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Research Connections
Spring 2003

Providing Support to Students with Disabilities and Their Teachers

Increasingly, paraeducators* are providing instructional and learner support to students with disabilities—a major shift from 40 years ago when their responsibilities were primarily clerical. Today’s paraeducators still perform routine clerical and housekeeping tasks. However, there is a greater emphasis on their instructional and learner support roles. The OSEP-funded Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education (SPeNSE) found that the majority of paraeducators who work in special education typically spend 85 to 90 percent of their time participating in instructional activities, including tutoring individuals and groups of learners under the direction of a licensed practitioner, gathering data, implementing behavior management plans, preparing materials, and meeting with teachers. They also monitor hallways, playgrounds, and lunchrooms, as well as provide clerical support.

“The quality of instruction and service has a tremendous effect on student achievement,” points out Elaine Carlson, director of SPeNSE. “The knowledge and skills of everyone who works with students with disabilities—including paraeducators—are central to ensuring a quality workforce.”

To ensure a quality workforce, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has provisions that allow paraprofessionals who are appropriately trained and supervised to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities. State education agencies must provide leadership to ensure that paraeducators are appropriately prepared.

The evolving roles and responsibilities of paraeducators makes this a challenging task. “Increased reliance on paraeducators with greater emphasis on their instructional and learner support roles requires a serious look at their roles, supervision, and preparation,” says Anna Lou Pickett, consultant and past executive director of the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals. “Policies and systems are needed that reflect these changes in both teacher and paraeducator roles.”

As teachers increasingly rely on paraeducators to provide instructional support for students with disabilities, issues related to their roles and responsibilities must be addressed. Researchers featured in this Research Connections are helping us better understand how paraeducators’ work may be enhanced to ensure that students with disabilities achieve to high standards.

[*The terms paraprofessional and paraeducator are used interchangeably.]

Next: Improving Paraeducator Practices

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