Paraeducators, also known as instructional assistants, serve a variety of functions within public schools. Many times they are hired to work directly with students with disabilities and facilitate inclusion in general education classrooms. While on the surface this may sound like a great idea, many times the special and general education teachers become overly reliant on the paraeducators which can negatively impact student progress and participation. Common problems include: students are physically separated within the classroom to work directly with the paraeducator, classroom and special education teachers are minimally involved with the student’s education, paraeducators make instructional decisions for which they are not trained, students become dependent on paraeducators and spend a majority of time in close proximity to them, student are unable to participate in classroom if the paraeducator is out for the day, and special education teachers spend more time on paperwork and managing staff than teaching students and implementing interventions (see GSA Manual).
Drs. Michael Giangreco and Stephen Broer, from the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at the University of Vermont, developed a manual called Guidelines for Selecting Alternatives to Overreliance on Paraprofessionals which was published in 2003. It is a manual for school professionals to follow to conduct a self-assessment regarding their current practices related to the use of paraeducators, develop a list of priorities for change and an action plan, and evaluate the impact of the implemented changes.
There was a study conducted on the use of this tool within 26 schools across six states. The results indicate there was a positive impact on most of the schools with common improvements being “changes in special educator caseloads and paraprofessional utilization, extension of inclusive opportunities, and improvement in classroom collaboration and practices”. This seems like it would be a useful tool for schools who are attempting to effectively included students with disabilities in the general education classroom but are having limited success potentially due to overreliance on paraeducators.