Early education experts explain why West Virginia legislation adding classroom assistants has big potential


West Virginia University experts on early childhood classroom assistant teachers, or ECCATs, are available to discuss how legislation making its way through the West Virginia Statehouse would affect students and educators.

The state House of Delegates is considering HB 2003 which would fund ECCATs for classrooms in grades 1-3. The Senate is sponsoring similar legislation in SB 274.  

Courtney Shimek, assistant professor of literacy education at the College of Applied Human Sciences, has researched the role of ECCATs in relieving teacher burnout and helping students learn and thrive. Her research was supported by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation via the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative’s Sparking Early Literacy Growth in West Virginia initiative.

Both Shimek and WVPEC Executive Director Donna Peduto can explain how the bill could change classrooms.

Quotes:

“West Virginia created the role of the ECCAT in the 2013 Legislative Session. Previously referred to as a kindergarten aide, an ECCAT is an assistant teacher in a preschool or kindergarten classroom who holds the equivalent credentials of a child development associate and maintains their certificate through the Department of Education. Many preschools and kindergarten classrooms throughout West Virginia already have this position in place.

“The bill would place an ECCAT in any preschool or kindergarten class with more than 10 students and provide a teaching assistant for any first-, second- or third-grade classroom with more than 12 students. The impact on families, students and teachers would be tremendous.

“As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I know the importance of having a strong assistant teacher in an early childhood classroom. Given the teacher shortage and the rising rates of teacher burnout, I believe legislators are looking for cost-effective ways to support teachers and increase student achievement. Research shows that an assistant teacher can do both.

“The ECCAT role, while originally focused on clerical support, has shifted in the past two decades. Now many ECCATs work with students who need individualized instruction and they assist with student behavior.

“ECCATs are especially beneficial for underserved students. They increase student motivation, self-esteem and confidence, and improve test scores.

“The best ECCATs have strong mentor teachers and are treated as collaborators. Districts, schools and classroom teachers will need to establish protocols to manage this new position and find time to train teachers and ECCATs on how to work together.” — Courtney Shimek, assistant professor, WVU College of Applied Human Sciences

“ECCATs can be seen as a strategy to support classroom teachers amid the current teacher shortage. ECCATs help alleviate teacher burnout, with 96% of teachers saying they felt supported by their ECCATs even when ECCATs did not have additional training.

“However, the most effective ECCATs receive similar professional development in literacy as the teachers they assist. Studies have shown that ECCATs can administer additional support to students who struggle with phonological awareness, decoding and comprehension when provided with proper training.

“From a financial standpoint, ECCATs are a cost-effective way to positively increase elementary school students’ literacy scores. ECCATs are helpful in all content areas, but especially in literacy, and their impact on student growth lasts at least two years.

“The economic impact on the community is significant since most ECCATs would be hired to work in their home county or nearby. Their ability to understand community values, responsiveness and connections are essential.” — Donna Peduto, executive director, West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, housed in the WVU Office of the Provost


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