How to Become a Paraeducator in Washington State
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In Washington, a paraeducator is defined as someone who provides instructional services to students while working under the direct supervision of a teacher. Officially designated as paraprofessionals by the U.S. Department of Education, paraeducators may spend their days translating for students, assisting in a library, organizing instructional materials for a teacher or providing one-on-one tutoring for students, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). To qualify as a paraeducator, requirements differ for federally funded Title 1 positions and those positions requiring the paraeducator to meet the Washington state set of competencies. Title 1 positions have stricter requirements, with three pathways available to satisfy federal mandates.
Become a Paraeducator in Washington
Obtain a copy of your high school transcript to show that you completed high school and earned a diploma or its equivalent through an approved program. Submit the transcript wiith your application to the school district where you intend to work. If you are applying for a specific position, find out whether the job is a federally funded Title 1 position or a district-funded position not subject to federal requirements.
Consider your current qualifications as a paraeducator if your intended position is funded through Title 1. Option 1 is to complete two years of coursework at an institute of higher learning, which is defined as 72 credit hours at universities on a quarter term system, or 48 semester hours of classes, at the 100 level or higher. If you have this qualification, submit a transcript to the school district where you intend to work as a paraeducator.
In option 2 for Title 1 positions, submit a transcript indicating that you have earned an associate's degree or higher from a college or university. If instead of two years of college coursework, you hold an associate's degree, this fulfills the federal requirements for paraeducators.
Learn about the pathways to qualifying as a Title 1 paraeducator through formal assessment if you do not have an associate's degree or two years of college coursework. One pathway is to pass a 2.5-hour national exam, known as the ETS ParaPro Assessment. A second pathway is a portfolio assessment used for experienced paraeducators and requires school district permission. A school district paraeducator assessment is the third pathway, which measures the candidate's knowledge and skills. The fourth pathway is an apprenticeship program provided through a community college, which combines instructional and work-based training hours.
Know the 14 core competencies expected of a paraeducator if the position for which you are applying is not funded through Title 1. Special education paraeducators are expected to demonstrate effectiveness in each of the 14 areas. A local Educational Service District (ESD) office or school district may provide training.
Consider substituting as a paraeducator before applying for a permanent position. This experience may solidify your intent to pursue a position, while allowing you to gain experience and possible employment references. For answers to questions, contact a paraeducator liaison at one of the nine ESD offices across the state.
Many paraeducator positions are not guaranteed to be funded the following year. If job security is important to you, talk to paraeducators in your intended school district to see what its retention policies and practices are.
Michelle Hornaday lives in Edmonds, Washington and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Washington State University and a Master of Education from Northern Arizona University. She is currently a freelance writer for various websites.