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Paraeducators: The Evolution in Their Roles,
Responsibilities, Training, and Supervision

By Anna Lou Pickett

Nationwide there is a growing recognition of the roles of paraeducators as integral members of the instructional process, and the need to develop standards and systems for improving the employment, performance, and preparation of the paraeducator workforce. There are several inter-related reasons for the growing interest in paraeducator issues. In this article, we are focusing on two of the most important issues. The first is the new dimensions that have been added over the last two decades to the traditionally recognized roles and functions of teachers. The second is the provisions contained in two federal legislative actions. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, which amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), includes several sections that impact on paraeducator employment, training, and supervision in Title I. In addition, amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA) require states to develop policies and standards to ensure that paraeducators are appropriately trained and supervised. Both of these factors have shaped the evolution in the roles, supervision, and preparation of paraeducators who work in early childhood education; elementary, middle, and secondary inclusive general and special education classrooms; Title 1; multi-lingual; and other compensatory programs provided by local education agencies (LEAs) nationwide.


Paraeducator, paraprofessional, teacher aide/assistant, education technician, transition trainer/job coach, home visitor. These are just a few of the titles assigned to school and other education provider agency employees who have the following characteristics:

It has been almost 50 years since “teacher aides” were introduced into our nation’s schools to enable teachers to spend more time in planning and implementing instructional activities. Initially the duties assigned to teacher aides were primarily routine and included clerical tasks, monitoring learners in non-academic learning environments, maintaining learning centers, duplicating instructional materials, and to a limited extent reinforcing lessons introduced by teachers. Over the last two decades, the work of increasing numbers of researchers has revealed that in contemporary schools the vast majority of paraeducators spend all or part of their time assisting teachers and other licensed practitioners in different phases of the instructional process or the delivery of other direct services to learners and their parents (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; Killoran, Templeman, Peters, & Udell, 2001; Moshoyannis, Pickett, & Granick, 1999; Riggs & Mueller, 2001; Rogan & Held, 1999; Rueda & Monzo, 2000). As a result of these changes in the roles and responsibilities of teacher aides, 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.”

In addition to amendments to NCLB 2001 and IDEA 1997, there are other issues and trends that have caused policy-makers and administrators to increasingly turn to paraeducators to support the program and administrative functions of teachers. They include:

These new program practices and the increasing team leadership roles for teachers are particularly apparent in the responsibilities of teachers who work in inclusive general and special education classrooms and Title I, multi-lingual, and transition from school to work programs. As a result there has been movement toward differentiated staffing arrangements in various education programs, thus expanding the supervisory functions of teacher (French, 2001; Wallace, et al. 2001).

Teacher and Paraeducator Teams: The Evolving Roles of Paraeducators

The increased reliance on paraeducators and the assignment of more complex responsibilities is inextricably tied to the changes in the program and administrative functions of teachers. Although paraeducators still perform clerical, monitoring, and other routine tasks, in today’s schools they participate in all aspects of the instructional process and the delivery of related services to children, youth, and families. Research conducted by the various investigators cited throughout this article indicates that the vast majority of paraeducators, working under the supervision of teachers and in some cases related services professionals, do the following:

The Need for Standards and Infrastructures

Despite the evolution in teacher and paraeducator roles and responsibilities in the delivery of education and other direct services, little attention has been paid to the need for state and local education agencies (SEAs, LEAs) to develop written policies, regulatory procedures, and systems that will strengthen and improve the performance of education teams. Indeed, until recently opportunities for standardized, continuing training and well-planned supervision linked to on-the-job training for paraeducators have for the most part been after- thoughts in the public policy arena. As a result distinctions in teacher and paraeducator roles are not always clearly defined; paraeducator training, when it is available, is usually unstructured and not competency based, and opportunities for career advancement rarely exist (Pickett, Likins, & Wallace, 2002). Provisions contained in IDEA 1997 and amendments to the NCLB/ESEA 2001 have caused SEA and LEA policymakers and administrators to begin to develop policies and infrastructures to improve the performance of teacher and paraeducator teams. The next reauthorization of IDEA scheduled for 2003 will in all probability contain similar language to that of the NCLB of 2001, and thus interest in the development of standards for paraeducator roles, preparation, and supervision will continue.


On the surface these new development efforts would appear to be good signs. There are some indications, however, that the approaches being used in many states may not achieve the desired outcomes. In far too many cases, SEAs, feeling under pressure to meet deadlines contained in the NCLB Act of 2001, are rushing to develop standards and systems for paraeducator preparation that may not meet either the letter of the law or its intent, and, perhaps of even greater significance, will not withstand the test of time. Moreover, very few states have started to adequately address the requirements in IDEA of 1997; this is particularly true with regard to the need to develop and implement standards to prepare teachers for their emerging roles as supervisors of paraeducators. Further compounding the problems confronting administrators and program implementers in SEAs, LEAs, and two- and four-year institutions of higher education is the lack of information about the current practices across agency lines and areas of responsibility connected with paraeducator employment, roles, supervision, and preparation at the state and local levels.

These issues cannot be addressed in a vacuum. There is a powerful need for SEAs to provide leadership to develop and nurture partnerships among LEAs, two- and four-year institutions of higher education, unions, parents, and other stakeholders to gather and analyze information that will enable them to establish standards for paraeducator roles, preparation, and supervision, and to build infrastructures for paraeducator career development. Paraeducator and teachers partnerships will work in concert to:

Finding viable responses to these issues cannot be accomplished overnight. It will require the commitment of all of the stakeholders described above, and the willingness to work cooperatively to ensure the availability of a well-trained and effectively supervised paraeducator workforce.


Downing, J. E., Ryndak, D. & Clark D. (2000). Paraeducators in inclusive classrooms: There own perspectives. Remedial and Special Education, 23(2), 157-164.

French, N., (2001). Supervising paraprofessionals: A supervisor of teacher practices. Journal of Special Education 35(1), 51-73.

Giangreco, M., Edelman, S., Luiselli, T. & McFarland S. (1997). Helping or hovering? Effects of instructional assistant proximity on students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, (64)7-18.

Killoran, J., Templeman, T., Peters, J., &. Udell, T. (2001). Identifying paraprofessional competencies for early intervention and early childhood special education. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(1), 68-73.

Moshoyannis, T., Pickett, A. & Granick, L. (1999). The evolving roles and education training needs of teacher and paraprofessional teams in the New York City Public Schools. New York: Paraprofessional Academy, Center for Advanced Study in Education, Graduate Center, City University of New York.

National Center for Education Statistics (2000). Education statistics: Elementary and secondary schools and staffing survey. Washington, D.C. United States Department of Education, Office of Education Research.

National Center for Education Statistics (1995). Projections of education statistics to 2005. Washington, D.C. United States Department of Education, Office of Education Research.
Office of Special Education Programs and Rehabilitative Services (2000). 22nd annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, D.C. ,U.S. Department of Education.

Pickett, A. (1969). Restructuring the schools: The role of paraprofessionals. Washington, DC: Center for Policy Research, National Governors’ Association.

Pickett, A. L. (in press), Paraeducators in education settings: Framing the issues. In Pickett, A. L. & Gerlach, K. Paraeducators in school settings: A team approach. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Pickett, A., Likins, M., & Wallace, T. (2002). The employment and preparation of paraeducators: The state of the art –2002. Logan, UT: National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals, the University of Utah and the University of Minnesota.

Riggs, C. & Mueller, P. (2001). Employment of and utilization of paraeducators in inclusive settings. Journal of Exceptional Children, 35(1) 54-62.

Rogan, P. & Held, M. (1999). Paraprofessionals in job coach roles. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 24(4), 273-280.

Rueda, R. & Monzo, L. (2000). Apprentices for teaching: Professional development issues surrounding the collaborative relationship between teachers and paraeducators. Washington, DC: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence.

Wallace, T., Johgho, S., Bartholomay, T. & Stahl, B. (2001). Knowledge and skills for teachers supervising the work of paraprofessionals. Exceptional Children 67(4), 520-533.

Anna Lou Pickett is a Consultant to the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals, and its Founder and former Director. She is based in New York City, and may be reached at 212/873-8697 or by e-mail at


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Resources: Resources Related to Paraeducators Supporting Students with Disabilities and At-Risk

Citation: Gaylord, V., Wallace, T., Pickett, A. L., and Likins, M. (Eds.). (2002). Impact: Feature Issue on Paraeducators Supporting Students with Disabilities and At-Risk, 15(2) [online]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from


The print design version (PDF, 500 K, 32 pp.) of this issue of Impact is also available for free, complete with the color layout and photographs. This version looks the most like the newsletter as it was printed.

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