A special education paraprofessional (sometime called: para, parapro, aide, assistant) provides support to the teacher and to individual students with disabilities in the classroom who need modified instruction or assistance, as described in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). The answers to the questions below have been drawn from these sources:
- Paraprofessionals (NICHCY)
- How to Request a One-to-One Paraprofessional for Your Child (Wrightslaw)
- Why You Should Request a Paraprofessional, Not an Aide (Wrightslaw)
- Working with Paraprofessionals (Peal Center)
What are the duties of a paraprofessional?
The intent of using paraprofessionals is to supplement not supplant the work of the teacher/service provider. Paraprofessionals can assist in providing a variety of activities based on their training and scope of responsibilities. Paraprofessionals can be used to increase the frequency, intensity, efficiency, and availability of instructional assistance and services as delegated and supervised by the qualified teacher/service provider; they can assist the qualified supervising teacher/service provider with generalization of learned skills to multiple settings; and they can assist with habilitation and education programs.
The responsibilities of a paraprofessional are determined by the IEP team. Depending on the student’s need, a paraprofessional might
- modifying or adapting instruction for students with disabilities;
- working with individual students or small groups of students to reinforce learning of material or skills introduced by the teacher;
- providing one-on-one assistance to students with disabilities;
- guiding independent study, enrichment work, and remedial work with students as set up and assigned by the teacher;
- assisting students with self-care tasks (as necessary); and
How do I get a paraprofessional for my child?
The need for a paraprofessional support is determined by the IEP team. The child’s needs are identified by an evaluation of the child. An evaluation includes standardized tests or assessments, parent input, classroom observations, teacher input, etc. This data is reflected in the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance statement in the IEP. Paraprofessional services would be listed under supplementary aids and services.
We also have a webinar series available. You might want to watch “PLAAFP Statement” and “Supports and Services” to understand the IEP process. www.michiganallianceforfamilies.org/webinar
What are some negatives of having a paraprofessional?
Paraprofessional supports can sometimes have unintended, undesirable effects. For example, you may easily identify the student with a disability—seated on the periphery of the classroom with a paraprofessional close by. A paraprofessional is not a highly-qualified teacher and should not be the primary instructor. Over-dependence on paraprofessionals can adversely affect peer interactions. In some cases, students with disabilities feel stigmatized because they receive targeted paraprofessional support. For students with behavior problems, the paraprofessional support put in place to assist them may actually provoke behavioral outbursts
Alternatives to paraprofessional support include:
- creating smaller classes
- training teachers to differentiate instruction
- training teachers to teach mixed-ability groups
- providing peer supports
- encouraging co-teaching.
What are the job requirements to be a paraprofessional?
No Child Left Behind (NCLB), states paraprofessionals must meet one of the following three criteria to be considered qualified:
a. Complete at least 60 hours credit toward a college diploma; or
b. Obtain an associate’s (or higher) degree; or
c. Demonstrate, through a formal academic or local assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing reading, writing, and mathematics.
Michigan Department of Education has a FAQ page for Federal Requirements for Michigan Paraprofessionals.
What support is available for paraprofessionals?
Free, printable Cuecards for Inclusion Paraprofessionals
NICHCY has compiled a list of resources for paraprofessionals.