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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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).
Time: How long will the paraeducator be needed and at what time of day?
Responsibilities: the specific responsibilities of:
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:
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.
Below is a list of potential techniques to promote independence and fading of paraeducator support: