The New Hampshire state Board of Education recently voted to adopt changes in the certification requirements for paraeducators
“The Department of Education has really degraded Para 1 certification to the basic minimum required to be employed,” said Jill Owens, NEA-NH Executive Board member and Education Support Professional in Hampstead. “When our paras first became certified after working to fill out the Competency form required under the old rule, they had a whole new view of their capabilities and worth. It is hard to put into words, but their job became a career, complete with NH State certification.”
Under the old certifications rules, Paraeducator 1 required a high school diploma and the candidate providing evidence on how they met seven competencies and sub-competencies listing on a total of 7 pages. The competencies related to professionalism, assisting students with reading, writing, and math. Candidates had to demonstrate knowledge of the developmental stages of children, learning styles, and behavior management for example. It was quite involved and once completed, the form was sent to the State for review. If the State believed the candidate met the competencies, they would receive Para 1 certification.
Certification for Paraeducator 2 requires the candidate to send their transcript to the State to document they have received the appropriate post secondary education requirements of at least 48 college credits. These requirements have not been changed.
Paraeducator 1 and 2 certifications are good for 3 years, cost $25 and in order to be recertified, certificate holders must take part in 50 credit hours of professional development. Para 1’s can also take the Para Pro Test and if they pass, can apply to become a Para 2.
These requirements were the result of the involvement and dedication of Paraeducators and NEA-NH staff more than 13 years ago.
“In the spring of 2004, there was a hearing on the proposed paraeducator certification and we packed the room and the hallway, “ said Owens. “The State Board of Education heard testimony from Education Support Professionals who were quite nervous and overwhelmed by the fact that they were about to testify, but they did and did a remarkable job.” The end result was that the proposed rules were altered to provide two levels of certification, and it was quite a moment for NH paraeducators.
The new requirements for Paraeducator 1 certification now read: “To be certified as a Paraeducator I, an individual shall possess a high school degree or HiSET equivalent.”
The changes were quickly approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules at the February 17, 2017 meeting and the State Board of Education approved the changes at the March 23, 2017 meeting.
Jill Owens contacted Bill Ross at the DOE to talk about the change. “I called him and he said that Para 2’s were instructional assistants, and Para 1’s were classroom assistants and that SAU’s (school districts) wanted the change,” said Owens. “I did respond that you could not tell the difference in Hampstead between a Para 1 and a Para 2, that their responsibilities were the same. He did not seem impressed.”
The range and flexibility of paraprofessional positions make it difficult for most people to understand exactly where their role begins and ends. The changing landscape of public education has had a significant impact on the roles of support professionals who serve in our schools. Teacher shortages, increasing numbers of English language learners, and the rising enrollment of students with disabilities and other special needs are just some of the factors that make the need for a dynamic school team more necessary than ever. In this challenging environment, paraeducators play an increasingly critical role in improving student achievement.
There is some good news to be found in the new rules. Those New Hampshire paraprofessionals that have financial stipends for Para 1 certification in their contracts can now secure either their high school transcript or get their high school diploma notarized and obtain a Para 1 certification from the NH Department of Education very easily. Information can be found on their webpage: https://www.education.nh.gov/certification/para_ed.htm.
But that’s only for local associations that have the stipend already built into the collective bargaining agreement. “From my perspective, I don’t see any locals negotiating financial incentives for Para 1 certification,” said Owens. “I also see push back on those contracts that do have it at subsequent negotiations. In Hampstead, for example, there is a 35 cents an hour stipend for Para 1 and 50 cents for Para 2. I am very worried that the Para 1 stipend will never increase again because of this change and we may have a hard time keeping it.”