CO-TOP Curriculum

What is CO-TOP?

CO-TOP stands for Comprehensive Training Opportunities for Paraprofessionals.

The CO-TOP Model is a system for getting training to paraprofessionals who are employed in schools and Developmental Intervention Assistants (DI Assistants) who work with infants and toddlers (birth through two years) with developmental delays or disabilities and their families. Courses, called “Academies,” are offered through an in-service program that is locally owned and controlled. Decisions about when and how to schedule training are made locally. A “Cadre” of CO-TOP-trained trainers delivers instruction to paraeducators or Developmental Intervention Assistants.

Review CO-TOP Model link if you would like to know more about how this system for delivering training to paraeducators and Developmental Intervention Assistants works. You can explore our CO-TOP Manual if you are interested in adopting the CO-TOP Model in your school district or Community Centered Board (CCB). In Colorado, CCB’s are the authorized agency for delivery of early intervention services.

Why Train Paraprofessionals?

  • Paraprofessionals deliver direct services to children
  • Paraprofessionals want to do their jobs well
  • Student / Child outcomes depend on good instruction
  • Paraprofessionals are usually hired without prior training
  • The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires Title I paraeducators to:
    • Have the equivalent of two years of college, or
    • Hold an associates degree, or
    • Pass a rigorous test equivalent to two years of college
    • Demonstrate the ability to assist with literacy and math instruction
  • Paraprofessionals are allowed to work on their own – without good supervision or direction.

Evidence shows:

  • Trained paraprofessionals (both paraeducators and Developmental Intervention Assistants) perform more effectively
  • Supervisors (teachers, related service providers, early intervention providers) have greater confidence in paraprofessionals’ work
  • Paraprofessionals report greater confidence in their own effectiveness
  • Supervisors report greater confidence in their ability to supervise
  • Administrators report greater confidence that children (as well as families in the case of early intervention services) are being served by qualified personnel
  • Paraprofessional pay raises have been implemented in places where there is CO-TOP training, in spite of no requirement to do so
  • Paraprofessionals stay in their positions longer
  • Teachers and other professionals report improved team work
  • School professionals and early intervention providers who provide training say this has been a rewarding and valuable professional growth experience for them – and may have long term effects on their retention in the profession

What is the CO-TOP Curriculum?

The CO-TOP K-12 Curriculum is research based and field tested with over 10,000 paraeducators. The curriculum consists of 22 Academies – each one carefully designed to address the legitimate job of paraeducators in schools – giving the right information to paraeducators so they can be most effective with their students.

The CO-TOP Early Intervention Services (EIS) curriculum is designed to train Developmental Intervention (DI) Assistants and was adapted from the CO-TOP K-12 Model and the curriculum consists of 15 academies. The coursework specifically provides DI Assistants with the knowledge needed to deliver beneficial services to children (birth through 2 years) and their families.

Paraprofessionals tell us that the curriculum has helped them understand their children better, provide better instruction and early intervention services, and that they have greater knowledge of why certain techniques work better than others do.

Click here to see detailed outlines of the CO-TOP K-12 Academies and the CO-TOP Developmental Intervention Assistant Academies.

CO-TOP Vocabulary

What is an academy?

Academy is the unique name we have given to our courses. Each academy addresses a set of specific skills paraeducators and Developmental Intervention Assistants need to work most effectively with children. Each academy lasts 15 hours - and may be spread over two days, two weeks, two months or whatever time frame is suitable in your district or Community Centered Board.

What is the Paraprofessional Supervision Academy (PSA)?

PSA is a class for teachers and other school professionals who supervise paraeducators in schools. The PSA Syllabus (PDF) shows the topics that are covered, a typical schedule, and typical assignments.

What is the Training of Paraeducators Academy (TOPA)?

TOPA is a class for potential trainers who have completed PSA to learn to use the CO-TOP K-12 Curriculum and become part of the TOP Cadre of Trainers. The TOPA Syllabus (PDF) shows the topics that are covered, a typical schedule and assignments.

What is the Developmental Assistant Supervision Academy (DISA)?

DISA is a class for early intervention providers who supervise Developmental Intervention Assistants (DI Assistants). The DISA syllabus presents the curriculum that is covered, a typical schedule as well as an example of assignments.

What it the Developmental Intervention Trainers Academy (DITA)?

DITA is a class for potential trainers who have completed DISA to learn to use the CO-TOP Early Intervention Services (EIS) curriculum and become part of the Cadre of trainers for DI Assistants. The DITA syllabus illustrates the topics that are covered, a typical schedule and assignments.

What is the Cadre of Trainers?

They are a group of teachers, school professionals or early intervention providers who have completed either PSA and TOPA or DISA and DITA who train paraeducators or Developmental Intervention Assistants in districts as well as Community Centered Boards in Colorado and throughout the US.

What is the TOPCAT Seminar?

The TOPCAT Seminar is an online course for the Cadre of Trainers – and is limited to Trainers who have taken PSA and TOPA. It offers activities that engage trainers from all over the country in idea-sharing, ways to improve their training skills, and ways to reflect on the course and instructor evaluations they have received from paraeducators. The TOPCAT Seminar Syllabus (PDF) provides an overview of the course.

What Steps Does a District or Community Centered Board Take to Get Started with the CO-TOP Model & Curriculum?

  • Identify District or Community Centered Board Leaders
  • Collaborate with other departments that also employ paraeducators or Developmental Intervention Assistants, or with other districts or community centered boards.
  • Find funds to pay for:
    • Substitutes to release trainers to be prepared to deliver training;
    • Training of Trainers
    • The CO-TOP Curriculum
    • Paraeducators or Developmental Intervention Assistants time in class; or
    • Substitutes to release paraeducators or Developmental Intervention Assistants during work hours
    • College credits or other reward system for well-prepared paraeducators and Developmental Intervention Assistants
  • Schedule training for paraeducators or Developmental Intervention Assistants according to local needs
  • Assure effective curriculum and instruction by continuing participation in CO-TOP Coalition

What Can a Paraprofessional Do to Help Get a Training Program Started?

Paraeducators/Developmental Intervention Assistants often feel helpless to get something started. It only takes one person with a good idea to get something started, but if you are alone with your good idea consider these tips.

  • First, remember - perseverance pays off – where there is no history of paraprofessional training, it takes a long time to get all the pieces in place
  • Talking to people – being a broken record is a good way of changing the status quo
  • Bring some positive reasons for training paraprofessionals into the conversation
  • Talk to other paraprofessionals about the good reasons for training
  • Talk to teachers or early intervention providers about getting training – consider their point of view and how it would help them
  • Create occasions and invite people who are involved in CO-TOP to talk to paraprofessionals, teachers, and administrators, early intervention providers, etc.
  • Talk to your principal and other principals, district administrators/coordinators (Special Education, ESL, Title I, Library-Media, School Nursing), Community Centered Boards administrators or early intervention providers about getting training for paraprofessionals
  • Share this website with people who are in decision-making positions
  • Show examples of the curriculum and training materials to others
  • Talk to people who are involved in budget decisions