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Paraeducators: Factors That Influence Their Performance,
Development, and Supervision
The ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E587
Author: Anna Lou Pickett
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 employees:
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,
- whose positions are either instructional in nature or who
provide other direct services to children, youth and/or their
- 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).
Impact of Evolving Teacher Roles
Inextricably tied to the increased reliance on paraeducators in
more complex and demanding roles are various reform initiatives
to redefine teacher roles and functions.The traditionally
recognized planning, instructional, and learner evaluation
responsibilities of teachers have changed dramatically and now
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 &
Gerlach, 1997; Friend & Cook, 1996).
- Greater involvement in shared decision making and other
school based governance activities (David, 1996)
- Participation in the alignment of curriculum 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,
An added dimension to the management functions of teachers are
their responsibilities 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;
The Need for Policies and Infrastructures to Strengthen
Teacher and Paraeducator Teams
Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),
reauthorized in 1997, requires 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 to:
- Develop skill and knowledge standards that recognize the
changing roles of paraeducators
- Set skill standards for paraeducators working in different
- Create seamless career development models that include
on-the-job coaching, inservice training and access to
post-secondary education for paraeducators interested in becoming
- Establish supervisory responsibility and standards for
monitoring paraeducator performance (Pickett and Gerlach, 1997;
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
- 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 (IHEs), 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
- How can we develop and strengthen partnerships among the
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,
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 York.
Mueller, P.H. (1997). A study of the roles, training needs, of
Vermont's paraeducators. Unpublished dissertation. University of
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.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was
prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0026. The opinions expressed in this
report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of
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