Paraeducator Guidelines

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Table of Contents

DEFINITION OF A PARAEDUCATOR

The prefix “para” means “alongside.” Paraeducator refers to an individual who works alongside a licensed or certificated educator to assist in providing instructional and other services to students. These services might be class-wide or a paraeducator might be assigned to an individual child to support their needs in various school settings. Through their assistive role and daily interventions in supporting students, paraeducators have a valuable opportunity to make a lasting positive impact on students. The goal of this resource document is to assist IEP teams in:

  • Determining whether a paraeducator is appropriate to meet a student’s needs.
  • Developing and documenting appropriate levels of paraeducator support.
  • Accessing available paraeducator tools and resources.
  • Considering the benefits and risks of having a paraeducator assigned to a student.
  • Creating a plan to fade or reduce the amount of time a paraeducator needs to offer support to a student.
Paraeducators have many professional titles:
  • Educational Paraeducator (EA)
  • Educational Paraprofessional
  • Instructional Aide (IA)
  • LAP Paraeducator
  • Special Circumstances Aide
  • Para-professional or Para
  • Special Education Paraeducator
  • Teacher Paraeducator (TA)
  • Learning Specialist Support or Learning Coach
  • Teacher Aide (TA), Additional Adult
  • Paraeducator (AAA), or Aide
  • Independence Facilitator
  • Classroom Paraeducator

The job of a paraeducator requires an exceptional skill set. While individuals may possess traits that enhance their effectiveness as a paraeducator, it is necessary to provide training related to the specific role(s) of a paraeducator in order to facilitate consistent support of all students. This training should consist of specific instructional strategies, as well as opportunities for meaningful observations, modeling and feedback.

Webmodules are available on the SELPA’s Online Learning Center

When an IEP Team is considering paraeducator support for a student, all aspects of the student’s IEP must be examined with the focus always being on maximizing student independence in order to avoid unintentionally fostering dependence on the paraeducator. The goal is to carefully examine the student’s total educational program in order to determine the need for additional assistance and to ensure the student maximizes independence. Providing a paraeducator during a time when a student may successfully have functioned independently may have negative impacts on the student, such as impeding generalization of skills, or creating increased dependence on a paraeducator which can foster “learned helplessness.” Over-serving a student can be just as detrimental as under-serving. For example, paraeducators who maintain close physical proximity to a student (when support at this level is not merited) can be detrimental to the student because a student learns to rely on the adult support, and opportunities for beneficial teacher/student interactions are reduced. Taking into consideration that the ultimate goal for each student should be to reach the maximum independence level possible, decisions on initial support levels should be carefully determined based on student data and current needs.

A paraeducator assessment must be conducted and considered prior to an IEP team decision regarding the inclusion of paraeducator support in a student’s IEP. This document provides guidance for districts/Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to consider when adopting their own polices. Each school is required to provide a full continuum of placement options for students with identified disabilities who are receiving special education services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and California laws and regulations describe a continuum of placements such as instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions (CFR 300.511 (b) (1)).

IDEA also acknowledges additional supports, including services provided by paraeducators, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. In some cases, a student may require additional support in order to receive educational benefit. Districts/Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) are required to provide a full continuum of supports and services to students with IEPs. As shown in the figure below, the continuum begins with the general education setting and becomes increasingly restrictive as the program deviates more from the general education program and access to general education peers (34 CFR §300.114). A change in educational placement requires careful consideration and thorough discussion by the IEP team.

ETHICS AND CONFIDENTIALITY

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) mandates that confidentiality of student information be maintained. This law mandates that school personnel are informed of and follow this ethical code of conduct. As is the case with all educators and school personnel, paraeducators are expected to respect the legal and human rights of children and their families, therefore maintaining confidentiality is essential to the role of a paraeducator. If a paraeducator is ever in doubt of sharing student information with someone requesting the information, it is recommended that they discuss the situation with the supervising teacher in order to determine if the individual has an educational interest in the information.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

The roles and responsibilities of a paraeducator can vary widely within each district/LEA due to the needs of the student population at each school site. The following non-exhaustive list details some examples of responsibilities that a paraeducator may be assigned under the direction of the supervising teacher.

PARAEDUCATOR RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Provide pre-teaching instruction.
  • Assist during teacher-directed lessons.
  • Monitor student during independent work or group activities.
  • Prepare curriculum materials as directed by a certificated staff member.
  • Monitor safety in a variety of settings such as the cafeteria, bus loading area, playground, hallway or auditorium.
  • Implement and reinforce classroom programs.
  • Implement behavioral management strategies.
  • Collect behavioral data.
  • Support students with personal care/health needs such as toileting/feeding.
  • Support inclusion with non-disabled peers.
  • Provide re-teaching to individuals or small groups of students after teacher-directed instruction.
  • Monitor student progress in instruction programs and relate findings to supervising teacher.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR PARAEDUCATOR RELATIONSHIPS WITH SUPERVISING TEACHER AND SCHOOL

  • Recognize the supervising teacher as the team leader.
  • Establish a regular routine for communication and planning with the supervising teacher.
  • Assist the certificated teachers and not function as the primary instructor for a student.
  • Know and understand school policies and procedures, including the district/LEA procedure for grievances.
  • Discuss disagreements between paraeducator and a supervising teacher directly with the teacher, or appropriate personnel.
  • Represent the school in a positive manner.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR PARAEDUCATOR RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS AND PARENTS

  • Respect the dignity, privacy, and individuality of all students, parents and staff members.
  • Refrain from engaging in discriminatory practices based on a student’s disability, race, sex, cultural background or religion.
  • Keep confidentiality by being aware of where discussions of confidential matters take place. Public places, such as classrooms, staff lunch room, and playgrounds are not appropriate locations.
  • Discuss confidential matters only with appropriate school personnel.
  • Act as a positive adult role model for all students on campus.
  • Communicate student information to supervising teacher who communicates to parents.

ADDITIONAL PARAEDUCATOR CONSIDERATIONS

  • Provide paraeducator with training and check for understanding for all assigned tasks and duties.
  • Communicate any concerns that come to the attention of a paraeducator from parents, students or others to the supervising teacher.
  • Ask for clarification from supervising teacher if at any time the paraeducator is unclear about the roles and responsibilities for which they are accountable.
  • A paraeducator shall be hired at the discrimination of the district/LEA and follow the human resource policies of that district/LEA.
  • A paraeducator should also follow all education code/laws:
    • Education Code section 45344(a) authorizes an instructional aide to perform duties that in the judgment of the teacher, may be performed by a person not licensed as a classroom teacher. Furthermore, an instructional aide need not perform such duties in the physical presence of the teacher. However, the teacher retains the ultimate responsibility for instruction and supervision of the student, and assigns grades.

ASSESSMENT OF PARAEDUCATOR SUPPORT

As is the case with the provision of all special education and related services, determination of paraeducator support is made based on an individual student’s identified area of need, which is determined through assessment and data collection. When new observational data is needed assessment may be initiated upon the receipt of a signed assessment plan which provides written consent for the district/LEA to proceed with the assessment process. An IEP team should complete comprehensive assessments, including classroom observation, in order to obtain data related to the need for paraeducator support. This data should inform the recommendation of paraeducator support service. A sample assessment plan and additional resources are located in the Directions for Utilizing Paraeducator Resources section of this document.

This resource section also provides a variety of tools to assist IEP teams when making determinations about paraeducator support including a paraeducator support rubric, checklist for environmental support and school day analysis.

It is suggested that observational data be obtained by a staff member who is trained to conduct classroom behavioral observations. Observational data will focus on the area(s) of student need (health/personal care, behavior, instruction and inclusion). When an area of need is observed, additional data gathered on the frequency, duration, intensity, and time of day the behavior occurs will help the IEP team tailor the paraeducator support to meet student needs.

If an IEP team determines, through assessment data, that paraeducator support is necessary for a student to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), the team will consider the full continuum of service options to ensure that the student is educated within Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Assessment data will inform the IEP team regarding potential considerations such as the time of day, activity or transition(s) during which additional adult support is required.

PARENT REQUEST

If individual paraeducator support is requested by the parent (i.e. a one-on-one aide), it is important for the IEP team to document how the parent request has been addressed. Refusing to “adequately consider” the parent request may be considered a denial of FAPE. Meaningful discussion and consideration should be given to the request prior to making final recommendations to either assess for need or refuse the request.

Upon receipt of a parent request, the district/LEA should convene an IEP to consider the parent’s request, review student’s progress on goals and review additional data. The district/LEA should carefully consider each academic area or time of day in which paraeducator support may be needed for the student.

The goal for all students is to encourage, promote and maximize independence. Therefore, natural and existing environmental supports should be used whenever possible prior to assigning additional paraeducator support.

If a district/LEA opts to assess for paraeducator support, parents must be provided with a Prior Written Notice (PWN), a copy of their procedural safeguards and an assessment plan (see appendix for example of an assessment plan). Assessment may begin once the district/LEA has received the signed assessment plan.

If the district/LEA opts to decline to assess for paraeducator support they must provide parents a PWN explaining and documenting the decision to refuse the request. Parents should also receive a copy of their procedural safeguards with Prior Written Notice, as well.

DETERMINATION OF PARAEDUCATOR SUPPORT

After existing data has been reviewed and current observational/assessment data has been gathered the IEP team should identify student areas of need in the following categories (see the Paraeducator Support Rubric in the Directions for Utilizing Paraeducator Resources section of this document):

Health/Personal Care

  • Self-help and bathroom needs: If a student needs assistance with toileting or other self help skills, the team should note the times and duration for this activity. This should only be for brief periods during the day.
  • Assistance during snack or lunch: If the student requires assistance with feeding, etc., note the type of assistance needed, the times and duration required. Encourage reliance on peer helpers (with supervision) or other natural supports as much as possible for getting out food, opening containers, etc.
  • Specialized Physical Health Care: Some intensive health supports may necessitate the support of a paraeducator for an indefinite length of time.
  • Assistance with medical needs: Some students need additional assistance for medical reasons. If so, the team should consider the doctor’s orders and the time of day and duration expected. Some medically related supports might be necessary only for brief periods per day/week.
  • A health plan should be attached to the IEP if this is an area of need.

Behavior

  • Through a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), it may be determined that a paraeducator is needed to provide behavior supports and/or collect behavioral data as part of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
  • The BIP should be part of the IEP document.

Instruction

  • Curriculum adaptations: Adaptations of the curriculum (highlighting, copying, enlarging, adding icons, cutting and pasting, etc.) should be done under the direction of the teacher. Curriculum adaptations do not need to be done in the classroom or in the physical presence of the teacher. Adult volunteers and parents may perform some of these activities. In such cases, school site staff should consult LEA policies regarding FERPA and volunteer requirements prior to implementation.
  • Instructional support: Sometimes classroom staff need assistance in supporting a student in staying on-task or providing follow-up instruction. This should be implemented per the behavior plan and faded following guidance in an independence/fade plan as soon as behavior supports are initiated.
  • The only adaptations or accommodations implemented should be those that have been agreed upon by the IEP team and written into the IEP document.

Inclusion

  • Recess or other activities: Assistance may be required to address needs related to safety or social interactions. Care should be taken that the development of natural peer supports and/or use of existing resources are the goals of the extra paraeducator, otherwise the adult may become the student’s sole recess companion.
  • Assistance with transitions: If a student has difficulty transitioning from classroom to playground, playground to classroom, or between activities, extra support may needed. When needed, the team should indicate type(s) of transition(s) as well as time of day and duration, as well as any supports that may be required such as visual schedules.
  • Assistance with classroom centers or other activities: If there is a particular activity or time of day which is difficult for the student, extra help may be needed. The team should specify activity, time of day and duration of support.

MONITORING AND FADING PARAEDUCATOR SUPPORT

Fading paraeducator support and emphasizing independence is critical to student success and growth. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) indicates that a fade plan is an essential component of the planning and implementation of paraeducator support (20 U.S.C. § 1400). A fade plan clearly designates the skills the student must acquire in order to increase independence and decrease paraeducator support. In addition to providing legal compliance with IDEA and fostering the student’s independence, appropriate support fading increases student self-esteem. As a paraeducator’s support fades and the student’s skills increase, the student is able to recognize what they are capable of doing on their own. Presence of a paraeducator can impact the frequency and types of peer interactions that take place throughout the day. Therefore, gaining independence may also have a positive impact on relationships with peers and class participation.

Successful fading of paraeducator support requires thoughtful and intentional monitoring of student progress. Such monitoring allows IEP teams to make data-informed decisions regarding when and how to adjust services to promote student independence. With that in mind, it is recommended that a plan for monitoring also be included in the student’s fade plan. The Monitoring and Fading Plan should include the desired level of student independence determined by the IEP team and delineate the sequence of skills the student must acquire in order for support to be reduced. The fading section of the plan should indicate the frequency and duration of which a student must demonstrate a particular behavior or task before the support would be reduced. This helps guide the team in providing proper training and guidance on prompting and support of the student as the student continues to develop new independent skills. A sample Monitoring and Fading Plan is provided as an appendix to this document to support IEP teams by ensuring all needed elements are considered, addressed, monitored and documented. Sample plans are also provided as examples only. Please refer to the following section for more information on Monitoring and Fading Plan development and documentation.

PLAN DEVELOPMENT AND DOCUMENTATION

The Monitoring and Fading Plan should be attached to the IEP and made available to all appropriate staff who interact with the student in the school environment. The following are areas to consider when developing the Monitoring and Fading Plan:

Support: Type of support the student requires based on the evaluated area of need (health/personal care, behavior, instruction and inclusion).

  • Who will provide the support and how will it be provided?
  • Include accommodations and/or modifications to be provided as needed or when requested by the student.

Time: How long will the paraeducator be needed and at what time of day?

Responsibilities: the specific responsibilities of:

  • The paraeducator
  • The general education teacher
  • The Education Specialist
  • Any other adults interacting with the student in the educational setting (yard duty, office staff, )

Goals and Objectives: Develop goals and objectives that address the skill(s) that need to be taught in order for the student to gain independence and allow the paraeducator to fade the level of support currently required. If the student has a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), the support may be tied to this plan as well.

Paraeducator Support Fading: Support fading is a crucial element of the Monitoring and Fading Plan. This part of the plan clearly designates the skills the student must acquire in order to increase independence and decrease paraeducator support, including projected dates and defined roles. Include success criteria for each level of support/prompting, and fading measures to be used.

Progress Monitoring: Include procedures for data collection (including who will review the data and when it will be reviewed) and progress monitoring. Create a schedule of dates to review progress criteria, monitor student progress and update the plan.

One-to-one paraeducator support should be captured as a direct service to which a goal aligns. Refer to the comprehensive service codes located in SEIS under the Reference Tab/Document Library/Other Resource Documents/Service Codes and Descriptions for the most accurate service code(s).

Service codes that may be considered are:

  • 340 Intensive Individual Services
  • 436 Health and Nursing: Other Services
  • 535 Behavior Intervention Services

Examples of Monitoring and Fading Plans can be found in Appendix 1 of this document.

Upon the addition of a paraeducator to the student’s signed and consented to IEP or revision of existing services (with parent consent), a Prior Written Notice (PWN) must be sent to the parents indicating a change of services along with a copy of Procedural Safeguards.

Once paraeducator support is identified in a student’s IEP, ongoing monitoring of IEP goal progress and re- evaluation are required at each annual IEP. In addition, as with all IEPs, comprehensive re-evaluation should be completed at each triennial IEP. Should the IEP team wish to modify or eliminate paraeducator support, an evaluation must be conducted to show services are no longer needed.

TECHNIQUES TO PROMOTE STUDENT INDEPENDENCE

Below is a list of potential techniques to promote independence and fading of paraeducator support:

  1. Watch before Can the student ask for help from the teacher or peers first? Can the student problem solve on his/her own?
  2. Give the student extra time to process and respond before assisting.
  3. Have high expectations as to what the student understands or can do independently.
  4. Provide consistent a consistent classroom schedule (posted, visual, at desk if needed, reinforcement periods included). Teach student how to use the tools.
  5. Start with the least intrusive prompts to get the student to While the progression of prompts should be individualized based on student need, prompts typically run along the following continuum from least intrusive to most intrusive:
    • Visual
    • Gestural, hand or facial signals
    • Timer
    • Modeling
    • Partial physical
    • Full physical hand over hand
    • Verbal
  6. Use strengths to motivate student participation and
  7. Teach independence skills (raising hand, asking for help, modeling other students).
  8. Praise for independent attempts.
  9. Direct the student to speak directly to the classroom The paraeducator should not voice the student’s answer or questions unless required by the IEP.
  10. Prompt the student to listen to the teacher’s instructions. Repeat only when necessary.
  11. Encourage age-appropriate work habits. Teach the student to socially reference what their peers are doing.
  12. Be aware of proximity. Sit with the student only when necessary.
  13. Encourage peer assistance and partnering. Teach peers how to help, not enable.
  14. Utilize self-monitoring checklists for student.
  15. Color-code materials to assist with organization.
  16. Use transition visuals or objects to help student anticipate/complete transition.
  17. Break big tasks into steps. Have the student assist as appropriate.
  18. Use backward chaining (i.e., leave the last portion of a cutting task for the student, then gradually lengthen the task).
  19. Assist in encouraging a means for independent communication.
  20. Provide positive feedback to student (be specific to the situation).
  21. Prompt, then back away to allow independent time.
  22. Give choices.
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