In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued a report titled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, which stressed the need for improving the quality of education in the United States. This report launched a reform movement that continues today and is aimed at the preparation of a high-quality teaching force that is held accountable for the learning that occurs in schools and establishes high standards of learning for all students regardless of ability, ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status. In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reenacted and renamed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
This federal act focused on progressively decreasing-and, by 2014, closing-the achievement gap between White, African American, and Latino students. However, the shortage of certified teachers willing to serve in low-income urban and rural areas, the lack of qualified teachers in other areas, as well as the fact that most teachers lacked the preparation needed to adequately educate the increasing number of ELLs in the country, gave a boost to the hiring of paraprofessionals in general and bilingual paraprofessionals in particular.
Under NCLB, paraprofessionals hired after January 8, 2002, and working in a program supported with Title I, Part Afunds, must have completed a minimum of 2 years of study at an institution of higher education or must hold an associate’s degree or higher. They also must pass a formal test administered by the state or local education agency that assesses the candidates’ knowledge of reading, writing, and math as well as the paraprofessionals’ ability to assist in the instruction of those subjects.
Bilingual paraprofessionals who serve only as translators or implementers of activities with parents must be proficient in English and another language and need a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent. For other paraprofessional positions, the minimum qualification is a high school diploma or recognized equivalent; some require college credits or an associate’s degree. Few states have policies regulating the paraprofessionals’ hiring qualifications and professional development.
In fact, when the regulations are in place, they are nonbinding to the local educational agencies that hired the paraprofessionals. To improve this situation, the NRCP report advocates for collaboration between states, local education agencies, schools, unions, and institutions of higher education. It also suggests three different levels of responsibility for paraprofessionals, the knowledge and skills that should be required for each level, as well as the need for preparing teachers to work with and supervise paraprofessionals.