication of articulated courses and programs in institutional catalogs and other publications.

A Collaborative Curriculum Development Approach

Operational decisions about the collaborative planning project (e.g., identifying sites, personnel, timelines, resources) are among the many start-up phase activities. The development of a common conceptual framework, however, is an important first step if all team members are to have joint ownership of the project.

Defining the training needs is probably the most critical collaborative planning activity. This process not only serves as a way to focus the group's efforts, but also creates a forum for expressing individual concerns, personal philosophies, and creative approaches before a course of action has been set. The importance of establishing a spirit of mutual respect and a sense of shared mission cannot be overlooked in articulation work and these initial discussions of purpose and larger policy issues greatly enhanced the collaborative climate. Through this process, we all became committed to this initiative.

The process of defining training needs began with the identification of the roles, skill requirements, and employment settings of personnel providing transition services. A systematic survey of local transition services personnel roles included a review of the literature on their competencies as well as a profile study of a sample of CSULB Undergraduate Transition Services Program applicants. Several brainstorming sessions followed, resulting in the compilation of an extensive list of job titles, some widely used by transition service deliverers (job coaches, employment specialists, and others more loosely associated with transition such as guidance technicians and work experience coordinators).

This collection of job titles was organized by employment setting and professional area. Three major settings were identified as employment sites for transition services personnel: secondary, post-secondary, and adult service agencies. Within each setting, personnel worked in the fields of vocational education, special education, or vocational rehabilitation. This organizational framework provided a point of reference from which the team could identify competency requirements that were realistic in the local job market.

At this point, the development of the conceptual framework required an analysis of role hierarchies as they occurred in the field, using the framework developed by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services. By distinguishing between paraprofessional and professional roles, the team could then begin to sort personnel roles by levels of training (or credentials, degrees) needed. Director Anna Lou Pickett's functional definition of a paraprofessional as one who works directly with students in an instructional capacity- but who ultimately works under the supervision of a certified teacher or professional (Pickett, 1989)- was adapted to include the stipulation that they not have a bachelor's degree.

The process of exploring transition-related job roles in the multiple contexts of agency and professional area (discipline) and by organizing these roles as being either paraprofessional or professional, enabled the team to develop a basis for the development of curriculum at multiple training levels.

The next step in conceptualizing the articulated programs was to clarify the nature and purpose of the training segment to be offered at each institutional level. This was be accomplished by defining the individual missions of secondary vocational education, community college vocational training, and professional development in vocational education at the university level. The team's assumption was that program articulation can best serve students who are seeking career advancement and professional growth if the participating institutions are providing training that is consistent with their mission.

For example, secondary vocational education at a regional occupational program introduces students to an occupational area by providing hands-on, specific skills training that will prepare them for entry-level employment in a specific job. At the same time, regional occupational program training in any one of a cluster of related occupational areas enables students to explore a range of career paths. Community college programs, by offering intensive training in a vocational area, prepare students for more advanced positions in a field and help the student further define his or her career path. The general education component in community college programs provides the student with the educational breadth required for transfer to a four-year university, if the students so desire.

The mission of a university program is broader still, with a more theoretical curriculum and including leadership and professional development as primary goals. The vocational training program at a university prepares students to assume professional roles in an applied field (e.g., transition services). The team studied transition services personnel roles with this perspective on institutional training purposes in mind. Accordingly, entry-level job training in transition service (e.g., job coach) is most effective at the ROPâs and CCâs; job development and instructor training is appropriate at the community college and university; and transition specialists or coordinator training is the focus of training at the university (possibly extending into graduate school).

These guidelines were helpful in ascertaining the general nature of training at each level. Clearly, there is some overlap in training purposes and curriculum objectives. However, the orientation of training varies by institutional level; training is more skills focused at the secondary program, more broad-based at the university, and somewhere in between at the community college. With these guidelines in place, specific training competencies were identified.

Research Base

The development of model curricula to be used for multi-level transition services personnel training was based on a study of regional training needs in transition services that provided the basis for the original grant proposal (Morehouse & Albright, 1991). The study surveyed 95 paraprofessionals and 47 administrators in public school and adult service agencies in the Southern California area about the relative importance of transition services training competencies. Five categories of baseline competencies were identified.

These original competencies were analyzed and revised repeatedly by the team to produce a set of competencies that would be sufficiently detailed for the purpose of developing a comprehensive curriculum. The set of 32 baseline competencies was expanded to fifty-four. The revised competencies were organized under eight headings:

A. Core Competencies
B. Assessing Transition Program Needs
C. Assessing Learner Needs
D. Planning Transition Programs for Special Needs Learners
E. Implementing Training/Instructional Components
F. Job Development and Placement
G. Job Site Training and Instruction
H. Developing Professional Skills

The rationale that guided our analysis and revisions was the need for a comprehensive career-ladder training program. The curriculum would meet the specific training needs of Job Coaches and Job Developers but would also be generic enough to allow transferable skill development. The philosophical, ethical, and legal aspects of personnel training as well as the foundations of transition services were addressed in the "Core Competencies" area. The "Developing Professional Skills" competencies were part of the university training for paraprofessionals moving into professional roles.

The competency review process was conducted in three phases: 1) a training program participant review, 2) a national expert panel review, and 3) a final validation of competency revisions by four internal and external reviewers. The instrumentation and analysis procedures are described in detail in Safarik, et al , 1994.


The collaborative team was formed through an established network of associates who had professional ties to the Project Director at the lead institution, CSULB. The community colleges and regional occupational programs invited to participate in this project were geographically and programmatically desirable; however, the primary reason for their selection was based on individual qualifications and level of commitment to the project. The start-up phase entailed several meetings with key administrators at each institution, to enlist their support, engage them in establishing long-term directions for the project, and to get their assistance with the identification of collaborative team members to represent their institutions.

The initial project planning meetings included the CSULB Project Director and Coordinator and key administrators from RSC and Mt. SAC: the Deans of Occupational Education; Coordinator of Occupational Services; Coordinator, Special Services; Chair of the Human Development Department; Director, Disabled Students Services; and Disabled Students Services Placement Specialist .

During these planning meetings with administrators, two important project directions were established÷first, that the desired outcome was to develop a model curriculum for transition services training to be used statewide; and second, to expand the articulation process to include ROPâs (East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program and Coastline Regional Occupational Program).

These two regional occupational programs were selected based on their proximity to the community colleges, their level of activity in transition services programming, and their status as recognized leaders in the state as exemplary secondary vocational education programs. Both individuals selected to participate in the project were alumni of the CSULB Graduate Program in Transition Services.

During the third project year, Coastline Community College was identified as a third community college to participate in the collaborative. Coastline, with a nationally recognized special programs division (particularly their acquired brain injury program) and with strong leadership in the disabilities field, made an important contribution to establishing the program content.

Personnel selection was driven by a pairing notion; that is, we matched ROPâs and community colleges that were compatible in terms of geographic location, history of program articulation, and personnel linkages. In this sense, two pairs were established within the team, Mt. San Antonio College and East San Gabriel Valley ROP and Coastline Community College and Coastline ROP. Rancho Santiago College, which is geographically accessible to both ROP's and which had no prior history of articulation with either, worked with both institutions. A more recent addition to the collaborative, Cypress College is tied closely to our recently developed paraeducator training program at the ABC school district in Cerritos, CA.

The details offered through this explanation of site and personnel selection might seem overstated. Utilizing an existing professional network to mount the collaborative made our work more productive, more enjoyable, and helped to sustain the project over the long haul. The educational backgrounds, areas of professional expertise and position within the organizational structure varied among team members; this diversity enhanced the project, as we drew upon the differing strengths, interests, and resources of individuals who worked from different perspectives. Team members had backgrounds in vocational education, special education, and human development, and had experience in working with at-risk youth, developmentally disabled adults, children with learning disabilities, and persons with acquired brain injuries. Some were among the pioneers in the supported employment field; others had strengths in program administration.

We approached the collaborative project through a shared leadership strategy. This occurred naturally as individual team members participated at differing levels throughout the years when professional and personal commitments impinged on their ability to contribute. Our collaborative shared births, divorces, job changes, and other life changes as we nurtured the program over the years. Several of the team members have moved on to new professional challenges since we started in 1989. New members have joined the group and the original members have planted seeds from the collaborative in their new organizations. Although the project is always about individuals- and they come and go- the collaborative never seems to lose members. Instead the network expands as members move around.

We did find, however, that the position of team members within their organizations determined the degree of efficiency with which we were able to get the programs up and running at the individual sites. The team members who were trainers, had direct control over curricular decisions, and had direct contact with students were most successful in establishing the linkages with other agencies.

At the community college, implementation was easier for those team members who were part of an academic unit than it was, for example, for one team member who worked in the disabled student services program as a placement specialist. This person had to establish credibility with faculty who were unfamiliar with the field of transition services and gain the support of the appropriate academic department before proceeding with course approval procedures. Even though this team member was very experienced and well known for her work with disabled students and state rehabilitation programs, it was difficult for her to gain access to the formal curriculum processes without a faculty advocate. In contrast, for those community college team members who were already a part of the decision-making loop, course approval and articulation was a routine procedure.

At the university, which was the coordinating institution, the support of department faculty and personnel from administrative units was critical. Because two senior faculty played an active role in project administration in the early phase of program development, bureaucratic obstacles were minimized. For instance, a cooperative relationship between the Department of Occupational Studies (in which the program was situated) and the Admissions and Records unit on campus helped smooth the admissions process for paraprofessionals who were classified as adult re-entry students. This special status, typical for the majority of vocational instructors who enrolled in the department for a Designated Subjects Teaching Credential, allowed students to temporarily delay standard admissions requirements such as placement tests and grade-point average criteria. As non-matriculated students were able to complete all of some of their teaching classes after having only completed an abbreviated application and admission process. Later, they had the option of "rolling over" to the degree program, but this process was made simpler since they were now considered transfer students, had established a record of academic success, and felt more confident as university students.

Transition students who do not enter with sufficient units to qualify as a transfer student (56 units) are able to benefit from the same admissions policy for re-entry students. This is an important factor in supporting the non-traditional student; otherwise, the admissions and records bureaucracy can become so cumbersome for a re-entry or at-risk student that it prevents students from taking the important first-step in getting back to school. Because CSULB is a large, state university, the support and cooperation of admissions and records personnel can make or break a student's chances of being successful. Fortunately, the records evaluation and admissions process is made more manageable for students and faculty in the undergraduate transition services training program through a student-centered philosophy on both ends.

Ultimately, the success of an innovative program within a traditional academic department depends to a great extent on the support of departmental leadership. When leadership or vision changes within a department, an externally funded program÷particularly when a non-tenure track or junior faculty member administers it÷is quite vulnerable. The high level of commitment required of the program coordinator in order to sustain a multi-agency program cannot be maintained without full support. When a department is not willing to consistently invest in the effort and commit to its full inclusion in the department, hard-won linkages are apt to break down. Given this reality, the critical element is to ensure program institutionalization in as many ways as possible before losing fiscal support. The institutionalization process is discussed further in a later section of this monograph. The need for faculty support from the academic department withstanding, the resiliency of the collaborative is a question of values and commitment.

Resources And Incentives For Collaborative Planning

The resources for the collaborative curriculum development project came from three successive federal grants. The first two, which were three- and five-year awards respectively, included moneys for the participating sites. The first, awarded in July 1989, devoted a total of $3,000 to be used by participating community college sites. Originally, funds were distributed equally between Rancho Santiago and Mt. San Antonio Colleges. During the second project year, when it expanded to include two regional occupational programs, these funds were subdivided to include the two additional sites. During the third year of the original training grant, funds budgeted for the articulation sites were phased out. Later, a second federal training grant provided additional resources for participating sites. A sum of $6,000 was allocated for five Site Advisors (collaborative team members). Each one outlined a site section plan yearly to demonstrate how funds would be used to carry out the project goals.

The amount and use of funds by each site varied year by year depending on the level and purpose of site activity. For instance, when two site advisors presented the project at a national conference, they were provided extra funds to cover travel and presentation preparation expenses. In another case, a site advisor at a community college used project money to pay for the cost of course instruction for the first offering.

Apparently , incentives for participating in the collaborative had little to do with the stipends provided by grants over the years. A relatively small amount of money (between $500 and $1,000 per year per team member for five years) was paid to each participating institution. In some cases, this amount was paid to the team member for the specific services identified through a contractual agreement with CSULB. Other agencies opted to absorb this money into their general fund. Although the stipend was primarily intended for establishing a solid relationship with the institutions, CSULB recommended (in collaboration with the site representative) guidelines for its use, consultant fees, and student scholarships. The team members, some of whom never received the stipend money, seemed to be motivated more by the importance of the career ladder concept. Early in the collaborative the group conceded that our work would not depend on funding, but instead viewed the project as a long-term process with the ultimate goal being institutionalization within and across our sites.

The collaborative project was sustained by our collective value of outcomes beyond program articulation . Instead of limiting our purpose to signing articulation agreements, we intended to create a flexible, coordinated system of support, training, and career advancement for paraprofessionals. The most important outcome of the project has been to establish a network of professionals whose service, creativity, and commitment was not bound to their own institution, but which transcended institutions to support paraprofessionals in transition services and related areas.

There are many incidental benefits of the collaborative approach to building a career-ladder training system. It becomes a way of regularly and systematically sharing information about employment opportunities for paraprofessionals, a method for improving and updating training content, and an opportunity to keep informed about policy and professional development events at the state, local, and national levels and as a mechanism for obtaining external funding to enhance organizational directions (e.g. to increase the number of paraeducators of color in the career ladder program).

As a result, the collaborative has created professional growth opportunities for both the team members and students. Over the years, each of the team members has presented the project at state and national conferences. Seven students have made national presentations of their work through the program.Two of the team members are now adjunct faculty at CSULB and two others have collaborated on related grant-funded projects.

When we first started the project, there were few program models to draw upon. Over the years, it has been gratifying to share our progress and observe the increasing interest in the paraprofessional career development movement. Project spin-offs, such as work with local school districts in developing training and career-ladders for their paraprofessional staff-as well as participation in research conducted by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services- are additional outcomes of the collaborative.

Most importantly, the collaborative allows us to keep track of and support students more effectively and over a greater length of time than we are able to individually. Through our network, we keep each other informed about student progress. The collaborative has made long-term mentoring possible for the students who may take five years or longer to move through the various levels of the career-ladder program. Adult students often drop in and out when circumstances arise that interrupt their training program. Sometimes a student will take a leave to take advantage of a job opportunity or to take care of his or her family. The flexibility of the multiple-site program allows for this pattern of adult education. Most students keep in touch with advisors whether or not they are enrolled in classes, even when they have relocated to another region or state.


The process of moving the innovation from an externally funded certificate program to an institutionalized, multi-agency training system was shaped, constrained, and facilitated by many bureaucratic structures, events, and observations. The change process, which did not conform to our neatly laid plans, often seemed erratic and stagnated. On one hand, getting the program off the ground required that we fit the new program into existing degree structures. This entailed highly individualized program advisement; each student's background and training needs were assessed on an case-by-case basis and course substitutions were utilized extensively to get students through. This pragmatic approach appeared to be working during the first year or two. In the sense that it assured the acceptance of the innovation among the other faculty members, it was appropriate and functional. However, this labor-intensive process soon became unmanageable and inefficient. Often, it seemed that the program would not survive. Through this interactive process of trial and error and adaptation, however, the program evolved to a more formal structure.

It became evident that a separate degree option for transition services students was needed. In retrospect, it appears that this development was guided by a rational implementation plan. There were actually several factors that provided the impetus for establishing a new bachelor's degree option in transition services in addition to the impracticability of fitting the training program into existing÷but incompatible÷degree programs: a growing and increasingly diverse group of students interested in a transition services training, the continued passage of federal and state legislation requiring trained transition services personnel, and a growing empirical basis for training competencies in transition services (Safarik, Prather, Hanson, Guzman, Ryan & Schwan, 1991; DeFur & Taymans, 1995). In short, the student/consumer's needs- driven by national, state, and local policy and agency needs÷forced the program changes. As their needs interacted with institution-specific contingencies, dysfunctional structures slowly broke down and were replaced by more functional ones. The following chain of events illustrates how the program evolved at the university level.

The Csulb Program

The original program, the Undergraduate Transition Services Training Program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) was designed to be an eighteen-unit certificate program within the bachelor's degree program in the Department of Occupational Studies. The six-course sequence comprised three phases: Phase I, Introduction to Transition Services; Phase II, four courses individually selected from among the Occupational Studies and Educational Psychology offerings; and Phase III, a Practicum. Only two of these courses, Phase I and Phase II, had to be developed. It was not necessary to go beyond departmental review to obtain approval for these courses since existing seminar and generic practicum course numbers were used to run the courses. These six courses were based on nationally researched competencies (Safarik et al, 1991). Students selected Phase II courses based on an assessment of their prior coursework and experience. After several offerings, the Phase I course, Introduction to Transition Services, was refined and subsequently approved by the university through formal curriculum review and approval processes as a regular course offering in the Department of Occupational Studies.

Because the CSULB program was funded by external funds for the first four years, personnel were supported through the grant. A full-time coordinator (non-tenure track) was hired and two senior faculty served as Project Director and Associate Project Director. The grant provided tuition assistance for twenty students per year, part-time clerical support, and stipend money for the community colleges to participate in the articulation aspect of the project.

Project staff worked to fit the certificate program into the existing bachelor's degree program options. Students were advised to select the best degree option out of three: the Bachelor's of Vocational Education (BVE), Bachelor's of Science (BS), or Bachelor's of Arts (BA), Interdisciplinary Major. Depending on their level of experience and specific career interest, students worked with an advisor to match the transition program requirements with the appropriate degree program.

When the program began, it was expected that recruits would come mainly from the pool of vocational teachers who typically enrolled in the Department of Occupational Studies credential and bachelor's degree programs. During the first semester of program operation, approximately one-third of enrolled students were, in fact, vocational teachers who had an interest in working with students with special needs. This pattern changed over the years and soon the transition student pool consisted of only a few vocational teachers. Instead, we were drawing in large numbers of paraprofessionals from public schools and adult service agencies. Five years later, more than 90% of the student population were paraprofessionals working in special and vocational education and adult services. The shift in the student population required a major restructuring of the program design. The Bachelor's of Vocational education degree, specifically designed for vocational teachers, became less appropriate for many transition services students since they did not meet the intensive occupational experience requirement for that degree.4 Two strategies were implemented in response: 1) the BVE degree program requirements were modified at the State and institutional levels and 2) a new degree program was developed.

When the transition services program began, the vocational instructors who enrolled were able to use their prior vocational experience to qualify for the BVE degree program.

It was not unusual for students to have fifteen to twenty years of experience in an occupational area and five or more years of teaching experience. As previously mentioned, the transition student profile began to change as the program became more widely known and soon students who were less experienced in a trade area, but more experienced in working with special populations were enrolling in the program. The Associate Director, who was also a member of the State Board of Vocational Examiners, was instrumental in adapting the Swan Bill (see note) process to accommodate the experience and background of paraprofessionals who worked with persons with disabilities.

This new breed of Swan Bill applicants often came to the university program with twenty years of experience as well; however, their experience was not in one trade area but comprised a range of occupational roles. Also, their teaching experience was non-traditional; often they taught pre-employment, independent-living skills, or supervised community-based training in a variety of entry-level jobs. In other cases, they were coordinating special programs in addition to their teaching responsibilities and their "teaching" included on-going contact with employers, community agencies, and families of persons with disabilities. In short, the students coming into the transition program were already performing the role of the transition specialist, although they had no formal training. The State Board of Examiners recognized the critical role of these paraprofessionals in delivering services and providing employment training for persons with disabilities and was cooperative in modifying the application process to include these non-traditional "vocational" educators.

As a result, many paraprofessionals coming through the program during the first several years were granted "Swan Bill" units (in some cases, the maximum 40 units). This degree option was extremely attractive to mature students who had extensive experience in the field but who needed the degree to advance professionally. Later, as younger, less experienced students entered the program, the BVE, even as revised, was not always the appropriate degree option. At first, students who did not meet the criteria for the BVE were advised to plan a BA program with an interdisciplinary major or "Special Major" program as it is known. A popular combination of majors for transition students was occupational studies and educational psychology. This more traditional degree allowed the student to complete a forty-unit major comprising courses from both departments. This interdisciplinary BA program is a university-wide program and was directed by a university-appointed advisor. Although the entrance requirements for this degree program are complex, several students per year opted for this degree.

Another option for students who did not meet the BVE requirements was the BS degree in vocational education. Designed originally as a program for industrial trainers, the BS degree was not suitable for transition students. After several attempts to make multiple course substitutions that essentially revamped the entire BS degree, program staff acknowledged the need to formally establish a degree option designed specifically for transition services students.

The new degree program content and structure were based on several concurrent and intersecting developments÷ample feedback from internal review and evaluation measures, results of a national study of transition services training competency needs, external funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and faculty recognition within the Department of Occupational Studies that major revision of the BS degree was long overdue.

As the program evolved, and the transition services competencies were developed and validated, the program content was revised substantially. A new course, Techniques of Job Coaching (OCST 260), was developed and approved and two others÷Performance-based Assessment in the Classroom and Community and Techniques of Job Development÷were offered as experimental courses. These courses are expected to be institutionalized as of this publication. With subsequent funding, and as a result of continued internal and external program review, we began work to institutionalize a separate transition services option within the Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Studies. This degree option underwent formal approval processes and was approved in 1996.

Along with the adoption of new coursework and the establishment of a separate degree option in the BS program for transition services program undergraduates, we endeavored to integrate the transition competencies across selected department of occupational studies courses. Specifically, key themes such as multiculturalism, collaboration among agencies , and self-determination were identified as areas that need to be addressed within our vocational education courses for all (including non-transition services) students. Ideally, the integration process will be extended to other department from which transition students take coursework, i.e. social work, home economics, educational psychology.


While program articulation was being completed at all of the participating sites, other project outgrowths developed. Three years after the inception of the collaborative curriculum development effort in 1991, CSULB mounted a new grant-funded training program as an extension of the original undergraduate transition services training program. The Career Advancement Training (CAT) Program was established to focus on training people of color in transition services and to support their progress towards full special education certification. The CAT program was developed in response to the critical shortage of special educators in the state, with a special emphasis on increasing the numbers of special educators of color.

Several recruitment and retention strategies were devised to accomplish the project goal of training nine students of color per year for five years through the CSULB Transition Services Training Program. The purpose of these strategies were to provide the necessary support, individualized program planning, and advisement to facilitate their progress toward full special education certification. These strategies include tuition support and a stipend for two years, a peer advocate support system, a winter and summer bridge program, and articulation with the post-baccalaureate special education credential program. A key program feature was to utilize and build upon the existing network of articulated training programs as a way to enhance recruitment and retention of students of color at various points in their education and careers.

Creating Training Site Hubs

The original collaborative team members were identified in the new CAT program as Site Advisors, who are responsible for identifying outstanding students of color interested in becoming special education teachers and referring them to the next educational level when appropriate. Since the Site Advisors were positioned differently at their institutions, their roles as Site Advisors varied accordingly. For example, at the ROPâs, both Site Advisors were Job Coach class instructors. Thus, their direct involvement with students was naturally suited for a mentoring relationship. These Site Advisors work closely with selected students and ensure their access to the articulated programs. Also, both team members are active statewide in transition and recruited students into the program through their professional affiliations.

The role of the three community college Site Advisors varied according to their position at the college. The Disabled Student Placement Specialist at Mt. San Antonio College works with disabled students seeking services at the college who may or may not be interested in transition related careers. Prior to the establishment of the transition program, she was not involved in academic programming and had limited access to students across campus. However, as an active member of several state programs serving the disabled, her network enabled her to recruit individuals from outside of the college and inform them of the various options available through the CAT program. As Site Advisor, her contact with Disabled Student Services staff and other student support personnel enabled her to recruit, advise, and refer students to the CAT program.

The Department Chair of the Human Development Department at Rancho Santiago College served primarily in an administrative role. As an administrator, her role as Site Advisor involved promoting the program to her department and in facilitating the formal curriculum approval and articulation processes. The Special Programs and Services Coordinator for the Disabled served as the Coastline Community College Site Advisor. She was involved directly with student interns whom she referred to the CAT program when appropriate. As the initial instructor of the articulated job coach class and supervisor of other related instructional programs, she was able to advise and refer students in her role as Site Advisor.

The career-ladder approach to training enables paraprofessionals to make progress toward their professional and education goals in an efficient and rewarding manner. Job opportunities, professional conferences, workshops, and intern positions are examples of the types of experiences available to students through their contacts with the Site Advisors. Early and accurate advisement about general education, transfer and credential requirements, and admissions and registration procedures are ways that Site Advisors can support students over the long haul.

The primary role of the Site Advisor is to serve as a contact person, a friendly face that students can feel comfortable talking to about career plans, professional opportunities, and difficulties that they are experiencing at school and/or work. Having a friend at a large institution can make all the difference for students facing the bureaucratic complexities of transferring and program planning. Often the Site Advisors' role is to refer students to other staff or faculty at the college for academic advising or registration information. The Site Advisors provided the critical human link between the six institutions.

Site Advisor Manuals were provided to assist the Site Advisors with program requirements and referral guidelines. It is a fluid document, in that its contents are being constantly revised as new program information is disseminated from each of the sites. Course outlines, admissions requirements, and program benefits and services are among the items included in the manual. It is updated during monthly project meetings. Each Site Advisor creates a yearly Site Action Plan that outlines recruiting approaches, i.e. linkages with EOP Office, Students Services, related departments, community affiliations, retention strategies, and program development ideas. Essentially, these tools enabled the collaborative team members to establish procedures within their present roles to communicate the career-ladder options for students and to expand and refine their transition programs.

Creating Linkages For Student Retention

The network of articulated training programs provided a natural support system for students interested in career advancement. However, as the team pursued the career-ladder concept, it became clear that some inter-agency operational processes needed to be worked out. A systematic program planning and assessment process for students was viewed as being an essential component. The team agreed that the set of training competencies used to create the articulated curriculum could be adapted as an assessment and planning tool and subsequently created the Career Portfolio for this purpose.

The Career Portfolio uses the competencies as a way for students to conduct a self-assessment of their skills before, during, and upon completion of their total program. Using the portfolio approach, students can also document evidence of attainment of specific competencies. Items such as job experience descriptions and workshops attended, as well as specific courses and academic projects can be used to illustrate skill development or proficiency. By reviewing the Career Portfolio with students, Site Advisors can assist with program planning and career advisement. Later, the Career Portfolio can be used to present an in-depth description of skills and accomplishments to employers. The career portfolio is a powerful communication tool for students but also assists the Site Advisors in assessing the skill level of students entering their program from the other articulated sites. The Site Advisors can then individualize the students' programs to avoid duplication of coursework and to provide extra skill enhancement where needed.

Although the CAT program is structured in three program levels, i.e. regional occupational program, community college, and university, in reality, students rarely follow that chronological pattern of training. Students may take a course at the ROP after having completed their general education or associate's degree at a community college and then decide to come to the university. It is not uncommon for university students to concurrently attend the community college to complete their general education and university transition courses on a part-time basis. A set of referral guidelines was established for the site advisors.

These are shown below in Table 1.

Table 1 Referral Guidelines
Student Background Referral
AA degree, experience and demonstrated commitment to pursuing transition/special education career CSULB
Some college coursework, demonstrated English proficiency, several years of experience in the field and commitment to pursuing transition/special education career CSULB or Community College
No prior college coursework, entry-level experience in field, i.e. job coach or job coach training. Community College /ROP
No prior college coursework, no specific transition experience, interest in education, human services career. ROP

To encourage students who are potential candidates for the CAT program, but who are not ready for admission in to the CSULB program, a Conditional Acceptance procedure was developed. To be eligible, students must be recommended by a Site Advisor, be interviewed by the CSULB Program Coordinator, and make a formal application to the program. The conditional acceptance assures students of placement into the tuition reimbursed program after they have completed the program entry requirements (at least one year of related job experience and one year of college coursework including demonstrated written English proficiency). With the conditional acceptance, students are also eligible to enroll in the Summer or Winter Bridge Program.

The Bridge Program, a 1-unit course offered through Extension Services, is an orientation to Careers in Special Education and Transition Services and is restricted to new CAT students. Program content includes a program orientation, initial work on the Career Portfolio, guest speakers, readings about current developments in the field, self-awareness instruction, an orientation to campus resources, and an orientation by the Special Education Credential Coordinator. The Bridge Program is an opportunity for CAT students to get to know each other, project personnel, and the campus. All accepted and conditionally accepted students, including high school seniors, are eligible to attend.

Articulation With Special Education (Graduate) Program

Because the CAT program is specifically aimed at recruiting students who are pursuing special education certification, the program is articulated with the graduate program in special education. These students are able to take up to three, lower-division classes as part of their bachelor's degree program that will also apply to their post-bachelor's certification program. The special education credential program coordinator introduces the program, as well as career opportunities in special education during the Bridge program. As students near graduation they are advised to schedule a meeting with the special education credential coordinator to plan the next stage of their program.

Since the CAT program began, several changes in the state special education credential regulations have facilitated the career advancement of paraprofessionals who wish to become certified. Effective January 1992, the state no longer requires a basic teaching (multiple subjects or designated subject) credential as a prerequisite for the special education certification. Those who wish to teach special education may move directly into the special education credential program upon completion of their bachelor's degree. Students who have completed their bachelor's degree in vocational education with a transition services specialization will have an opportunity to waive or substitute coursework based on an individualized assessment. These revisions to the special education credential program will take approximately two years to implement. During the interim period, CAT graduates may progress toward the credential under "experimental program" status.

In concert with the changes occurring in special education certification, the California Commission on Teaching Credentials enacted legislation in October 1993 that enables vocational educators to substitute the vocational designated subjects credential for the basic teaching credential if they wish to become certified to teach special education. Whereas the basic teaching credential is no longer required under the aforementioned revision, this new law facilitates career-ladder progress during the interim phase of program restructuring. Both of these changes are in direct response to the critical shortage of special educators and should greatly enhance the career mobility of paraprofessionals in the CAT Program.

Providing Support For Students

Several support strategies have been developed to enhance the retention of students who are participating in the CAT program. First, students of color received tuition reimbursement for two years of full-time study (up to $3,150). A stipend of $1,000 is awarded to students in four payments of $250 at the completion of each successful semester to be used for books, transportation, or other related educational expenses. Student performance is evaluated each semester to determine eligibility for continued funding. Program evaluation data have indicated that this financial assistance is critical for the CAT students, many of whom are single parents and supporting families on modest incomes.

Because the typical CAT student is a re-entry adult who is unfamiliar and perhaps intimidated by a large university, a Peer Advocate Program was developed to assist students with acclimatization to campus life.New students are paired up with students at advanced stages or program graduates on the basis of career interests, backgrounds, and (sometimes) personality. Entering students often express anxiety and insecurity about their ability to perform and function at the university. Individual counseling and frequent contact with an advisor was mentioned as an important feature of the CAT program in the program evaluation. The Peer Advocate Program, which links students with a more confident peer, allows for more individualized attention for incoming students.

The peer advocates are recommended by faculty on the basis of their academic and professional accomplishments, as well as their interpersonal skills. The selected individuals are invited to an orientation session during which the role and responsibilities of the peer advocate are discussed.

Peer advocates must commit to working with students for one year. They are required to develop a contract with the student to clarify expectations and areas in need of help. They also develop a schedule of visits and/or phone contacts. Recommendations from the literature include three critical features of successful mentoring programs: frequency of contact, clarity of purpose, and opportunities for reflection on the process. Both advocates and students are encouraged to report on their experiences through surveys, interviews, logs, and informal feedback to the program coordinator. Examples of specific activities that advocates and students have been engaged in have included attending conferences together, help with academics (writing and exam preparation), and visits to job sites. Occasionally, an inappropriate match occurs and students will be reassigned to work with a new advocate. Peer advocates are paid a stipend of $200 and recognized at an annual awards ceremony.

Students are encouraged to avail themselves of the wide array of services and resources that exist campus-wide. The Learning Assistance Center, Disabled Student Services, Career Counseling Center, and financial aide are some of the services that students are referred to for extra help. A compilation of campus services is available in the Department Office and includes many cultural and special interest group organizations. Through the network of articulated programs, the site advisors share information about services and internship opportunities for students in the multi-agency program.

Directions For The Future

Now that the various degrees program options for transition services have been established at the university, we have begun to focus our work in several directions. First, the highly successful paraeducator certificate training program at the ABC district has increasingly drawn state and national attention. We have now expanded the program into another two districts (Bellflower and San Juan Capistrano) and are presently negotiating with two more school districts for a Spring 1999 start-up date. Second, while this certificate program has been very responsive to basic training needs, graduating paraeducators are telling us that an additional next-step course is needed to help them move into other appropriate training programs on the career ladder (e.g., community college degree programs and university degree programs). Hence, we have initiated discussions with ABC personnel and the Director at the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services to consider a sequel to our present offering. At this point, such a course looks like it will contain a very concentrated focus on individual advisement and career transitioning.

Our third direction is to continue to foster the collaborative teamwork we have done over the past decade. However, rather than promoting university sponsored program development, we are now very interested in helping our collaborative institutions with important program initiatives in transition services. For example, within the collaborative we recently met to consider submitting a joint proposal to the Fund for Improvement of Post-secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education. We fully anticipate that one of our community colleges will be the lead agencies, with the remaining members of our collaborative being contributors to the proposed initiative which could well be focused on the paraeducator career need noted in the preceding paragraph. This direction is viewed as essential if we are to maintain our progress on building institutional capacity within and across the collaborative institutions and remain responsive to the career needs of our diverse group of consumers.


Recounting the development of this program has provided a clear example of Palumbo's use of the term "retrospective rationality" for describing the process of organizational change. While there was always a plan and rationale for the implementation and institutionalization of the career ladder program for paraeducators, the goals and vision guiding that plan were altered significantly over time. As we worked to put our program in place, real student needs and structural obstacles continually shaped our decisions and strategies.

The model for change became an on-going process of negotiating what we wanted to do and what was possible to do, given the usual constraints of time, resources, and bureaucracies. Over the seven years that elapsed during the program's development, changes in credential policy, federal and state legislation, personnel, and labor markets were some of the forces that both disrupted and fueled our efforts.

We started out with the goal of developing a model of articulated training programs for paraeducators at the secondary and post-secondary levels (two-year and four-year colleges). What we have accomplished instead, is the institutionalization of a bachelor's degree program for paraeducators in transition services at California State University, Long Beach and an articulated outreach program with three school districts. We learned that the most effective way to recruit participants and to meet local training needs was to develop partnerships with local school districts that employ paraeducators. We learned that by bringing our training program to the source of training need (rather than an educational institution, such as a community college), we were more likely to garner support for and interest in the program.

Collaboration was and continues to be the most critical part of the change process. In working with school districts, collaboration with district administrators, union representatives, paraeducators, and teachers was essential in building a program that would work. On the university end, we enlisted the support of University College and Extension Services to design a program that would link nonacademic and academic training. We drew from our pool of program participants to provide training--one paraeducator from the ABC School District who recently graduated with her bachelor's degree is presently the student advisor at the University. Another graduate of the program has gone on to pursue a master's degree and has co-taught the paraeducator certificate program. Plans to co-sponsor a statewide conference with the California School Employees Association in Spring 1999 and the award of a three-year grant from the Department of Education to develop the partnerships with the participation districts and to expand the program continue the collaborative effort. On-going collaboration with the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services has kept the goals of the program in line with national standards in policy and practice.


DeFur, S. H. & Taymans, J. M. (1995). Competencies needed for transition specialists in vocational rehabilitation, vocational education and special education, Exceptional Children, 62(1), 38-51.

Morehouse, J. & Al bright, L. (1991). Training trends needs of paraprofessionals in transition serves delivery agencies, Teacher Education and Special Education, 14 (4), 248-256.

Palumbo, D. J. (1985). Forward: Future directions for research in policy studies. In Organizational Theory and Inquiry: The Paradigm Revolution. Yvonna s. Lincoln (Editor). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Pickett, A. L. (1989). Restructuring the schools: The Role of Paraprofessionals. Washington, D.C. Center for Policy Research, National Governor's Association.

Pascarella, E. T. & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How College Affects Students. San Francisco:


Safarik, L., Prather, M., Hanson, G., Guzman, G., Ryan, C., & Schwan, D. (1991). A career-ladder program for transition services personnel: A collaborative curriculum development approach. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Occupational Studies, California State University, Long Beach.

Lynn Safarik can be contacted at (562) 431-5716 or via e-mail at

1 East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program, (West Covina, CA); and Coastline Regional Occupational Program (Costa Mesa, CA).

2 Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut, CA); Rancho Santiago College (Santa Ana, CA); and Coastline Community College (Costa Mesa, CA), Cypress College (Cypress, CA).

3 ABC Unified School District, Cerritios, CA, Bellflower Unified School District, Lakewood, CA and San Juan Capistrano Unified School District, San Juan Capistrano, CA.

4 The Bachelor's of Vocational Education (BVE) degree program is a non-traditional in that many students may obtain academic credit for work and teaching experience. The process for completing this degree requires application to the State Board of Examiners for Vocational Teachers (California State Department of Education). Based on the Swan Bill, state legislation passed in 1943, vocational educators who have a least seven years experience in an occupational field plus 1,620 hours of full-time teaching (or 1,000 hours part-time teaching) and are state credentialed vocational instructors can qualify for the degree.This degree recognizes the prior educational, technical, instructional, and professional experience of the adult student. The application process is highly structured; students compile a portfolio in which the State Board evaluates hours, years, and months of experience both quantitatively and qualitatively two times a year. Students receiving the BVE are required to complete the state- and university-mandated general education requirements as well as departmentally established vocational education requirements for the 124-unit degree.Students may be granted up to 40 units through the Swan Bill process. However, many adult students enter their program with a significant number of transfer units from other institutions and Swan Bill units are often satisfying the students elective unit requirements.

Paraprofessional Certification Program

Wanda Cook-Robinson
Assistant Superintendent, Oakland Schools, Waterford, Michigan

Introduction: Why Certification?

The specifics may vary from state to state, but the central arguments in favor of paraeducator certification are the same no matter where you work. In testimony before the Maryland General Assembly, Baltimore Teachers Union paraeducator representatives outlined the benefits of certification:

  • A carefully constructed certification program would give formal recognition to the importance of the work of paraeducators. It would establish a permanent place for them as valued members of the education team.
  • By setting standards and mandating specified training and experience, certification would guarantee higher level of quality in the services that paraeducators provide.
  • A good certification program would offer paraeducators real opportunities for upward mobility. With easy access to advanced training, paraeducators who worked hard and made the grade could move forward in their careers. This, in turn, would make it a more attractive and long-term career, helping to draw more qualified people to the ranks.
  • Certification would provide a clearer definition of the differentiated skills that are associated with different jobs and higher levels of responsibility and would enable districts to connect training to jobs. In many school districts, the duties of paraeducators vary widely. In some situations, they are expected to do things for which they are neither qualified nor paid; in others, their talents are underutilized.

Oakland Public School Paraeducator Certification Program

The use of paraeducators in pre-primary (ages 2 ½5) through 12th grade is increasing, leading to a multifaceted role for the paraeducator. To meet the changing demands for the paraeducator, the Student Performance Team of the Oakland Schools has developed a structured training program that leads to paraeducator certification.

The voluntary, interactive, and performance-based program requires the paraeducator who provides direct services to students to complete the following for certification:

  • 15 hours of structured training sessions in the following areas:
    • The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom
    • Communication Skills
    • Classroom Management Techniques
    • Populations, Pathogens, Procedures, and Precautions (PPPP)
    • Student Populations
    • Strategies of Instructions; and
  • 105 hours of one-the-job skill and knowledge application.

The roles and responsibilities of those involved in the certification program are:

  • Paraeducator
    • Attend the six structured training sessions
    • Demonstrate skill and knowledge competency for each structured session
    • Participate in evaluation discussions with supervising teacher or building administrator
  • Supervising Teacher
    • Coach the paraeducator in competency areas of each structured session
    • Observe the paraeducator in on-the-job demonstration of competencies for each session
    • Participate in evaluation discussions with the paraeducator
  • Building Administrator
    • Meet with paraeducator and supervising teacher to verify completion of the certification process
  • Oakland Schools Student Performance Team
    • Designs, presents, and supports structured training sessions
    • Verifies paraeducator participation in sessions (by stamping Worktext)
    • Prepares and forwards a Completion Certificate to paraeducator (when a Xerox copy of page 21 from their Worktext has been signed by a building administrator and forwarded to the Oakland Schools).

Features of the Paraeducator Certification Program

  • This program is voluntary.
  • Its structured training sessions are designed to provide basic skills to support students in the classroom.
  • The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom is the cornerstone of the program and must be attended before attending other sessions.
  • Participants will receive the program 3-ring binder and Worktext when they attend The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom.
  • After attending The Role of the Paraeducator in the Classroom , the five remaining sessions may be attended in any order desired (based on space availability).
  • Only structured training sessions that are designed and developed by Oakland Schools and endorsed by our Board of Education are part of the certification process.
  • Student Expectation is divided into age-appropriate sessions, elementary and secondary. Attendees are required to attend one of these sessions, but may attend others if they wish.
  • In addition to these sessions, each paraeducator must attend sessions on Strategies of Instruction, Communication Skills, Classroom Management, and a Population, Pathogens, Procedures, and Precautions (PPPP).
  • The time schedule for sessions (4:30-7:00 PM) was selected after surveying paraeducators on their best times to attend.
  • Oakland Schools is responsible for all record keeping of session attendance.
  • Participants must bring their Worktext to each structured session and have it stamped by an Oakland Schools staff member after completion of the session.
  • Classroom skill and knowledge competency for each structured session may not take place prior to session attendance.
  • Worktext pages must be initialed by a teacher and/or building supervisor after classroom skill and knowledge demonstration.
  • After completion of the six structured training sessions and classroom skill and knowledge demonstration, the paraeducator must meet with the building administrator and teacher to have the ãCertification Application Verification Formä signed.
  • A copy of the signed form is forwarded to Oakland Schools by the paraeducator.
  • Upon receipt, Oakland Schools will prepare and distribute a Completion Certificate.

On-the-Job-Skill and Knowledge Application

In response to continuing questions regarding the 105 hours of one-the-job knowledge and application requirement, the program Advisory Committee found that:

  • The 105 hours of on-the-job knowledge application requirement of the Paraeducator Certification Program are in addition to the 15 hours of structured training sessions. The certification training program is a process that involves demonstration and discussion of outcomes for each session.
  • The 105 hours can begin as soon as the paraeducator takes the first structured training session (The Role of the Paraeducator) and received the Worktext. The hours cannot end before the paraeducator completes the last of the six sessions. The time that it takes to complete the 105 hours of on-the-job training is dependent on how the paraeducator schedules attendance at the sessions and the demonstrated outcome observations with the supervising teacher.
  • If a paraeducator works with several teachers or in more than one building, he or she must choose which teacher and/or administrator will assist him or her through the completion of the certification process.
  • The Paraeducator Certification Program was developed for the working paraeducator, but it is important to understand that the 105 hours are not merely hours spent working, but hours focused on demonstrating the required outcomes to the supervising teacher over a period of time.Ê As the paraeducator attends each structured session, he or she should return to his or her worksite and focus on the anticipated outcomes as outlined in the Paraeducator Worksheet. The period of focus could be several days or weeks. There are no time limitations for demonstration each session.
  • Remember, the 105 hours are a summary of the skills learned during the six structured sessions.

Overview of the Paraeducator Certification Session Content

The Role Of The Paraeducator In The Classroom
Paraeducators will learn techniques and strategies for working with students as well as gaining support to build positive classroom teams with teachers. Practical how-to steps will be presented through the use of simulations, role play, and small-group discussion. All participants should come prepared to get involved.

Communication Skills
This 2 ½hour session will emphasize verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Participants will receive models illustrating examples of good communication. Communication perceptions and misperceptions will be thoroughly investigated through skill practice. Paraeducators will have opportunities to increase and enhance communication skills for use in the classroom through role playing both good and poor communication in the school setting and then analyze how to improve.

Student Expectations This session will be divided into age-appropriate sessions to investigate the various developmental stages of children and youth:

Elementary - This 2 ½hour session will look at how students think, grow, and interact with friends and teachers. The paraeducator will learn to use information to motivate, work with, and manage student behavior.

Secondary - This 2 ½hour session will focus on the principles of adolescent development. The paraeducator will explore strategies for effective communication and instructional support in the secondary classroom.

Classroom Management Techniques During this 2 ½hour session, the paraeducator will have opportunities to investigate aspects of classroom management, including proactive decisions that can reduce off-task behavior, while helping students make the best of learning time, and reasons that students misbehave and some appropriate responses that the paraeducator can apply to redirect the behavior.

Stratgies Of Instruction
This 2 ½ hour session will investigate the following paraeducator roles

  • offering teacher support in instruction
  • modifying instructional materials to work with students
  • tutoring individual students
  • effective instruction methods

Population, Pathogens, Procedures, And Precautions (Pppp)
This 2½ hour sessions will provide an overview of student disabilities by category with typical characteristics described, including instructional and/or behavioral strategies. Paraeducators will travel through the maze of special education while invaluable information about universal precautions and blood-borne pathogens is imparted. This hands-on, interactive workshop provides user-friendly materials in a programmed format to keep everyone involved, interested, and informed.

All 28 local school districts in the Oakland system are participating in the Paraeducator Certification Program. The total number of paraeducators enrolled is 1200.

Wanda Cook-Robinson
Assistant Superintendent
School Performance Team
Oakland Schools
2100 Pontiac Lake Rd
Waterford MI 48328
Phone (248) 209-2047

The Los Angeles Unified School District Paraeducator Career Ladder Programs

Steve Brandick Director, Paraeducator Career

There is a need for teachers who reflect the changing demographics of Los Angeles. There is also a shortage of elementary, bilingual, mathematics, science, and special education teachers. However, among the 15,000 paraeducators who assist teachers in classrooms throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are many who have both the desire and ability to help meet these needs. The great majority are from the community in which they work. All have experience working with children and many have expressed the desire to become teachers, but they have encountered such obstacles as time, money, family responsibilities, or passing the CBEST exam.

In 1990, the California legislature established the California School Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program to address several key issues and opportunities in the stateâs public schools. The primary purpose of the program is to create local career ladders that enable school paraprofessionals to become certificated classroom teachers. Additionally, the program was designed to:

  • respond to teacher shortages in areas of high need such as special education;
  • diversify the teaching profession;
  • establish innovative models for teacher education; and
  • improve instructional services that are provided by school paraprofessionals.

The core of the program consists of academic scholarships to defray the costs of tuition, books, and fees for paraprofessionals who complete college and university course work to meet teacher certification standards by earning college degrees and teaching credentials. Since 1994-95, the program has enabled 129 school paraprofessionals to become certificated classroom teachers and has enabled 600 other paraprofessionals to approach that goal.

In September 1994, the LAUSD Paraeducator Career Ladder was established as a joint project of the district and the Service Employees International Union, Local 99 in which there were pursuing careers as teachers and to guide them short fields. The program was designed on the California School Paraprofessionals Teacher Training Program model, but the LAUSD program went much further.

There are 13 California School Paraprofessional Teacher Training Programs throughout the state. However, LAUSD is the only program that has made an effort to become a model that is institutionalized and fully supported by the district. The LAUSD Career Ladder is open to all district paraeducators, not just the small group funded by the state. The Board of Education provided funds for development and initial implementation on a year-to-year basis from July 1995 and then established the program as part of the general fund budget in July 1996. The Career Ladder is now a unit within the Personnel Division and is an integral part of the districtâs recruitment strategy. It receives approximately $1 million annually; from district funds that support over 4000 participants. It also receives approximately $140,000 from the state in the form of a grant for a California School Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program that supports forty-five participants.

The Career Ladder also acts as a clearinghouse helping to disseminate information about other efforts to develop teachers. Currently, it is working with programs such as the USC Latino Teacher Project, CSULA Apprentice Teacher Program, CSULA Special Education Intern Program, CSUN Project COMETS (also a special education credential program), PACE at various community colleges, and Project Teach at East Los Angeles Colleges.

Career Ladder participants are placed on one of five levels based on education completed towards a teaching credential and demonstrated proficiency in a series of teaching-related performance areas. Progress towards a teaching credential is monitored through ongoing analysis of transcripts. Proficiency in performance areas is assessed through observation by the supervising teacher.

As participants increase their level of proficiency and progress towards a work for the district for a minimum of two years if offered a position. In return, participants are provided with educational advisement, support groups, mentoring, test preparation seminars, hiring assistance, and partial tuition reimbursement.

Results of the Career Ladder have been impressive. Since July 1995, over 800 program participants have been hired as teachers.

These new teachers are 85% people of color and 65 bilingual. 12% have gone into special education. Reports from the field indicate that they are generally having success and come to the profession with skills that few other new teachers possess. In addition, 97% of Career Ladder participants hired as teachers since July 1995 are still teaching for the district. By bringing together the needs of schools and the aspirations of a vital group of employees, the education of students has been improved.

During the first half of the 1998-1999 school year, resources have been focused upon improving program components to maximize the number of participants that become district teachers.

The following describes the current status of the program.

New Teachers

From July 1, 1998 through October 30, 1998, 262 participants became K-12 teachers, 62% became elementary teachers and 24% entered the field of special education. The ethnic diversity of these teachers continues to reflect the diversity of the LAUSD student population.


The Fall edition of Education , the oldest education journal in the United States, features the Career Ladder through photographs on the front and back covers, an article by Superintendent Rubin Zacarias, and a cover article co-written by Mr. Steve Brandick, Career Ladder Director and Dr. John McGowan, Career Ladder On-Campus Adviser at California State University, Dominguez Hills. In addition, the journal presented Mr. Brandick and Dr. McGowan with a Special Merit Award for Project Innovation.

Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program (PTTP)

The PTTP is a grant program funded by the State of California through the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC). The proposal, as funded, specifies that participants must be Career Ladder enrollees at Level 3, 4, or 5 with a minimum 2.75 GPA studying at CSUDH. The original participants were chosen in an open competition held in Fall 1994. When the CCTC expanded funding to the LAUSD PTTP in February 1998, fifteen new participants were selected from among Career Ladder Outstanding Teacher Candidates at CSUDH. In 1998-1999, the LAUSD PTTP entered its fifth year. Funding for the year is $153,000 which brings the total received to $646,000.

Outstanding Teacher Candidates

These OTC's are Career Ladder participants who are nominated by their schools to receive a $3000 annual stipend. OTCâs must maintain a minimum 2.75 GPA and complete nine semester units each semester or eight quarter units each quarter. There are 58 active recipients, and 138 former recipients who are now teachers. Application is currently open for new recipients.

Implementation Of Apprentice Teacher Program

This program is an alternative route to teacher certification for LAUSD Paraeducator Career Ladder participants pursuing teaching careers in elementary education. It was developed by the Career Ladder Office in collaboration with the California State University, Los Angeles Charter School of Education. In two years, participants complete requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Child Development and a preliminary multiple subjects credential at CSULA. This is done by integrating upper division requirements with credential course work and by weaving structured paraeducator classroom experiences into the course work. The first cohort of 31 participants began with the Winter 1999 quarter. Applications for the second cohort are currently being accepted. This cohort began in Fall 1999.

Pilot Programs In Development

The Career Ladder Office is currently developing three new programs: 1) a collaboration with CSUDH to implement a blended program that integrates undergraduate requirements with credential requirements for paraeducators, 2) a collaboration with the Multicultural Alliance and Americorps to extend support to Career Ladder participants working on credentials as emergency permit teachers, and 3) a collaboration with USC to provide stipends to encourage participants to complete traditional teacher training programs.

Expanded Test Preparation Program

The Career Ladder has added Math Praxis to its array of test preparation services offered to Career Ladder participants, other district employees, and LAUSD teacher candidates.

This year there will be four CBEST seminars, five MSAT seminars and one Math Praxis seminar.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of test preparation seminars has proved challenging because results are confidential and the testing companies have refused to send results of seminar participants directly to LAUSD. The Career Ladder Office has begun a campaign to obtain the results directly from seminar participants. A complete evaluation of the program will be conducted in June 1999.

Implementation Of Revised Performance Assessments

During 1997-1998, Performance Assessments were revised for the first time since 1994. The revision was made: 1) to make Performance Assessments more useful as a teacher training tool, and 2) to bring them into alignment with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.

Open Application And Support Group Recruitment

Eligible employees may now apply to the Career Ladder at any time during the year by attending a Support Group meeting and obtaining the signature of the Support Provider. Participants may also apply at informational meetings held each November and April. Open application makes it possible for Support Providers to recruit members. Individual schools may also begin on-site Support Groups if they can maintain attendance of fifteen program participants.

Currently, there are 55 Support Groups that are organized by high school complex. These groups meet once every two months with a Support Provider, an experienced teacher who acts as a mentor to the group.

On-Campus Adviser Services

On-Campus Advisers are faculty members at CSUDH, CSULA, CSULB, and CSUN who provide additional advisement to Career Ladder participants whether or not they are enrolled at the institution. The Career Ladder Office monitors services and makes adjustments where necessary;. For 1998-1999, advisement services were expanded at CSULA. A minimal amount of hours are offered at CSULB due to the small number of program participants who enroll in that institution. Services at CSUN have been temporarily discontinued because of difficulties obtaining services requested in the contract.

Participant Satisfaction Survey

The program was evaluated in June 1998 by participants through the annual Participant Satisfaction Survey. Generally high marks were received.

The Ladder

The Career Ladder newsletter, The Ladder, is published quarterly and now has a distribution if 6000. Copies are sent to all schools and offices, all past and present participants, and a growing mailing list of other interested persons and organizations throughout the country.

Career Ladder Informational Packet

During the week of January 4, 1999 the Career Ladder Office distributed an informational packet to all schools. The packet included a brochure, a poster, a program application, and a twenty-minute informational video developed by Career Ladder staff.

LA Unified School District
450 N. Grand Avenue, Room P-218
Los Angeles, CA 90012

The North Dakota Community Staff Training Program

by Demetrios Vassiliou and Mary Mercer

When this article was written in October 1997, Demetrios Vassiliou was Director of Outreach, Training, and Technical Assistance at the Minot State University Center for Persons with Disabilities. Mary Mercer was the Project Manager for the Community Staff Training Program. She is now the Community Staff Training Project Director.


North Dakota has a landmass of 70,665 square miles and a population of approximately 625,000 with a population density of nine persons per square mile. Distances between cities are vast. Community centered facilities providing services to persons with developmental disabilities are scattered throughout the state. This training program is a model that uniquely meets the needs of rural states. Using a circuit rider approach, technical assistance is provided to the designated regional trainers who work with provider staff dispersed throughout the state. The training program, with its career ladder options, is available and accessible to every community-based agency and every employee providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities in North Dakota.

Historical Background

Historically, individuals with mental retardation/developmental disabilities have been separated from the main stream of community life. They were often restricted in their personal freedoms and segregated in institutions without adequate treatment, education, habilitation, or medical care. At the turn of the century in North Dakota, institutions were built to protect individuals with disabilities and to alleviate the burden for their families. Although those institutions were built with the best intent, they gradually became the only service option available for individuals with mental retardation. By 1966, the population at Grafton State School and its San Haven satellite had reached an all-time high of 1400 residents. By the late 70s, North Dakota had institutionalized more persons per capita and spent less on institutional services than any other state in the nation.

In 1980, the North Dakota Association of Retarded Citizens filed a suit against state officials enumerating deficiencies in services to the state's citizens with mental retardation. In the years that have followed, hundreds of residents have moved from the Grafton State School and San Haven State Hospital to community programs located all over the state. It is this transfer of residents from the large institutional settings to smaller facilities in the local communities that has dramaticallyincreased the need for qualified and specialized direct service staff to provide programming in the areas of domestic, vocational, recreational, behavior management, and other skills.

In June 1982, the Department of Human Services began actively to pursue the development of a statewide training system for direct service staff working in community facilities serving individuals with mental retardation/developmental disabilities. One of the first activities undertaken in developing the Community Staff Training Program was to identify a competency-based training program consisting of self-contained instructional modules that would address the skills and knowledge necessary for direct service staff. After reviewing several training programs, the Kellogg Model Curriculum based on the Value-Based Skill Training Curriculum for Community-Based Mental Retardation Programs developed at the Meyer Children's Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center was selected as the most appropriate vehicle for training.

The training program was initially federally funded for a period of 18 months. When the federal funding ended, the Department of Human Services continued its funding and contracted with Minot State University to implement it.

Collaborative Efforts

While similar training programs have come and gone, the North Dakota Community Staff Training Program continues to grow, adapt, and adjust to the ever-changing demands and needs of people with disabilities and those who serve them. Critical to the programâs success has been the collaborative relationships among the Department of Human Services, Minot State University, and community provider agencies.

Each of the three entities involved has well-defined objectives and responsibilities regarding the implementation of the training program. The Department of Human Services contracts with Minot State University and provides funding for the administration of the program. A person from the Department of Human Services is appointed to act as a liaison with Minot State University and community providers. The liaison attends the quarterly DD regional trainersâ meetings and provides feedback to the participants. The Department of Human Services reimburses the community agencies for the salaries of their trainer(s) and pays for printing expenses of curriculum materials and staff time spent in training activities (50 hours per year).

The North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities (NDCPD), a University Affiliated Program (UAP) at Minot State University (MSU), the second partner in the training endeavor, occupies a unique position in the state of North Dakota. It works very closely with allied disciplines within the university, as well as with other state agencies and organizations providing services and promoting the interests of people with disabilities. MSU with its UAP and its very strong Special Education programs provides training to trainers and on-site technical assistance. It performs needs assessments, conducts research, and develops training curricula, training videotapes, and other training materials. It maintains the centralized record-keeping system, issues degrees and certificates, and disseminates training materials to agencies and individuals serving individuals with developmental disabilities.

North Dakota community-based agencies make up the third entity in the statewide training program partnership. They hire regional trainers who are responsible for the staff development in each location. Salaries for these trainers are included in the funding provided to them by the Department of Human Services. These state-certified regional trainers are linked to the University and have helped the system remain accountable to changing agency needs. They keep training records and assist MSU staff in surveys and assessments and provide feedback for curriculum development and revision. In addition, they serve on management teams and participate in committees within the local agency.

Training Delivery

Staff trainers are responsible for preparing, providing, and/or conducting instructional inservice programs and other training activities for personnel within the agency they serve. Trainers utilize other experts within or out of the agency to train their staff and they schedule training according to the needs of individual staff. The curriculum is designed to allow for the use of a variety of training options, techniques, and methods (i.e., self-instruction, group instruction, and on-the-job training). The option to test-out is made available to staff with previous training/expertise in specific areas.

Individuals selected for the trainer's position must possess a bachelorâs degree or advanced degree in a related field, preferably special education, psychology, social work, or nursing. Teaching and work experience in the area of developmental disabilities are among the criteria considered for selection.

Trainers meet on a quarterly basis to discuss issues and problems related to the statewide training program. In addition, to the routine agenda items related to program mechanics, "Train the Trainer" sessions, workshops, and informational presentations are conducted. This is a good opportunity for the trainers to get acquainted, exchange views and information, and share ideas, questions and concerns regarding training practices.

This network of trainers provides input in curriculum development and revisions that reflect the ever-changing needs of community providers. Since the inception of the training program in July of 1983, the initial Kellogg Curriculum has been expanded and modified resulting in a very comprehensive training program consisting of 37 training modules covering a range of training competencies. Direct input by agency representatives ensures commitment to the future of the statewide training program.

Career Ladder

The North Dakota Community Staff Training Program has been structured in such a way as to provide career ladder growth opportunities to direct service staff who have the desire and willingness to develop professionally. Seven levels of competency-based training are recognized in the mental retardation/developmental disabilities system. These are:

Level I: Orientation Training:

Community Service Providers are to provide in-service training to full-time direct service staff, prior to the staff membersâ assuming direct responsibility for the individuals they serve. Although not required, the agency is encouraged to consider this requirement in whole or in part for direct service staff who are part-time or relief.

Level II: Position-Based Competency:

Position-Based Competency is required of all positions in agencies serving individuals with mental retardation/developmental disabilities. The executive director in cooperation with the staff trainer, must develop job descriptions for each position, stating the competencies necessary for an individual to fulfill the responsibilities of the position.

Level III: Certificate of Completion:

This is issued to staff members who successfully meet the competencies established for the certificate by the Department of Human Services. It requires successful completion of nine core modules, five elective modules, and a course of supervised field experiences. The agency selects electives from the curriculum based on a staff memberâs specific job responsibilities.

Level IV: Advanced Certification:

Staff members of agency organizations who have already acquired the certificate of completion have the option to pursue the advanced certification program. It consists of ten additional modules dealing with a variety of training issues including aging, communication, leisure, behavior management, traumatic brain injury, and basic health. Staff members who successfully complete the advanced certification requirements are issued an additional certificate.

Level V: Associate of Arts in DD

: MSU will award this degree upon satisfactory completion of the designated 27 semester hours of developmental disabilities coursework and 38 semester hours of general education coursework. The A.A. degree coursework is available only to personnel employed in approved residential and day programs serving persons with mental retardation/developmental disabilities.

Level VI: Bachelor of Science in Mental Retardation (Non-Teaching)

Those who desire to pursue this degree after completion of the Associate of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities must confirm with MSU their intent to attend the university and earn it.

Level VII: Master of Science in Special Education

: Individuals may earn this degree at MSU after successful completion of a graduate course of study in the Severely Multi-Handicapped.

Developmental Disabilities Modules/Coursework

Following is a listing of the developmental disabilities modules/ coursework. Core modules are identified by one asterisk (*) and elective modules are identified by two asterisks (**) in the list which follows. Staff must complete practica that correspond to the core and elective modules submitted for their certification. All modules listed under the Sp.Ed. three-digit headings are the module content requirements for the Minot State University Associate of Arts degree coursework in Developmental Disabilities.

Sp.Ed.101 Introduction to DD Services (3SH)

*895.39 Supporting Individuals with Disabilities in the Community
*895.03 Legal Issues and Developmental Disabilities
*895.40 Team Planning
*895.41 Working with Families OR
*895.42 Job Coach Training Manual

Sp.Ed.111 Health Care in DD I (3SH)

*895.06 Medications Training
*895.07 CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)
*895.08 First Aid
**895.45 Nutrition OR
**895.46 Sexuality and DD
**895.47 Oral Hygiene & Dental Care
**895.48 Control of Infection and Communicable Disease
**895.49 Signs and Symptoms of Illness
**895.50 Nurse Assistant Training

Sp.Ed.112 Health Care in DD II (2 SH)

*895.10 Seizures
**895.11 Positioning, Turning and Transferring

Sp.Ed.120 Introduction to Behavior Management(3SH)

**895.51 Introduction to Behavior Management
**895.51 Principles of Behavior and Basic Behavior Intervention Procedures
**895.52 Designing and Implementing BehaviorIntervention Programs
**895.15 Writing Behavioral Objectives and Measuring Behavior

Sp.Ed.130 Organization of Leisure (1SH)

**895.19 Recreation and Leisure Training

Sp.Ed.140 Human Development (2 SH)

**895.21 Human Development (Condensed Version)
**895.22 Human Development I
**895.23 Human Development II

Sp.Ed.221 Techniques of Behavior Management (2SH)

**895.55 Assessment and Setting Goals
*895.18 Achieving Goals

Sp.Ed.225 Assisting People with Traumatic Brain Injury & their Families (2SH)

**895.56 Assisting People with Traumatic Brain Injury and their Families
**895.57 Beyond Brain Injury: A Manual for Supported Employment Providers

Sp.Ed.250 Developing Communicative Interaction (2SH)

**895.24 The Framework of Interaction and Communication
**895.25 Recognizing and Responding to the Many Forms of Communication
**895.26 Increasing Understanding
**895.27 Increasing Communication
**895.60ÊInterpersonal Communication

Sp.Ed.255 Aging and DD (3 SH)

**895.28 Introduction and Overview
**895.29 Medical and Health Issues
**895.30 Transitions and Social Adjustment
**895.31 Legal Issues
**895.32 Issues in Service Coordination

Sp.Ed.222 Supervised Field Experience in DD (4 SH)

*I Individual Program Plans
*II Medication Documentation and Storage
*III Administration of Medications
**IV Positioning, Turning and Transferring
*V Seizure Activity Documentation
**VI ABC Recording
**VII Frequency Recording
**VIII Writing Objectives
*IX Strengthening/Decreasing a Behavior
*X Individualized Instruction, etc.
** Aging and Developmental Disabilities
** Leisure/Recreation
** Communication

Compensation For Training Activities

Inservice training must be offered on a flexible schedule and at times that meet the needs of staff. The amount of reimbursable training time allotted to a full-time direct service staff is one hour during the normal work week schedule, which is to be matched by one hour outside the normally scheduled work hours. Successful completion of all modules that are required to attain certificate of completion described earlier qualifies professional and direct service staff for up to a 5% salary increase. Successful completion of an Associate of Arts degree when attained by previously non-degree direct service staff qualifies for a 7% salary increase. These allowances are not mutually exclusive. A staff member may qualify for the 5% increase and subsequently qualify for the additional 7% increase

Training Workshops

MSU organizes at least six workshops and a number of state and international conferences to meet additional training needs of direct and other developmental disability personnel as well as primary and secondary consumers. All workshops provide the opportunity to participants to enroll for Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Some workshops may offer undergraduate and graduate credit.

Audio-Visual Media Library

MSU's Department of Developmental Disabilities maintains a central audio-visual media library equipped with a variety of videocassettes appropriate for training. Staff trainers may request to borrow and use them in their training activities.

Centralized Data System

The Community Staff Training Program maintains a computerized database of training activities for every staff member participating in the training program. Staff trainers keep their own computerized data system as well.

Staff Turnover

Staff turnover appears to be a chronic problem for agencies/organizations serving individuals with developmental disabilities. Surveys of administrators of institutional and community facilities indicate that the recruitment and retention of direct service staff members are considered to be major concerns (Vassiliou, D., & Askvig, B.,1991). A high turnover rate significantly affects the availability of training staff and the costs of training for agencies and the state-funding source. North Dakota is clearly part of this national problem.

Vassiliou and Ferrara (1997) reported a 54% turnover rate in their study of staff (N=610) employed by twenty North Dakota agencies providing services to people with disabilities. There was, however, a considerable variability across categories and positions. Among administrative staff, the turnover rate was 10%. There was a great discrepancy between the rates for full-time (31%) and part-time direct service staff (88%). Part-time employees constitute 46% of the total workforce.

Wages were found to be significant predictor of staff turnover for all employee groups. There was a significant (p<.01) relationship between certification training and length of employment. The average length of employment for certified staff was 69 months versus 25 months for non-certified staff. The number of resignations varied throughout the year. The smallest number of employees (70) resigned in December and the largest number (120) resigned in June. This could be attributed to the large number of students who are part-time employees who leave when classes are over.

It appears that people who leave their jobs are divided into three groups with different characteristics:

Student employees are a temporary work force and will leave regardless of wages, unless they choose the DD services as a profession.

A second group of employees are those for whom DD service work is a job of last resort. These individuals are not particularly interested in the work and they leave when another position becomes available.

The third group of employees enjoys the work, likes their co-workers and the people with whom they work, but are forced out of DD services because of a mediocre salary.Ê Working at the community facility simply becomes a luxury they can no longer afford.

Agencies need to be cognizant of these employee differences.Ê Studentsâ turnover is predictable and agencies must weigh the benefits versus longevity. Turnover rate among less interested employees is healthy.Ê Better screening procedures may reduce the turnover associated with this group. On the other hand, losing dedicated and interested employees is detrimental to the agency and the consumer. Administrators must provide salaries and benefits that are high enough to allow them to continue their employment with the community facilities.

Training Results

Fourteen years have past since the initiation of the North Dakota Community Staff Training Program. Since 1983, the training program has experienced a steady growth, maturing and evolving to keep pace with the expansion and training needs of the stateâs community-based programs and services. Using a career ladder approach, over 18,000 staff from agencies across the state has received training. Exactly 3,160 individuals have completed certification requirements since the programâs inception. Approximately 100 individuals have successfully completed the Associate of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities. Some trainees continued their studies and graduated with a bachelors and a masters degree in Special Education/Developmental Disabilities.

Survey of graduates: Twenty-one individuals who completed the requirements for the Associate of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities were surveyed (1994). Some of the questions and answers are listed below:

  • Why did you choose to pursue the Associate of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities?
  • The opportunity was so convenient that I felt I could not pass it up.
  • Having the classes offered right at my place of employment was really a big incentive.
  • The price per credit was so low it was irresistible.
  • It was a wonderful opportunity to get a degree. Many businesses do not offer this. I thought it would increase my chances to advance my career in this agency.
  • The training helped me as a case manager. It provided very good practical information. It updated my previous coursework and made my knowledge more current and accurate.
  • It made me more qualified in the field.
  • I did not have to drive a long distance.
  • It was a validation of my 12 years of experience in the field of Developmental Disabilities.
  • It increased my knowledge and improved my job performance.
  • How did the degree help you in your profession?It allowed me to keep my job.
  • The training applied directly to the daily requirements of my job.
  • It gave me skills to assist the population I serve and confidence to pursue a higher degree.
  • The education has been very valuable.
  • I've been assigned more job responsibilities.
  • It provided me with a good foundation and I have been given several promotions since I completed the Associate of Arts degree.
  • It opened the door to three different jobs in three different cities in the state.
  • The training program made me better prepared to work in programs providing services to people with disabilities than training I have received in the state where I now work. I wish they had the same program in this state.
  • I got hooked on increasing my educational base. I eventually completed an endorsement in regular education, and earned a Masters Degree.
  • The career ladder approach encourages staff members to learn more about their jobs.
  • As staff members achieved higher levels of training, I witnessed a growth in self-esteem. They began setting goals for themselves and believed that they could learn and grow.

Success Stories

Marilyn Jensen is the Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Group Homes, Inc. in Hazen, North Dakota. This is an eight bed congregate care home for elderly people with developmental disabilities. When Marilyn began working as a direct care worker for Knife River Group Homes, in 1985, she was realizing a long forgotten dream of working with people with disabilities. After completing her certification in Developmental Disabilities, her family encouraged her to continue studying and complete the composite tests for college credit. She attended classes on weekends, summers, and evenings for the general education credits required and Marilyn became one of approximately 100 individuals who have successfully completed the Associate of Arts degree in DD. Over the next few years she continued to take classes here and there as they fit into her family and work schedule. In May of 1996, Marilyn graduated from MSU with a Bachelor in Social Work. Marilynâs own words: 'For the first time in my life, I feel like I am somebody, and I know it would not have happened if it had not been for the statewide training program offered by Minot State University. It was so accommodating'.

Dora Cowell began her work with children with developmental disabilities as a co-owner of a daycare in a small rural community in southwestern North Dakota.

As a substitute direct service worker for a local developmental disabilities provider, she became involved in the statewide training program. 'The training offered by Able Inc., an agency providing services to people with disabilities, allowed me to work at my own pace and gave me a variety of basic information that provided a solid beginning in the area of Special Education.' Dora ultimately devoted a year to pursuing her Bachelors Degree in Special Education and now teaches Special Education. She is enrolled in a graduate program at MSU seeking a Masters Degree in Learning Disabilities.


In the past 15 years North Dakota has experienced rapid and dramatic changes in the way it treats its citizens with mental retardation/ developmental disabilities. Since 1982, hundreds of individuals with mental retardation, who were residing in the state institutions, moved to communities throughout the state. Group homes, indiidualized apartments, employment opportunities, and rehabilitation services have been established to meet the increasing needs of these individuals. Early in this process, Minot State University was invited by the Department of Human Services to develop and implement a statewide community staff-training program.

A 'train the trainer to train the staff' approach has been used on a statewide basis, to train the staff of community facilities providing services to individuals with lifelong disabilities. The training program is a model that uniquely meets the needs of rural states. Using a ãcircuit riderä approach, technical assistance is provided to the designated regional trainers, who work with provider staff dispersed throughout the state. The training program, with its career options, is available and accessible to every agency and every employee providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities in North Dakota.

The success and the longevity of the training program has greatly depended on the collaboration and synergy that has gradually developed between the Department of Human Services, Community Facilities, and Minot State University. Utilizing the combined expertise, roles and responsibilities, trust, teamwork, and collaboration developed through the years, the collaborative endeavor continues to grow, by assimilating and accommodating the ever changing training needs of staff members and the consumers they serve.


Mitchell, D. & Braddock D. (1994). Compensation and turnover of direct-care-staff in developmental disabilities residential facilities in the United States II: Turnover. Mental Retardation, 32, 34-42.

Vassiliou, D., & Askvig, B. (1991). Factors related to staff longevity and turnover in a facility serving persons with DD. North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities, Minot State University.

Vassiliou, D., and Mercer, M. (1994). Career ladder approach to training for community facilities personnel in North Dakota. New Directions: The Newsletter of the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services, Center for Advanced Study in Education, City University of New York, Vol. 15, No. 1.

Vassiliou, D., and Ferrara, J. (1997). Factors related to staff longevity and turnover in facilities serving North Dakota Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities, Minot State University.

The Paraprofessional Academy

by Thalia Moshoyannis, Director

The Paraprofessional Academy was established in 1993 with the purpose of addressing chronic problems in retaining, training, and providing career advancement opportunities for New York City Board of Education (BOE) paraprofessionals and direct service workers employed by public and non-profit agencies serving children and adults with special needs. The project is located at The Center for Advanced Study in Education (CASE) which is part of The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York (CUNY). The goals of the Paraprofessional Academy are to: 1) develop and implement strategies for increasing the capacity of CUNY to meet the educational and career needs of paraprofessional worker-students; 2) strengthen partnerships of CUNY institutions with the BOE, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the New York State Department of Education (NYSDOE), the NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (NYSOMR/DD), and non-profit provider agencies; and 3) serve as a locus for assistance to paraprofessionals to gain access to and make more effective use of CUNY services.

The two primary activities conducted by the Paraprofessional Academy are academic planning/career counseling and the coordination of a two-course continuing education sequence. The counseling services are available to all 16,800 BOE paraprofessionals. They can take advantage of individual, group, and telephone counseling as they deem appropriate. Workshops in career development and advancement are offered throughout the year as well.

The Paraprofessional Academy's auxiliary activities include strengthening and expanding partnerships with city, state, and non-profit provider agencies, CUNY institutions, and unions such as the UFT. The Project Advisory Committee of the Paraprofessional Academy, which meets about four times a year, is comprised of individuals from CUNY community and senior colleges, the BOE, UFT, NYSDOE, NYSOMR/DD. The purpose of these meetings is to share ideas and concerns related to the educational and training needs of paraprofessionals, keep abreast of current changes in policy at the local and state level regarding paraprofessional and teacher certification requirements, and remain informed of new developments in the field that may be of interest to paraprofessionals. Over the years, the members of the Project Advisory Committee have worked collaboratively to provide the best possible programs to paraprofessionals.

The Paraprofessional Academy periodically conducts research and shares findings with members of the Project Advisory Committee and the Deans of CUNY teacher preparation programs. During the Spring of 1998, an extensive survey research project was conducted with paraprofessionals and teachers working in NYC public schools. The first two surveys were sent to paraprofessionals and dealt with roles and responsibilities in the classroom and barriers to education and training opportunities respectively. The third survey was sent to teachers and concerned the use of paraprofessionals in the classroom. The findings were reported to the members of the Project Advisory Committee in the Fall of 1998.

Career Training Program

The Career Training Program (CTP), which has been in existence since 1970, is part of a contractual agreement between the BOE and the UFT, allowing paraprofessionals to take up to 18 credits a year free of charge at 17 colleges of CUNY and 5 private colleges. Paraprofessionals are also eligible for salary increases and accompanying changes in title as they take courses and climb the career ladder. The incentive of a salary increase is in place to serve as a motivator to earn college credits.

Because paraprofessionals can choose from among 22 colleges, countless programs of study, and two types of student status (matriculated and non-matriculated), there exists much confusion regarding college study. Unfortunately, paraprofessionals do not always have easy access to counselors at the colleges in which they are taking courses. Many paraprofessionals opt to attend college as non-matriculated students (non-degree). This status does not provide for academic advisement and, because of this, many paraprofessionals take coursework that will ultimately count as elective credit if they decide to pursue a degree. The Paraprofessional Academy fills this academic planning/career counseling void by offering free counseling services to all paraprofessionals regardless of their matriculation status. Through a variety of vehicles including individual appointment, telephone counseling, and group workshops, worker-students are taught the connection between choosing a major and choosing a career. How a particular degree may be applied to the world of work is critical in helping the paraprofessional to choose coursework wisely. For paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers, the Academy provides them with up-to-date information from the NYSDOE regarding provisional and permanent certification requirements.

Many paraprofessionals enjoy their profession and intend on remaining paraprofessionals. For them, the opportunity to receive salary increases and become highly skilled in their chosen occupation exists at the community colleges of CUNY. There they can major in Early Childhood/Day Care or receive an Education Associate degree. It should be noted that obtaining an Education Associate degree is akin to obtaining an Associate degree in paraprofessionalism. It does not mean that a paraprofessional is halfway towards obtaining teacher certification, much as licensed practical nurses are not halfway towards becoming registered nurses upon completion of their training requirements. Should a paraprofessional who wishes to become a teacher find him- or herself at a community college, the best course of action would be to major in Liberal Arts as these courses are the most likely to be transferred easily to the four-year colleges of CUNY and count as fulfilling requirements in liberal arts. Due to a lack of articulation among the various colleges that comprise the CUNY system, students who choose to transfer among its schools often find that the coursework taken at one school will not meet requirements at another. Valuable time is lost when students need to make-up coursework. The counselors at the Academy are always searching for ways to inform students of this potential hazard during the transfer process.

Paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers are urged to begin study at a four-year college where they can fulfill all of their Liberal Arts and Science Area Requirements (LASAR) as well as requirements in their co-major of Education. The State of New York mandates that would-be teachers not only major in Education but co-major in another subject area.

Continuing Education

Not every paraprofessional intends to obtain a college degree. At present, New York State requires that all paraprofessionals possess a G.E.D. or a high school diploma when they are hired. Paraprofessionals then have one year from the date on which they were hired to complete six college credits, which the BOE will pay for. Paraprofessionals who do not meet the six credit minimum requirement before the first year anniversary of their date of hire are terminated.

After completing that requirement, many paraprofessionals opt not to continue with college study; however, they do welcome opportunities to take advantage of available training. Such opportunities include conferences, workshops, lectures, seminars, or continuing education courses. Paraprofessionals who are interested in expanding upon their classroom skills may take advantage of the Paraprofessional Development Continuing Education Program. It began in the Fall of 1995 and has enhanced the ability of over 1,800 paraprofessionals to more effectively support teachers in the classroom. Two courses (CE I and CE II) are offered at the following CUNY campuses: Lehman College (Bronx), York College (Queens), Medgar Evers College (Brooklyn), City College (Manhattan), and The College of Staten Island. Students receive three continuing education units as well as a certificate of completion for each course. The BOE allows paraprofessionals to apply these continuing education units towards potential salary increases. Paraprofessionals who have a G.E.D., I.E.P. diploma, or a high school diploma can also take these two continuing education courses to meet their NYS six -credit requirement. The credits, however, may not be applied toward a college degree.

Course I topics are:

  • Strengthening the Instructional Team
  • Human & Legal Rights of Children and Youth With Disabilities & their Families
  • Human Development
  • The Instructional Process
  • Appreciating Diversity

Course II topics are:

  • New Dimensions in the Roles & Responsibilities of Paraprofessionals
  • The School and the Community
  • Communications/Problem-Solving Strategies
  • Instructional Methods & Behavior Management Techniques
  • Child Safety and Health Issues

A critical component of the Paraprofessional Development Continuing Education Program is that students receive systematic academic planning and career counseling. For students who take Course I, a two-hour presentation focusing on how to take full advantage of the Career Training program, effectively navigate the CUNY system, and make use of available services is held on-site where students are taking the continuing education course. The counselor challenges students who have been out of college for a while to consider obtaining a degree.

Participants in Course II are given the Holland Self-Directed Search, an interest inventory used in career counseling. The discussion that follows focuses on how students' unique interests are related to career choices. Once again, the connection between choosing a major and choosing a career is explored. Students are then encouraged to make individual appointments with the counselor to discuss specific concerns.

What begins as a desire for intellectual stimulation, to increase one's on-the-job skills or salary, often ends up drawing paraprofessionals into the pursuit of a college degree. Once the discovery is made that the paraprofessional can negotiate the demands of full-time employment, family responsibilities, and outside study, he or she often decides to take additional courses for college credit. Highly motivated paraprofessionals will eventually matriculate and earn a degree. In a sense, continuing education departments serve as a vehicle of recruitment into college degree programs.

Since 1993, The Paraprofessional Academy has recognized that there are various methods of delivering education and meeting the training needs of paraprofessionals. The importance of systematic academic planning/career counseling for paraprofessionals and the need to form meaningful alliances with local and state agencies, BOE, and the UFT to create enhanced services for paraprofessionals has also been stressed. As the Paraprofessional Academy enters its sixth year, we remain committed to providing paraprofessionals with quality services and a broad range of options regarding educational/career advancement.

For more information, contact:
Thalia Moshayannis, Director
The Paraprofessional Academy
Center for Advanced Study in Education
The Graduate School and University Center of the
City University of New York
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3300
New York, NY 10016
Phone (212) 817-1829