ERIC Identifier: ED438636
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Pickett, Anna Lou
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
Paraeducators: Factors That Influence Their Performance,
Development, and Supervision. ERIC Digest E587.
This Digest is concerned with an important but under-recognized issue
confronting the field: the need to develop standards and infrastructures
for improving the employment, placement, preparation and supervision of
paraeducators in inclusive general and special education classrooms, Title
I, multilingual/ESL, and early childhood programs. Paraprofessional, teacher
aide/assistant, transition trainer, home visitor, education technician,
therapy aide/assistant are some of the other titles assigned to school
--whose positions are either instructional in nature or who provide
other direct services to children, youth and/or their families;
--who work under the supervision of teachers or other professional practitioners
who are responsible for the design, implementation, and assessment of learner
progress and the evaluation of learning programs and related services for
children, youth and/or their families (Pickett, 1989).
It has been more than 40 years since "teacher aides" were introduced
into classrooms to enable teachers to spend more time in planning and implementing
instructional and related activities. A survey of Chief State School Officers
conducted in 1999 by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals
indicates that there are more than 500,000 full-time equivalency paraeducator
positions in all programs administered by local education agencies (LEAs)
across the country (Pickett, 1999). The duties of teacher aides are no
longer limited to recordkeeping, preparing materials, monitoring students
in lunchrooms and study halls, or maintaining learning centers and equipment.
Today there are active participants in the instructional process and the
delivery of other direct services to learners and/or their parents (Moshoyannis,
Pickett & Granick, 1999; Mueller, 1997). As a result, they have become
"technicians who are more accurately described as paraeducators just as
their counterparts in law and medicine are designated as paralegals and
paramedics" (Pickett, 1989).
IMPACT OF EVOLVING TEACHER ROLES
Inextricably tied to the increased reliance on paraeducators in more
complexand demanding roles are various reform initiatives to redefine teacher
rolesand functions. The traditionally recognized planning, instructional,
andlearner evaluation responsibilities of teachers have changed dramatically
--greater involvement in shared decision making and other school based
governance activities (David, 1996);
--participation in the alignment of currriculum content with higher
learning standards and increased performance levels for all students established
by States (Pickett 1999);
--membership on multidisciplinary teams with responsibility for planning
education and therapeutic programs for individual learners (Friend &
Cook, 1996; Villa, Thousand, Nevin & Malgeri, 1996).
These new program management and administrative functions are particularly
apparent in the responsibilities of teachers in general and special education
who work in classrooms and other learning environments serving learners
with disabilities, Title I, ESL/multilingual and early childhood programs
(Pickett & Corlach, 1997; Friend & Cook, 1996).
An added dimension to the management functions of teachers are their
responsibilites for directing and integrating paraeducators into service
delivery teams, providing on-the-job coaching to paraeducators, monitoring
their performance and sharing relevant information with principals (Pickett
& Gerlach 1997; French & Pickett, 1997).
EMERGING PARAEDUCATOR ROLES
The move toward differentiated staffing across program lines in various
education settings has had a profound impact on the nature and complexity
of the roles of paraeducators (Pickett, 1999; Pickett & Gerlach, 1997;
Mueller, 1997; Moshoyannis et al., 1999). Under the direction of teachers,
paraeducators instruct learners in individual and small group settings,
assist with functional assessment activities, administer standardized tests
(teachers analyze test results), document learner performance, share relevant
information with teachers and participate in program planning teams (Moshoyannis
et al., 1999; Pickett, 1999; Mueller, 1997).
THE NEED FOR POLICIES AND INFRASTRUCTURES TO STRENGTHEN TEACHER AND
Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), reauthorized
in 1997, required State education agencies (SEAs) to ensure that "paraprofessionals"
are appropriately trained and supervised, issues connected with the employment,
assignment, preparation and supervision of paraeducators remain, for the
most part, afterthoughts in the public policy arena. Despite increased
utilization of paraeducators and increased emphasis on their instructional
and learner support roles, opportunities for systematic training and career
development have not kept pace. Few SEAs and LEAs are working together
--develop skill and knowledge standards that recognize the changing
roles of paraeducators
--set skill standards for paraeducators working in different position
--create seamless career development models that include on-the-job
coaching, inservice training and access to post-secondary education for
paraeducators interested in becoming teachers
--establish supervisory responsibility and standards for monitoring
paraeducator performance (Pickett and Gerlach, 1997; Pickett, 1999).
Further compounding the current situation is the fact that almost no
experienced or new teachers are prepared at either the undergraduate or
graduate level to supervise or monitor the work of paraeducators (French
& Pickett, 1997; Pickett, 1999). Moreover only two states, Minnesota
and Washington, have incorporated provisions into their credentialing systems
that require teacher education programs to develop curriculum content to
prepare teachers for their emerging roles (Pickett, 1999).
There are several essential policy questions and systemic issues that
are central to the conceptualization and implementation of a comprehensive
system of professional development for paraeducators. These questions cannot
be addressed in a vacuum. They require the active participation of SEAs,
LEAs, other provider agencies, professional organizations, and unions.
Pickett (1999) has identified the following questions that require the
joint attention of policymakers, implementers, personnel developers, and
other stakeholders at the State and local levels.
--What are the indicators that roles for paraeducators in our State/locale
are clearly defined?
--What standards exist in our State/locale for preparing paraeducators
to work in different position levels and/or disciplines/programs? Are there
opportunities for professional development and career advancement for paraeducators?
--Is there a credentialing system or mechanism for ensuring that paraeducators
have the skills that they require? When was the current system established?
Has it been revised recently? Is it competency-based?
--Are there standards for the supervision of paraeducators? Are the
standards part of the State's teacher licensure system? Are teacher education
programs developing or revising course content to prepare their graduates
to supervise paraeducators?
--What impact do Federal mandates and funding, State reimbursement policies
and regulatory procedures, or local collective bargaining agreements have
on the employment, training, and supervision of paraeducators?
--What are the current roles of the SEA, LEA, two- and four-year institutions
of higher education (IEHs), professional organizations representing different
disciplines, unions, and parents in setting standards for paraeducator
utilization, professional development, credentialing, and supervision?
What barriers exist in our State/locale for the development of standards
and systems to improve the performance, supervision, and preparation of
paraeducators? What resources are available to facilitate the development
and implementation of standards and systems? How can the different constituencies
contribute to the efforts to improve the performance of teacher/provider-paraeducator
teams? How can we develop and strenghten partnerships among the different
To more fully tap the resources of paraeducators as members of program
implementation teams, different governmental and non-governmental organizations
must form partnerships to address the policy questions described above.
They must also work in concert to develop and maintain infrastructures
that will ensure that both teachers and paraeducators are appropriately
and effectively prepared for roles and responsibilities that are becoming
more complex and demanding. This is not an easy task and requires a commitment
of time and resources from the broad range of administrative and provider
agencies, IHEs, and organizations that have different but related responsibilities
for paraeducator utilization, supervision, and preparation.
David, J. L. (1996). The who, what and why of site-based management.
Education Leadership , 53(4), 4-9.
French, N. K. & Pickett, A. L. (1997). The utilization of paraprofessionals
in special education: Issues for teacher educators. Teacher Education and
Special Education, 20(1), 61-73.
Friend, M. & Cook, L. (1996). Interactions: Collaboration skills
for school professionals (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Moshoyannis, T., Pickett, A. L. & Granick, L. (1999). The evolving
roles and education/training needs of teacher and paraprofessional teams
in New York City Public Schools. New York: Paraprofessional Academy, Center
for Advanced Study in Education, Graduate Center, City University of New
Mueller, P. H. (1997). A study of the roles, training needs, of Vermont's
paraeducators. Unpublished dissertation. University of Vermont.
Pickett, A. L. (1999). Strengthening and supporting teacher and paraeducator
teams: Guidelines for paraeducator roles, supervision and preparation.
New York: National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and
Related Services, Center for Advanced Study in Education. Graduate Center,
City University of New York.
Pickett, A. L. & Gerlach, K. (1997). Supervising paraeducators in
school settings: A team approach. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Pickett, A. L. (1989). Restructuring the schools: the role of paraprofessionals.
Washington, D.C.: Center for Policy Research, National Governors Association.
Villa, R. A., Thousand, J. S., Nevin, A. I., & Malgeri, C. (1996).
Instilling collaboration for inclusive schooling as a way of doing business
in public schools. Remedial & Special Education 17(3), 169-181.