With OSEP support, researchers are investigating how best to support paraeducator performance. The following examples show that mindful planning, supervision, and professional development can result in improved practices.
IMPROVING PARAEDUCATOR SUPPORTS SCHOOLWIDE
Substantial benefits can accrue for students and teachers when well conceived paraeducator supports are
implemented, says University of Vermont researcher Michael Giangreco. However, these benefits
require a balance between supports offered by paraprofessionals and those offered by teachers, peers, and
For more than a decade, Giangreco and his colleagues have been studying ways to improve paraeducator
supports for students with disabilities. To do this, Giangreco suggests pursuing role clarification and role
alignment with paraprofessional skills, orientation, training, and supervision. But, he adds, educators also
should do a better job in determining when paraprofessional supports are warranted and appropriate.
Neither research nor common sense supports assigning paraeducators to provide primary or exclusive
instruction to students with disabilities, asserts Giangreco. 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. [For a full discussion
of these issues, visit one of Giangrecos web sites for his OSEP-funded Project EVOLVE at http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/evolve/.]
To support educators in ensuring that paraeducators are used appropriately, Giangreco and his colleagues
with OSEP supportdeveloped A Guide to Schoolwide Planning for Paraeducator Supports (at
http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/parasupport). This 10-step action planning process assists school-based teams in assessing [see sidebar, Planning Process] their own status in terms of paraprofessional supports. 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.
Joining forces with all parties to take positive steps schoolwide can result in actions that are more
effective, strategic, and sustainable, Giangreco explains.
Students should be able 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.
- Identify resources.
- Implement plan.
- Evaluate plan and chart next steps.
- Report impact and needs to school community.
Educators Use Planning Tool to Address Needs
In Colorado, Challenger Middle School teacher Jami Finn is the first to tell you that she was not satisfied during the first year she had paraeducators working in her room. I never had training in how to supervise paraeducators and I was unsure about their roles and responsibilities, Finn reports. The planning tool
developed by Dr. Giangreco and colleagues was attractive because it offered a way for our team to discuss
issues of concern, prioritize what we wanted to address, and take practical steps to improve our practices.
Finn convened a team consisting of herself (a significant support needs teacher), a resource teacher,
paraeducators, a general education teacher, an administrator, and a parent. During a three month period,
team members met bimonthly to craft an action plan.
Paraeducators were very concerned about structural issues, such as hiring practices, job descriptions, and
training, Finn points out. They also were concerned with their roles and responsibilities when
accompanying students to general classrooms, citing a general awkwardness in knowing what to do.
As a result of the planning process, Finn says the team identified a number of strategies to address the
concerns, including a paraeducator handbook and a web site that provides useful information and resources.
Topics on the web site include the following:
We also created a section that we use to orient new parents to our program, Finn adds.
- Roles and responsibilities.
- Classroom organization and behavior management issues.
- Medical and safety issues.
- Orientation to the program philosophy and goals.
- Ethical issues.
- Curriculum goals.
|NATIONAL RESOURCE CENTER|
FOR PARAPROFESSIONALS (NRCP)
Policy makers do not need to start from scratch in addressing issues
related to paraeducator standards. With OSEP support, NRCP has developed
guidelines for paraeducator roles and responsibilities as well as model
standards for their training and supervision, in the publication, Strengthening
and Supporting Teacher/Provider-Paraeducator Teams: Guidelines for Paraeducators
Roles, Supervision, and Preparation.
The mission of the NRCP is to address policy questions and other needs
of the field, provide technical assistance and share information about
policy questions, management practices, regulatory procedures, and training
models that will enable administrators and staff developers to improve
the recruitment, deployment, supervision, and career development of paraeducators.
See the web site at
ASSESSING PARAEDUCATOR ROLES AND ACTIVITIES
Relatively little empirical research exists on the efficacy of the use of paraeducators, recommended
practices used by paraeducators, or validated practices for classrooms staffed by a paraeducator and a
teacher, explains Margaret Werts, researcher at Appalachian State University. Our research took one variableproximity of an assigned paraeducator to a student in an inclusive classroomand sought to find
out if it had an impact on the academic engagement of students with significant disabilities.
In the OSEP-supported work, Werts and her colleagues found that proximity of the paraeducator has a
positive impact on academic engagement of elementary-aged students. Findings suggested that:
From this study, we began looking at proximity in terms of whether roles
were different for paraeducators who were assigned to work one-on-one with
students with disabilities and those who were assigned to work with the
general classroom, Werts tells us. Findings suggested that one-on-one
paraeducators spend more time in close proximity with studentsfor example,
more than 50 percent of the time, one-on-one paraeducators were less than
two feet from students, compared to only 25 percent for general education
paraeducators. Moreover, general education paraeducators were found to be
more than five feet away from students with disabilities twice as much of
the time as the one-on-one paraeducators.
- Students were more academically engaged when their paraprofessionals were in close proximity.
- Interactions between the student and paraeducator occurred when the paraeducator was close to the
student. Verbal interactions between students and paraeducators were prevalent when academic
engagement was high.
- When the paraeducator moved back two feet or more, academic on-task behavior dropped.
The findings raise issues about academic engagement and other student outcomes, and the assignment of
paraeducators to individual students or to classes. To maximize the amount and nature of interaction when
academic engagement is the desired outcome, we began designing instructional and interactive strategies
using proximity of the paraeducator, Werts describes. These strategies were built into a course for
According to Christina Tillery, who completed Werts training while a paraeducator in the Watauga Schools in North Carolina, the training helped make her more conscious of what she was doing and how it
was affecting children. Dr. Werts and her staff observed me in the classroom. Afterwards, they took the
proximity data they collected on my physical, verbal, and non-verbal interactions and created a graph,
Tillery explains. Werts shared the data with Tillery during a consultation. I thought I spent all of my time
managing behavior, Tillery remarked. But the data showed me how much I really was doing to support
the academic progress of children.
Werts also shared Tillerys graphs with the parents of the children. This really helped put everyone on the
same page in terms of helping the child, Tillery points out. I also had access to the aggregated data of
other paraeducators, which helped me reflect on how I was doing in relation to others.
|PARAPROFESSIONAL INITIATIVE: REPORT TO OSEP|
In 1999, the OSEP-funded Associations of Service Providers Implementing
IDEA Reforms in Education Partnership Project (ASPIIRE) launched the Paraprofessional
Initiative. Its goal: To develop consensus on the definition of paraprofessionals
and assistants that acknowledge the supervisory roles of licensed or certified
professional staff and on the critical need for paraprofessionals to be
Leslie Jackson of the American Occupational Therapy
Association (AOTA) chaired the work group. Because IDEA does not define
paraprofessional, group members felt it was important to provide a working
definition, Jackson said. The resulting definition, which applies to
paraeducators and technically educated assistants, follows:
The paraprofessional is an employee who, following appropriate training,
performs tasks as prescribed and supervised by the licensed/certified professional/practitioner.
Paraprofessionals perform specific duties as directed by the licensed/certified
professional/practitioner. The licensed/certified professional/practitioner
maintains responsibility for assessing the learner and family needs, and
for planning, evaluating, and modifying programs.
In defining paraprofessionals, Jackson stressed the importance of keeping
their roles and responsibilities in perspective. Paraeducators are not intended
to supplant or replace teachers or related service professionals; they are there
to assist as determined by the professional, Jackson points out. Paraeducators add
an important element to the delivery of services and instruction.
The report is available on the ASPIIRE/ILIAD web site at www.ideapractices.org. For more information on occupational therapy assistants, AOTA has a fax-on-demand
service for documents on the topic at 800-701-7735. Request documents
926 (on roles and responsibilities) and 927 (on supervision).
For more than a decade, University of Colorado-Denver researcher Nancy French has been at the center of efforts to prepare paraeducators for instructional and learner support roles. Her research consistently has shown a need for training in tasks that many paraeducators are currently performing.
In spite of the dramatic shift in the paraeducator role away from clerical work and toward
instructional support, training remains notably absent, French comments. She notes a number of issues
that make training challenging:
There is no shortage of good curricula for preparing paraeducators, says
French. However, we must provide incentives to applicants who come with
preservice training and to employees who gain additional skills and competencies
through inservice training.
- The development of paraeducator programs in many community colleges has progressed slowly and
in isolation. Most programs have had difficulty recruiting students, except in cases where local
districts have agreed to give hiring preference to trained personnel.
- School districts face difficult decisions about lack of training time and limited training budgets.
- The mostly nonexistent career development structures in many districts limit the willingness of
paraeducators to participate in training.
French also notes a need for training special education teachers in supervisory techniques. In a study of
teacher practices related to supervising paraeducators, French found that on-the-job experience was the
primary source of their supervisory knowledge. To perform supervisory roles effectively, teachers need
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.
|NATIONAL CLEARINGHOUSE FOR PROFESSIONS|
IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
Todays paraeducators are present in most educational settings may be found
in a prekindergarten class for children with special needs, out in the
community serving as a job coach for a student with developmental disabilities,
in a resource room for adolescents with learning disabilities, or in a
fourth grade classroom that contains students both with and without special
needs, points out Lynn Boyer, Director of the National Clearinghouse
for Professions in Special Education (NCPSE), an OSEP-funded project at
the Council for Exceptional Children. They have skills and contributions
that make them highly valued and sought after in education.
The NCPSE web site [www.special-ed-careers.org] provides a wealth of information on careers in special education, including that of paraeducator. Of particular
interest are the topics included on the paraeducator profile page:
- Nature of the work.
- Education required.
- Personal qualities.
- Job outlook and advancement.
- How to prepare for a career.
Also provided is a link to the Council for Exceptional Childrens set of Knowledge and
Skills for Paraeducators that are being used by paraeducator training programs nationwide.
Training Teachers To Conduct Paraeducator Professional
With OSEP support, French developed the CO-TOP model for training teachers and other school
professionals to supervise and provide professional development to paraeducators.
Don Bell, a significant support needs specialist in Douglas County Colorado Schools, completed Frenchs trainer of trainers course. Part of his work in the district involves coordinating paraeducator trainings, in which he uses Frenchs materials. Initially we ran district trainings for paraeducators. Eventually the
district staff development office got involved, Bell reports. Currently, we have twelve active trainers in
the district, four of whom are paraeducators.
Bell points out that the district has offered several incentives to paraeducators. The district allows
paraeducators to qualify for reimbursement and stipends for completed training. Paraeducator
trainings also are offered on regularly scheduled inservice days, and at other times that are preferred by
paraeducators. Bell offered the following tips:
- Focus on issues that are important to the paraeducators.
- Personalize the curriculum (e.g., use district forms).
- Use good trainers.
- Provide an orientation to all new hires.
- Make sure teachers are apprised of paraeducator training content.
|A FAMILY PERSPECTIVE|
Parents find that their childs success often depends upon the decisions
administrators and teachers make about the paraeducators they supervise,
says Paula Goldberg, Executive Director of the PACER Center, a parent
training and information center that directs several OSEP-funded projects.
PACER asked a group of parents to identify issues that they would ask
school districts to consider in using a paraeducator to help their child.
For more information, visit the PACER web site at www.pacer.org.
- Training: Parents recommend providing paraeducators with information
on the childs disability; techniques for positive behavior intervention,
communication, and health issues; communication strategies for interacting
with parents; and approaches that encourage independence for the child.
- Understanding roles and responsibilities: Parents want the IEP team
to determine the paraeducators roles and responsibilities. The IEP should
specify that the paraeducator supports the teacher who is the childs
- Encouraging parent input. Parents believe they should
participate in setting criteria for the assignment of a paraeducator to
- Including the paraeducator on the childs team. Parents want paraeducators to
be accepted as part of the school community and to be respected and valued for
their contributions to the childs educational team.
Samuel Palmer and Kathy Sweezy, teachers at the Eastern Suffolk New York BOCES, also completed Frenchs training. In addition to using Frenchs curriculum content in the context of supervising
paraeducators in their own classrooms, Palmer and Sweezy developed and teach a course on paraeducators
for teachers at SUNY-Stoneybrook.
Most teachers do not have experience setting up their classrooms to work as a team with paraeducators,
Palmer points out. They need a range of skills from instructing paraeducators in how to use materials, to
making written daily plans, to delegating responsibilities. Sweezy adds, We emphasize that working as a
team means everybody is on the same page.
|EDUCATION AND TRAINING VOLUNTARY PARTNERSHIP|
What do paraeducators need to know and be able to do? According
to Tish Olshefski of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Answers
to those questions will further the profession by ensuring that individuals
can do these jobs.
Olshefski hopes that as a result of the Education and Training Voluntary Partnership project at AFT coalition of organizations and individuals with an interest in skills standards for the education
workforce will have a better understanding of what it means to do the
work of a paraeducator well. Funded by the Department of Labor, the project
is developing a national, voluntary system of skill standards for frontline
workers in education. We expect that the standards will be used for a
variety of purposes, such as aligning training programs, developing certificate
programs, writing job descriptions, and doing job evaluations, says Olshefski.
The research process involves frontline workers and subject matter experts
and includes the use of intensive focus groups and validation through
a national survey. The standards are due to be released sometime in 2003.
For more information, visit the project web site at www.etvp.org.