ERIC Identifier: ED475383
Publication Date: 2002-03-00
Author: Warger, Cynthia
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA. ERIC/OSEP Special Project.
Supporting Paraeducators: A Summary of Current Practices.
Increasingly, paraeducators, also known as paraprofessionals, are providing
instructional and learner support to students with disabilities under the
supervision of licensed teachers, a major shift from 40 years ago when
paraeducators had primarily clerical responsibilities. Today's paraeducators
still perform routine clerical and housekeeping tasks, but now there is a
greater emphasis on their instructional and learner support roles.
This digest outlines some actions that teachers and administrators serving in
supervisory roles can take to ensure that paraeducators have adequate knowledge
and skills for these new instructional support roles. The following practices
result in improved paraeducator effectiveness:
* Assign appropriate responsibilities and tasks
* Provide ongoing, personalized support
* Offer training opportunities and resources
* Encourage high standards.
ASSIGN APPROPRIATE RESPONSIBILITIES AND TASKS
should be accepted as part of the school community and valued for their
contributions to the child's educational team. However, they should never
replace or supplant the classroom teacher.
A clear recognition of paraeducator roles and responsibilities is essential
to ensuring that they are being used appropriately. For example, neither
research nor common sense supports assigning paraeducators to provide primary or
exclusive instruction to students with disabilities. Educators should be very
careful not to create a double standard whereby students with disabilities
receive their instruction from paraprofessionals, while students without
disabilities have ongoing access to qualified professional educators.
The appropriateness of tasks depends on the paraeducator's training,
knowledge and skill, as well as the level of supervision and the clarity of
instructions provided by the teacher. Over reliance on paraeducators is not only
inappropriate for students with disabilities, but can have negative effects on
paraeducators as well by putting them in a position that requires them to
perform services they are not qualified to perform.
Some examples of tasks that may be appropriate for paraeducators with the
proper levels of training and supervision include the following:
* Implementing instructional, curricular and materials adaptation plans
(e.g., modifying materials according to teacher's instructions)
* Implementing behavior management plans
* Providing instructional support in small groups or one-on-one instruction
* Taking data, keeping records, and documenting student performance
* Providing feedback to the teacher regarding student performance
* Providing personal care assistance.
It is preferable for the IEP team to determine the paraeducator's roles and
responsibilities, which must always specify that the paraeducator supports the
teacher, who is the child's primary instructor.
PROVIDE ONGOING, PERSONALIZED SUPPORT
can accrue for students and teachers when well-conceived paraeducator supports
are implemented. But how do you know what supports are needed?
One practical way is to ask paraeducators what they need. While this strategy
may seem obvious, when it is integrated into a schoolwide planning approach,
results may be enhanced. According to researcher Michael Giangreco of the
University of Vermont, joining forces with colleagues, parents, and community
members to take positive steps schoolwide can result in actions that are more
effective, strategic, and sustainable. To help schools implement a schoolwide
planning process, Giangreco and his colleagues developed A Guide to Schoolwide
Planning for Paraeducator Supports (http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/parasupport/). This
10-step action planning process assists school-based teams in assessing their
own status in terms of paraprofessional supports by discussing real issues of
concern, prioritizing issues, and taking the following practical steps to
Inform local school board of intentions to form a team.
Select team members.
Assess own status and fact-find in relation to paraeducator topics.
Prioritize and select topics to work on.
Update school board of team progress.
Design a plan to address priorities.
Evaluate plan and chart next steps.
Report impact and needs to school community.
The planning process was successfully field-tested in 50 schools across 13
states. Findings indicate that the planning process can assist schools to
self-assess their paraeducator practices, identify priorities in need of
improvement, develop action plans, and implement them. Impact reports from 33
schools documented positive outcomes for adults and students.
OFFER TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES AND RESOURCES
consistently has shown a need for training in tasks that many paraeducators are
currently expected to perform under the supervision of a licensed teacher. In
spite of the dramatic shift in paraeducator roles away from clerical work and
toward instructional support, systematic training remains notably absent.
On an individual level, teachers must ensure that paraeducators can perform
the tasks they are assigned. Basic information should be provided to
paraeducators, including information on the child's disability; techniques for
positive behavior intervention, communication, and health issues; communication
strategies for interacting with parents; and approaches that encourage
independence for the child. To do this, however, teachers need supervisory
skills such as communication and interview techniques, planning methods, meeting
facilitation skills, strategies for providing on-the-job training, an
understanding of role distinctions, and task delegation skills (French, 2003).
To assist teachers in developing these skills and in transferring knowledge and
skills to paraeducators, French developed the CO-TOP model for training teachers
to provide paraeducator training. This nationwide model provides curriculum
materials and tools that can be implemented in classroom, in districtwide
trainings, and at the college level. (For more information, visit
When offering district training, French also suggests providing incentives.
Consider the following suggestions:
* Provide training opportunities in the district at times convenient to
* Give hiring preference to trained personnel.
* Provide stipends and other monetary incentives to paraprofessionals who
participate in inservice training.
* Focus training content on issues that are relevant and important to
Also, be aware of opportunities that the state may be offering and support
paraeducators in participating in them. For example, both the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act have
called upon states to ensure a high quality paraeducator workforce. As a result,
states are beginning to focus more attention on the skills and knowledge of
paraeducators by supporting statewide training events, certification programs,
and other professional development opportunities.
Additionally, it is important to offer paraeducators a variety of resources.
It is helpful if teachers and administrators refer paraeducators to web sites
and print resources such as those listed at the end of this digest.
ENCOURAGE HIGH STANDARDS
What do paraeducators need to know
and be able to do? At the national, and in some cases the state level, experts
have been developing performance standards for paraprofessionals. Knowledge of
these efforts is essential for ensuring that individuals can do their jobs
effectively by providing a basis for aligning training programs, writing job
descriptions, and evaluating job performance.
Associations of Service Providers Implementing
IDEA Reforms in Education (ASPIIRE) Partnership (1999). Paraprofessional
Initiative: Report to OSEP. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Available at www.ideapractices.org.
Education and Training Voluntary Partnership project at AFT, a coalition of
organizations and individuals with an interest in skills standards for the
education workforce. Funded by the Department of Labor, the project is
developing a national, voluntary system of skill standards for frontline workers
in education. For more information, see www.etvp.org.
ERIC/OSEP Special Project (Winter 2003). Paraeducators: Providing support to
students with disabilities and their teachers. Research Connections in Special
Education (number 12). Arlington, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and
Gifted Education. Available online at
French, N. K. (2003). Managing paraeducators in your school: How to hire,
train, and supervise non-certified staff. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals (NRCP) has developed
guidelines for paraeducator roles and responsibilities as well as model
standards for their training and supervision. The standards are published in
Strengthening and Supporting Teacher/Provider-Paraeducator Teams: Guidelines for
Paraeducators Roles, Supervision, and Preparation. For more information, see
Pickett, A. L. (1999). Paraeducators: Factors that influence their
performance, development, and supervision. [ERIC Digest E587.] Arlington, VA:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
SPeNSE (2000). The role of paraprofessionals in special education. Rockville,
MD: Westat. Available at www.spense.org.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (1999).
Paraprofessionals in the workforce. In the Twenty-first annual report to
Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (III-1 - III-13). Washington, DC: Author. Available at
Wallace, T., Pickett, A. L., & Liken, M. (Fall 2002). Feature issue on
paraeducators supporting students with disabilities and at-risk. Impact, 15(2),
entire issue. Available on the University of Minnesota's Institute for Community
Integration and the Research Center on Community Living web site at