Increasingly, paraeducators* are providing instructional and learner support to students with disabilitiesa
major shift from 40 years ago when their responsibilities were primarily clerical. Todays 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
disabilitiesincluding paraeducatorsare 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.]