adult assisting a student at his desk in the classroom

A special education paraprofessional provides support to a student who needs modified instruction or assistance, as described in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). A paraprofessional may be referred to by a different name: para, parapro, paraeducator, aide, one-on-one, assistant. 

What are the duties of a paraprofessional?

The intent of using paraprofessionals is to support (not replace) the work of the teacher. The work of the paraprofessional is delegated and supervised by the teacher. Paraprofessionals can assist in providing a variety of activities based on their training and scope of responsibilities. 

The responsibilities of a paraprofessional are determined by the IEP team. Depending on the student’s need, a paraprofessional might

  • modify or adapt instruction for student(s) with disabilities
  • work 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 student(s) with disabilities
  • guide independent study, enrichment work, and remedial work with students as set up and assigned by the teacher
  • assist students with self-care tasks (as necessary)
  • assist in record-keeping

How do I get a paraprofessional for my child?

The need for 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.

What are prompts?

Prompting is the assistance given to learners to support them in acquiring or engaging in a behavior or skill. The overall goal of using prompts is for the learner to independently perform the desired behavior or skill.

Are there negatives to 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.

Overdependence on paraprofessionals can adversely affect peer interactions. In some cases, students with disabilities feel stigmatized because they receive targeted paraprofessional support.  Fading assistance means systematically reducing the type and level of support given to a student who is learning so they can perform tasks independently.

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?

Paraprofessionals in Michigan must have a high school diploma. Some paraprofessional positions require additional training. Paraprofessional personnel qualifications are also included in MARSE, R 340.1793.

What support is available for paraprofessionals?

Addressing the Paraprofessional Dilemma in an Inclusive School

Cue Cards for Inclusion

Free, research based online curriculum for paraprofessionals Inspiring Independence

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