A special education paraprofessional (sometime called: para, parapro, paraeducator, 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:

What are the duties of a paraprofessional?

The intent of using paraprofessionals is to supplement (not supplant) 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. Paraprofessionals can be used to increase the frequency, intensity, efficiency, and availability of instructional assistance and services.  Paraprofessionals can assist the supervising teacher 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

  • 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 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 better understand the IEP process.

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.  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.

Fading assistance means systematically reducing the type and level of support given to a student who is learning so they can perform tasks independently.  You can read more consideration factors for “fading” in this technical assistance article from Massachusetts (note: this includes Massachusetts specific citations).

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?

Free, printable Cue Cards for Inclusion Paraprofessionals

The Role of the Paraprofessional- Tips for the Inclusive Classroom –SWIFT

Free, research based online curriculum for paraprofessionals Inspiring Independence