Clarifying the Roles and Responsibilities of Paraeducators

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Author: Frances Stetson, Ph.D.

Two pieces of federal legislation have the greatest impact on the role of the paraeducator and the supervising teacher. They are:

  • The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), renamed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The largest and best known of the programs supported by ESEA is the Title I program that provides support for educationally disadvantaged children and youth.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, that provides guidelines for educating students with disabilities.

Under NCLB, the duties of paraeducators are specifically listed. NCLB also added more stringent qualifications for the role of paraeducator. From IDEA 2004, the requirements of NCLB were emphasized and the necessity of direct supervision by a certified teacher or service provider was added.

Here is a simple list of possible roles for pareducators. This list is provided in a format that is easy for teachers and paraeducators assigned to their classrooms to use in making specific choices. Of course, this list is a general list of options while the best decisions are made in relation to the specific needs of students receiving services.

Possible Paraeducator Roles in the Classroom


There are some restrictions on the role of paraeducators. Here is the language from NCLB, Title I, Sections 1119(g)(3)(A):

Paraeducators who provide instructional support must work under the direct supervision of a highly qualified teacher.

The following restrictions on the role of paraeducators may vary from state to state but are generally stated as follows. Paraeducators may not:

  1. Make decisions about curriculum (what to teach) or instruction (how to teach).
  2. Introduce new concepts or content to students.
  3. Serve as a substitute teacher when a teacher is absent.
  4. Provide clerical services in the school office since their roles are to provide instructional support (if funded through Title I or IDEA dollars).

Here is a self-check for paraeducators to use in assessing your effectiveness. If you are a paraeducator you may complete this as a private activity or with your supervising teacher to determine your strengths and any areas in which additional information, training, or modeling would be helpful to you.

Paraeducator Effectiveness Self-Check


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