IM-TOP (Idaho Maryland Training of Paraeducators) Summary

The IM-TOP project addressed the 2004 IDEA re-authorization requirement that paraeducators serving special education students should be appropriately trained and supervised. It drew its substance from a model that emerged as the result of the K-12 CO-TOP training efforts in Colorado. The K-12 CO-TOP model provided supervisory and training skills to school professionals and identified highly-qualified and highly-respected teachers and other school professionals to become trainers and, in turn, deliver training to paraeducators. The single goal of the project was to implement the model in two states, Idaho (ID) and Maryland (MD) and to evaluate the effects of the model in these sites.

The K-12 CO-TOP Model is based on four premises:

  • Training of paraeducators should occur locally and remain in the control of local districts
  • Local trainers should work from a rigorous, coherent curriculum that merits college credit
  • Training should be consistent with state standards
  • Collaboration across departments and districts is necessary to deliver training to paraeducators in large and small school districts.

Four objectives were crafted to address the goal.

  • Objective 1. To complete the refinement of the K-12 CO-TOP Model, materials, and procedures
  • Objective 2. To establish the K-12 CO-TOP Model in 2 states, 1 urban east-coast, 1 rural, western.
  • Objective 3. To evaluate the processes and outcomes of Model implementation in 2 states.
  • Objective 4. To create an implementation manual based on evaluation data and case studies.

These objectives shaped a two-pronged role for IM-TOP project staff. First, we entered states as consultants to help establish a training system for paraeducators that was based on the successful K-12 CO-TOP Model from Colorado. Second, we examined the decision-making, the thinking, the processes and steps by which each state engaged the K-12 CO-TOP Model. Meetings were generally attended by two staff members so that one person could lead discussions and present information while the other monitored and documented the proceedings. Case studies that document these processes and outcomes are provided below.


The Idaho State Education Agency (SEA) and their newly created Paraeducator Training Center (PTC) made an effort to duplicate all of the features of the K-12 CO-TOP model (e.g. locally nominated trainers, college credit, consistent curriculum, coalition of participating districts). However, one feature found little usefulness in Idaho. A statewide coalition of district representatives was convened and met a few times but never gained momentum and the project continues to operate without a functional coalition. We found that, while collaboration is necessary, a statewide coalition is not necessary to achieve collaborative work among districts. However, good communication is needed.

We conducted a total of five training’s for locally nominated trainers over the project period, with two during the first project year in different parts of the state to accommodate the immediate needs of districts that wanted to get up and running. Offering subsequent training-of-trainers courses on multiple occasions allowed districts to participate as they were ready to do so, and allowed districts to add trainers as their training needs shifted. We were able to offer graduate level credit for prospective trainers from Idaho State University through a joint agreement with The College of Southern Idaho. At the end of the full five-years of project support, we trained a total of 152 trainers in Idaho.


The state of Maryland had a much more difficult time implementing the model in spite of our extensive efforts to assist them. We learned a lot through their struggle. We came to realize that, where certain conditions exist, it is very difficult to implement a locally-controlled model for training on a statewide basis. It seems contradictory, but our results showed that in Maryland, where there is strong centralized control at the SEA level, it was much more difficult to achieve meaningful participation by school districts.

Because the project did not progress as anticipated in Maryland during the first three project years, and because we never gained agreement from districts to provide training documentation to us, we were unable to document the numbers of paraeducators who were trained throughout the state in other districts. Numerous districts accepted the training materials from us, but failed to work with us to collect data that would have allowed a better assessment of progress.

There were many reasons for the lack of participation by other districts. For example, one district had a very sophisticated professional development department that already offered staff training through a highly qualified and competent cadre of trainers. Their only stumbling block to that point in delivering paraeducator training was the lack of consistent, coherent curriculum that was not trainer-dependent. That is, the training they had delivered up to that point consisted of sessions that had been developed and offered by individual district trainers