Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Paraeducators

What is the definition of a paraeducator?

According to the Guide to Effective Paraeducator Practices Edition II from the Iowa Department of Education: A paraeducator is an employee who works under the supervision of teachers or other licensed personnel. The ultimate responsibility for the design and implementation of education and related service programs belongs to the supervising teacher or other licensed personnel. The paraeducator is one whose position is either instructional in nature or who delivers other direct or indirect services to children, youth, and/or their parents. Synonyms for the term paraeducator include paraprofessional, educational aide, instructional aide, or associate. The prefix “para” means “alongside of”, as in working alongside an educator. Subsequently, the term paraeducator is an accurate term.

What are the requirements for individuals working in preschools and Early Childhood Special Education?

Individuals working in preschool programs that are funded by the 4-Year-Old Voluntary Preschool Grant, or individuals working in Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) must meet the definition of ‘highly qualified.’ Highly qualified means the individual has the following:

  • A Child Development Associate Credential (CDA); OR
  • Two (2) years of college; OR
  • An Associates Degree; OR
  • Generalist (formerly known as Level I) Paraeducator Certification and an Early Childhood Area of Concentration (formerly known as Level II)

A variety of federal and state programs regulate the qualifications required for teaching assistants in preschool programs (assistants are sometimes described as paraeducators, paraprofessionals, associates, aides, and other descriptors). The type of preschool program and required program standards determine the type of qualifications required for teaching assistance.

For more information and specifics check out this document, Qualifications for Preschool Teacher Assistants, from the Iowa Department of Education (Updated August 2020)

What are the State of Iowa Certification options at Central Rivers AEA and other Higher Education Institutions in Iowa?

Under Iowa Code, an approved program can be offered in the following areas:

  • Paraeducator Certification (formerly known as Level I – Generalist)
  • Areas of Concentration (formerly known as Level II) in:
    • Early Childhood – this is the only area of concentration that is offered at Central Rivers AEA
    • Special Needs
    • English as a 2nd Language
    • Career & Transition OR Vision Impairments
    • Library/School Media OR Speech/Language Pathologist
    • Advanced

At Central Rivers AEA, we have approved programs for Paraeducator Certification and the Area of Concentration in Early Childhood.

What is required for the Central Rivers AEA Paraeducator Certification and of the other higher education institutions in Iowa?

The Central Rivers AEA Paraeducator Certification program is a self-paced, online program that is offered only to those who are currently employed in a school district. The course begins with a three-hour, face-to-face orientation session. Once the orientation session is complete, paras must complete the online Moodle course consisting of six units of study, Paras are required to partner with a teacher they come in contact with and meet with them a minimum of five times throughout the course.

If you are not currently employed in a school district as a practicing paraeducator, you will want to contact any of the following institutions of higher learning to see what they offer for Paraeducator Certification programs: Iowa Lakes Community CollegeIowa Western Community CollegeKirkwood Community CollegeNortheast Iowa Community CollegeWestern Community College and Mt Mercy University.

What is required for the Central Rivers AEA Area of Concentration: Early Childhood?

The Early Childhood Area of Concentration program involves taking these three courses through Central Rivers AEA. The three courses are:

  • #CR-4802-4802 CR – Paraeducators: Enhancing Learning in the Creative Curriculum Classroom
  • #204352 Literacy Development in Early Childhood
  • #226319 Supporting Positive Behaviors in the Early Childhood Classroom

These courses are offered each year, virtually.  

How long will the Paraeducator Certification last?

The Paraeducator Certification is valid for five years and shall expire five years from the date of issuance. Certification may be renewed up to one year prior to the expiration date. All renewal requirements must have been met during the term of this certification or run the risk of not having their certificate renewed. Certificates renewed within one year from the expiration date will not lose any time on the certificate and will extend the certificate for an additional five years from the date when it was issued.

For example:
Generalist certificate original issue date: July 1, 2008. Original expiration date: July 1, 2013
Individual submits renewal requirements Sept. 1, 2012. New expiration date: July 1, 2018

  • Paraeducators needing to renew will want to make sure to start early on renewal credits to leave plenty of time to complete the coursework before the certification expires.
  • Renewing your paraeducator certification is the responsibility of the paraeducator. You will not be sent a reminder.
  • Those who do not start early enough on taking coursework to renew their certification run the risk of losing their certification.

What is required to renew the Paraeducator Certificate? 

The Paraeducator certificate is the only certificate that requires renewal. The Area of Concentration does not require renewal. In order to renew the certificate, you will need three units of credit which are designated as paraeducator credit when you enroll in a course. Central Rivers AEA determines the courses that receive paraeducator credit. Workshops and CEUs cannot be offered as paraeducator credit. Credits must be earned during the five-year certification period. 

An Area of Concentration certificate can be used to renew the Paraeducator Certification as long as it has been completed within five years of when the Paraeducator Certification was issued. An Area of Concentration may be used to renew the Generalist certification, but it is not a requirement. All applicants renewing a paraeducator certificate must submit documentation of completion of the Mandatory Reporter training and Blood Borne Pathogens. This training must be renewed every five years.

How can I find out the status of my certificate?

Anyone can go directly to the Board of Educational Examiners website to find out the status of your certificate.  On the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners website, enter your name and click on search. Your file with the certification date and expiration date will then be visible. To find out the status of your certificate visit the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners site.

How can a paraeducator become a substitute teacher?

In order to be able to act and be hired as a substitute teacher, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Hold a valid paraeducator certificate
  • Complete a substitute authorization program

Once you have met these requirements, you are then able to work as a substitute teacher in the special education classroom in which you are employed for no more than five consecutive days.

How can I access the Canvas Course if I am presently enrolled in the course?

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