Special Education Paraeducators

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Roles and Responsibilities of the Paraeducator
  • Requirements
  • Certification and Training
  • Performance and Evaluation
  • Voices from the Field
  • In this course we will focus on the special education paraprofessional through the lens of the special educator/case manager, who will hire, train and supervise the paraeducator. The terms paraprofessional and paraeducator as used interchangeably throughout this chapter.
Introduction

Paraprofessionals are widely employed in schools in the United States and Canada, and in some European countries.

In the United States these educators have over 30 titles, but a recent national trend has encouraged states to title these positions as “paraeducators” under their various job positions (example: Support Staff>Paraeducator>Special Education).

Paraprofessional educators are frequently used to help support student/s in special education settings. Paraprofessional educators in these roles work with students with a variety of disabilities, including learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia, developmental disabilities, and communication disorders. Paraprofessional educators may work in special classrooms, resource rooms or serve as inclusion assistants who accompany individual students throughout their day. Paraprofessional educators in these roles may require specialized training in behavior management, de-escalation, personal-professional boundaries, and sometimes physical restraint.[6]

(Wikipedia, n.d.)


Roles and Responsibilities of the Paraeducator (paraprofessional)

Some paraprofessionals provide services for special needs pre-schoolers, which include toddlers and infants and their families. When they provide this type of service in family centered practices, paraprofessionals are required to know and possess necessary cultural competencies, which include social, ethnic, as well as economic aspects of the family and community. Knowing this, the paraprofessional can best understand the particular needs of both the child and the family (Stiffler, 1993). When teachers utilized paraprofessionals in the inclusion model, paraprofessionals modify materials and lessons as directed by their general and special education teachers, taking and recording data and monitoring student behavior. They also correspond with the teachers to discuss behavior strategies for all or individual students, and communicate information to the students about class assignments (Carroll, 2001; Broer, Doyle, & Giangreco, 2005). Another role and responsibility of paraprofessionals is to accompany special education students into the general education class for instruction; these general education/inclusion teachers assume that the paraprofessional has the needed and required skills to teach those special education students (Giangreco, 2003).

Paraprofessionals are visible and vital individuals throughout the school setting. One can see them involved or performing in the following duties or tasks: assisting in kindergarten, resource, collaborative and other classes, monitoring students during bus duty, helping in technology labs, working as media aides, transporting students in wheelchairs from classes to buses, working with students with visual impairments, working with students with severe and moderate disabilities and facilitating Title I Programs. Teachers reported in one study, that for the most part, paraprofessionals performed more responsibilities in teaching techniques (French, 1998). Paraprofessionals stated in one study that little or no training is given by the local school district in regards to preparation and education about tasks and responsibilities they will be doing (Riggs & Mueller, 2001). Paraprofessionals reported they wanted more information in regards to their job, including (1) instructional methods used in the classroom, (2) behavior management procedures, (3) characteristics of students they would be working with, (4) information in regards to the student’s Individual Education Program (IEP), such as goals and objectives, and (5) how these goals are to be implemented within the classroom. In addition, concerns from paraprofessionals included (1) lack of time to communicate and plan, and (2) lack of feedback on their performance (Railsback, Reed, & Schmautz, 2002).

(Archibald, D.L. 2008)


Requirements

Requirements to become a paraprofessional vary widely, normally ranging from a high school diploma, G.E.D., two years of college education, or an associate degree. Some positions may require experience, particularly as an aide in an instructional role like in special education and in English as a Second Language instruction.

In the United States, the No Child Left Behind federal legislation requires that educational paraprofessionals be “highly qualified”.[3] The definition of highly qualified is left to the individual states, as are the means for measuring qualification. The United States Department of Education has issued guidelines regarding paraprofessionals whose positions are funded under Title I of the federal legislation. According to the Department of Education, “Paraprofessionals who provide instructional support”, include those who:

  1. Provide one-on-one tutoring if such tutoring is scheduled at a time when a student would not otherwise receive instruction from a teacher,
  2. Assist with classroom management, such as by organizing instructional materials,
  3. Provide instructional assistance in a computer laboratory,
  4. Conduct parental involvement activities,
  5. Provide instructional support in a library or media center,
  6. Act as a translator, or
  7. Provide instructional support services under the direct supervision of a highly qualified teacher.[4]

In 2015, The Every Student Succeeds Act was passed replacing No Child Left Behind. This gave more autonomy to the individual states and local school districts to make guidelines/standards that fit the needs of their particular demographics. It also created guidelines to provide greater voice and support to paraeducators citing the need to adequately train, support, evaluate and include in decision making forums.


Certification

Some jurisdictions offer or require certification for some paraprofessionals. Others may require a contracted paraprofessional to pass an examination. Some require none of the above.

A paraprofessional certificate is typically a certificate that an educator has obtained by passing an exam, enabling them to perform a task requiring extensive knowledge, but not requiring a college degree and a teaching license. Subject areas could include any areas of education such as a GED Teacher, Alternate School Teacher, ISS Teacher, After School Tutor, Home School Teacher, Credit Recovery Teacher, Continuing Education Teacher, and any Special Education area which could be but is not limited to CML, tutoring, and providing any needs to an individual student.

The training of paraprofessional educators varies widely by state and district. (Research your state standards to find out more about individual requirements) The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) in collaboration with the National  Resource Center for Paraeducator has validated some guidelines for use in training paraeducators to serve “individuals with exceptionalities” A link to these can be found here [link]. Professional development companies, such as 321insight.com and PD360 provide targeted training to enhance paraeducator competency.

Wikipedia, (n.d.) Paraprofessional educator. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprofessional_educator 

Training

Merriam Webster Dictionary list several definitions for “Training,” such as (1) to form by instruction, (2) discipline, or drill, to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient: to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill. Training can also be defined as preparation and/or activity leading to skilled behavior. Training serves a very important function within any organization, even if those people to be trained have prior education or prior work experience (Smith, 1995). With increased pressure from legislation, and mandates such as the reauthorization of IDEA 97, ESEA, and the NCLB Act, which defined further job responsibilities and job duties as well as noted the increased and wide use of paraprofessionals, much focus was directed on paraprofessional training provided by and putting much pressure on states and school districts.

Pre-NCLB paraprofessional qualifications and training specified that in order to be hired as a paraprofessional, individuals applying for the position only needed only a high school diploma, and the desire to work with and around children. Once the individual was hired, the paraprofessional received a series of training. These training sessions could be delivered in three ways: pre-service training, on the job training, in-service training which was provided by the county the paraprofessionals worked (Trautman, 2004). In the piece entitled “Managing and Preparing Paraprofessionals” (2004), Trautman defines pre-service training as a prearranged amount of time used for instruction and observations. In the case of paraprofessionals, Trautman states that this pre-service time should occur prior to the paraprofessional’s start of the job, usually during the summer months. In addition, preservice training is defined as an experience that will communicate job expectations and provide a level of knowledge appropriate for further training During this time such information as the roles and responsibilities of the position, the school orientation, opening and closing times of the school, a description of the types of children with who the paraprofessional will be working, and instructional methods used by both the teacher and the paraprofessional would be discussed.

Of the three forms of training, pre-service was the least recommended of the forms (Riggs & Mueller, 2001). The trouble with pre-service training was: problems arise from scheduling paraprofessionals to come in early or stay late for such training. In most cases, these paraprofessionals are usually not paid to attend this pre-service training. In addition, Firth & Mim (1985) stated that inadequate pre-service training was one of the major reasons that paraprofessionals in special education did not stay on the job.

On –the- job training is defined as training provided by an employer on the job site. The United States Department of the Interiors defines On-The-Job Training as one of the best training methods because it is planned, organized, and performed on the employee’s worksite (US Department of Interior ). The Vermont Paraeducator Survey conducted by Mueller, discloses that paraeducators in that state who completed the survey reported receiving 40% of their training on the job. The U. S. Department of Interior also concurs that by employee’s conducting an effective on-the-job training program at their jobsite, moral, productivity, and professionalism will normally be high (US Department of Interior).

The third type of training; in-service training is defined as training and professional development offered by the employer and given during the regular work hours. In a survey conducted by Causton-Theoharis and Malmgren (2005), which tried to increase the interaction rate between paraprofessionals and students with severe disabilities, by the use of in-service training of paraprofessionals. The training was held at two elementary schools and consisted of a four hours training session. held one-to-one with instructor and paraprofessional. This study consisted of four paraprofessionals who had not received any prior training prior to employment in the schools. Presented as an in-service, the purpose of this study was to increase purposeful behavior by paraprofessionals that would increase students with disabilities interaction with students without disabilities. Results indicted that by paraprofessionals applying interventions the interaction between students with and without disabilities increased. In the survey completed by Mueller (The 62 Vermont Paraeducator Survey) paraeducators (57%) were presented with in-service training and completed it, however of that 57%, 48% questioned its relevance. In one survey taken by Ashbaker and Morgan in 2001 when paraprofessionals were asked what type of training they received, 90% stated they had received training ranging from short workshops to college classes; however, the majority of the training came from the school district or colleges.  (Archibald, D.L. 2008)


Performance and Evaluation

Another way to fulfill the requirements of NCLB lies in passing an assessment that is approved by the district and state in which the paraprofessional works. These written formal assessments determine whether a paraprofessional, has the skills to assist teachers in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics. These types of assessment used can be classified as “Competency-Based Assessments.” Such assessments measure an individual’s performance against a standard of acceptable performance, or score, and are not compared against other individuals taking such assessment.   (Archibald, D.L. 2008)

Evaluation tools and methods like checklists and rubrics can be used to evaluate and provide performance feedback to paraeducators. Paraeducators should be formally evaluated at least once a year (Douglas & Bowles, 2018). However, it is important for a paraeducator to receive more frequent feedback from their supervisor and ideally be informally evaluated quarterly, giving them a chance to improve their practice. In many schools, administrators evaluate paraeducators, whether that’s an assistant principal or coordinator of special education. (Rachel Stoudt).


Council for Exceptional Children Resources

Special Education Paraeducator Preparation Guidelines

Specialty Set: Special Education Paraeducator Preparation Standards


Related Readings

Iona County ISD-ASD Team, (2007). Effectively Utilizing and Supporting Paraprofessionals. (working with students on the autism spectrum).

Parker, D. (n.d.) Supporting Paraprofessionals to Support Students with IEPs. , Association of Wisconsin School Administrators


Paraeducator Standards

Voices from the FIeld

voices from the field

Teacher candidates talk about the CEC  Special Education Paraeducator standards in relation to the support they see paraeducators receiving in their school. They address areas of needed professional development to support paraeductors.


PCCG.1.K11- Effect of speech and language development on academic and nonacademic learning of individuals with exceptionalities

Speech and language deficits in students can truly be debilitating not only for academics, but social aspects of the students’ lives as well. My school has two SLPs, one who started a few months ago and one who is about to retire, and together they form an incredible team. They are highly effective in communicating how important it is for students with speech and language deficits, to not only receive speech services, but also supplementary services and practice such as working in the classroom with the Paraeducator. My school has weekly team meetings for the special education department and we invite the paraeducators when possible. Our SLPs do an fantastic job on keeping the entire team informed on the students who receive speech services. During IEP meetings they take the necessary time to discuss the student’s deficits, how it is impacting them currently and how it may impact them later in life, and offer great support and guidance to those who work directly with the students and the parents as well. They are truly passionate about their work and understand that clear communication, practice, and consistency are key ingredients in assisting any student. Jake Muniz

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PCCG.1.S1- Demonstrate respect and appreciation for differences in values, languages, and customs among home, school, and community

Given the cultural diversity of my current school and schools throughout the country and coming from a Hispanic household, I believe it to be imperative for not only the paraeducator but ever staff within the building to acknowledge, respect, and celebrate the differences that our population has. I was not entirely briefed on exactly how diverse our student population is (60 dialects are spoken within the 425 student population) upon beginning my time at the school. I would like for the school to place a larger emphasis on this when someone new starts, maybe provide some resources on the varying cultures as well. Different cultures require different approaches as the social rules vary. Students with limited or no English proficiency should feel just as comfortable as the English speaking students. Having an understanding of cultures and joining in celebrating with the students would do nothing but improve the educational experience for all students and staff.  Jake Muniz

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PCCG.2.K4 Rules and procedural safeguards regarding behavioral support of individuals with exceptionalities.

Though we have a crisis prevention intervention team, the paras themselves are not all CPI trained. I feel like this would be so helpful for all paraprofessionals. Though not all paras work with students with behavior problems, you never know what student you will have in the future. Having this knowledge would be beneficial for the safety of the students and staff members. I just started working with a new student, though she doesn’t act out physically  towards me, she destroys the classroom and spits. The first time she did this I had no idea what to do. Yes, I knew what to do for the average student tantrum, and I de-escalated the situation. Yet, had she started going overboard, I would not know how to go about it in a trained CPI way. Which also goes with PCCG.7.S7 Participate actively in conferences and team meetings, I should have had at least a quick meeting before taking on a more difficult student. It is important to meet the team members, develop a relationship, understand the game plan, and just overall figure out your student. I am a very quick learner and go with the flow, but I felt a little thrown to the wolves at the beginning of this year.  Jazmine Perkins

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PCCG.3.K2 Purpose of individual plans relative to general education curriculum

My school does a really nice job emphasizing collaboration and communication between members of the multidisciplinary team. I have always felt comfortable and encouraged to ask questions; get feedback from the special education and general education teachers; and familiarize myself with the students’ IEPs, goals, and appropriate learning supports. I am 1:1 with a student for half of the day. He is high needs and I work with him on his IEP goals, provide behavioral support during class specials and OT/ST services, etc. The general education teacher is great about providing me and the student’s other para with school work relative to the general education curriculum. I was not expecting, however, to feel like his classroom teacher is primarily communicating with me and his other para more than with his special education teacher. It makes sense as she sees us with him every day, but it is a reminder of how vital communication between all members of the instructional team is and the central role that paras play in that. Both of these examples are meant to emphasize the importance of training classroom teachers to provide clear expectations and responsibilities to paras in their classrooms (Sauberan, 2015). This is valuable because of how differently classrooms are “run” and what the teacher expects from the para. Rebecca Foss

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PCCG.1.S3 Access credible resources to extend and expand understanding of exceptionalities

Last year a newer 1st grade student with ASD was struggling with transitions and following expected behaviors in the halls. While accessing 3rd and 4th grades wings, he would move things, run, play with water stations, open display cases, etc. Not everyone was aware of how to assist. While some teachers would try to redirect, others would ignore, and few seemed to be on the same page. After concerns for safety were vocalized by the upper grade teachers, a meeting was held on protocol for students so that the whole building could be on the same page (students, because privacy laws do not permit access to the specifics of those not directly working with the individual). Unbeknownst to many staff members for some students, greeting them in the hallway could trigger off-task or unsafe behavior. We are a community that greets each other in the hallways so we had to learn that for some students, doing so was not the community kindness we practice and was in fact unhelpful. The BCBA was able to provide resources to the staff to further our understanding of variations of appropriate and supportive responses in the hall and during transitions. Kate D’Appolonia

PCCG.2.S4 Provide least intrusive level of support based on the demands of the learning environment as determined by the instructional team. 

I believe this is a standard that paraeducators need support in. While they all have access to students’ IEPs, they’re not always sure of the exact support that they should provide to each student. I see paras where I work do a lot of the student’s work for them. And it’s with the best intentions, they want to help these students and see them succeed. But it is a constant conversation between special educators and paraeducators as to what the student is actually capable of doing on their own. Sometimes it seems that the para may know what works best for each student as they tend to spend the most amount of time with them compared to the special educator. I do hope special educators view paras as an invaluable piece of each student’s program. However, I feel that paraeducators need professional development in this area as a way to help them to promote a little more independence amongst the students they work with and to create constructive conversation amongst themselves and the special educator. The para needs to communicate with the special educator things like, this is what I see the student struggling with so this is the way I provide support. Sarah Caroll

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PCCG.2.S5 Use routines and procedures to facilitate transitions as determined by the instructional team

This standard sticks out to me as one where I believe paras are receiving adequate support at my school. There are behavioral specialists and special educators that work closely with the paras on ways to support students through transitions and taking breaks during the day. This is something that the team wants to continue to challenge students with to not feel too comfortable in their routine, in order to adapt to the changes of life. Tate Vanlkenburg

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PCCG.2.S11 Promote self-advocacy and independence as determined by the instructional team

I believe that this standard is one where working as a para can be difficult. When working to support a child throughout the day, every day, it can be hard for them to gain independence as they feel they have someone to constantly lean on. Especially when it comes to simple things like writing and recording their ideas, it can feel so much easier to just write it for them if their writing is illegible or if they constantly get distracted. This is something I find myself challenged with, and I notice that sometimes even the special educators even do. We know that ultimately this does not help the students become independent and figure things out on their own, so I think it should be talked about more regarding what is expected of the student and how much support should be given before it turns to doing the work for them. Tate Vanlkenburg

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PCCG.2.S13 Protect the health and safety of individuals with exceptionalities

This standard is one that paras are receiving adequate support through at my school. The paras I work with always have the best interest of the student. If there is a health concern regarding a student, the para is the first one to bring that student to the nurse to be evaluated. We have a handful of medically fragile students so for paras to be on top of health issues is huge for this crew. I see paras often looking out for the safety of students by walking next to them in the hallways, having the student stop and look both ways before crossing on the crosswalk, etc. I have also witnessed a para, who was concerned about a student’s mental health and potential harm to himself, remove that student from class and bring him to the nurse for evaluation. That para then called the student’s case manager to fill them in on what was going on. That para did not show fear or judgment toward that student, instead she acted as an advocate for this student. The paras at my school really do show compassion toward the health and safety of each student they support!  Sarah Caroll

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 PCCG.2.S14 Support individuals with exceptionalities by modeling and facilitating the use of collaborative problem solving and conflict management .

When I was a para I was never invited to come to any  intervention meetings. I was always told information from the classroom teacher after a meeting. This would be hard since I was the one who was mainly working with the students, but I was not there to be a part of the intervention plan. Sometimes the classroom teacher would be so busy I wouldn’t hear about what they came up with till days later. I also had very limited interaction with the family of the student I was working with. I think finding ways for paras to be part of intervention meetings in some way so that they could feel more part of the team and be in the loop would be helpful for everyone involved.  I know it may not always be appropriate for the para to  communicate directly with families, but if there was even some form of PD to help paras be better prepared for if/ when they need to communicate with families,I think that would make paras have more confidence and professionalism when it comes to collaboration. Jenna Hershman

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PCCG.7.S5 Communicate effectively with stakeholders as determined by the instructional team

Paras are not invited to attend meetings with the Special Education Team or grade level teams. Many feel this is an unfortunate practice, and their participation would be helpful to both learners and educators. However, it is not uncommon that the case managers or special education teachers will ask paras their opinions or experiences with students prior to meetings or when new ideas are considered. Kate D’Appolonia


References

Archibald, Donna Lynn, “Roles and Responsibilities of the Georgia Special Education Paraprofessionals and the Impact of the NCLB Mandates: An Assessment by Georgia Administrators, Special Education Teachers, and Special Education Paraprofessionals” (2008). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 245. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/etd/245   CC By 4.0

Douglas, S.N., & Bowles, R.P. (2018). Michigan Applied Public Policy Brief: Paraeducator Training, Supervision, and Evaluation in Michigan. Michigan Applied Public Policy Research Program. Retrieved from http://ippsr.msu.edu/sites/default/files/MAPPR/Paraeducator%20Training,%20Supervision,%20and%20Evaluation%20in%20Michigan.pdf

Stoudt, Rachel, Granite State College Student, winter 2021, EDU 606

Vierstra, G. (n.d.). Paraprofessionals: What you need to know. Understood For All Inc. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/for-educators/learning-and-thinking-differences-basics/paraprofessionals-what-you-need-to-know 

Wikipedia, (n.d.) Paraprofessional educator. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprofessional_educator 


updated 6.22.22