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Teaching assistants making the grade in local schools

The federal No Child Left Behind legislation approved in 2002 put into a motion a requirement that all K-12 classroom assistants earn a passing grade on a state exam or acquire a certain level of college education.

That stipulation hits home with the 2006-07 school year, the first in which the requirement is fully mandatory to remain employed as a classroom assistant.

Known as paraprofessionals or paraeducators, classroom teaching assistants had until June of this year to get in compliance with the law in order to keep their jobs. The law requires at least a two-year Associate of Arts degree, 72 college credits or passing a state exam.

They have not gone it alone, as local school districts have provided training opportunities to help them make the grade.

All but four of the 128 paraeducators in the Sunnyside School District met the June 30 deadline to reach the federal standard, said Human Resources Director Debbie Holwegner.

"At first we were very concerned, but as time went by more and more either passed the test or did a portfolio," she said. "It was not as alarming as we thought."

The portfolio, graded by the state, takes into consideration abilities to work with students and completed coursework.

Holwegner said eight paraeducators completed the portfolio in May and four others passed the state exam. She said the district paid the $40 test taking fee for all para-pros hired before 2002. Those who failed the exam were able to take the test again at their own expense.

Holwegner said the four paraeducators who didn't meet the No Child Left Behind mandate-representing 44 years of experience in the district-are eligible to re-apply for a similar position in the district once they either pass the state test or meet the educational requirements.

She said the district will fill only two of the pareducator positions and the responsibilities of the other two will be divided among other current employees.

Over in Mabton, 20 of the district's 21 paraeducators reached the No Child Left Behind mandate, said Linda Rosen, who works in the school district's human resources department. Rosen said the only employee who didn't meet the requirement has already retired.

All 86 paraeducators in the Grandview School District met the requirements, said Sarah Curfman, an administrative secretary for the district.

"We involved the principals and tracked them (the paraeducators) at the district level," Curfman said. "We provided them sample tests to see how everyone was doing."

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