September 2017, Vol. 2

ESSA and highly qualified standards

by April Mabry

Q: Does the Every Student Succeeds Act require newly hired paraprofessionals to be highly qualified?

A: The term “highly qualified” was repealed with the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. In its place, ESSA requires teachers and paraprofessionals to be certified and licensed according to each state’s standards. However, within the text of ESSA is a list of various assurances the state educational agency (SEA)—the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in our case—must make in its state plan when the agency submits it to the federal department of education. Submission and ultimate approval of the state plan determines eligibility for the receipt of federal education funds.

One of the assurances affects how school districts can hire certain paraprofessionals. Each state plan must include an assurance that the state has professional standards for paraprofessionals working in a Title I, Part A program, including qualifications that were in place the day before December 10, 2015. According to Tim Regal, TEA’s Director of Instructional Leadership, this means the previous highly qualified standards for paraprofessionals working in Title I, Part A programs will remain in place.

Regal provided us with the following guidance:

“Although the term ‘highly qualified’ was repealed with ESSA, the state must ensure paraprofessionals who are working in any type of Title I, Part A program and who are providing instructional support meet the previous No Child Left Behind standards of one of the following:

1) Completion of two years of higher education, generally defined as 48 semester credit hours;

2) An associate’s (or higher) degree; or

3) Knowledge and ability to assist in instruction of reading or reading readiness, writing or writing readiness, and math or math readiness, as demonstrated through a formal state or local assessment. In terms of the assessment, many Education Service Centers (ESCs) throughout the state provide opportunities for individuals to take an assessment that can be used for this purpose. A local assessment could be designed, but it should be valid, reliable, and a record of the individual’s performance must be documented in some capacity.”

Questions regarding paraprofessionals and highly qualified requirements should be directed to the TEA Division of Educator Initiatives (highlyqualified@tea.texas.gov).