Guidelines and Legal Information
Paraprofessionals: Who are they?
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) provided a guidance document on the support and supervision of paraprofessionals in Local Education Agencies: The Virginia Paraprofessional Guide to Supervision and Collaboration with Paraprofessionals: A Partnership (PDF). According to this guidance document, a paraprofessional is a school employee who works under the supervision of a licensed staff member to assist in providing instruction, behavioral support and other services to students and their families (Adapted from A.L. Pickett, Director for the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals, City University of New York, 1997). Services can be instructional or non-instructional in nature. The prefix "para" means "along side of." Therefore, it is correct to assume that a paraprofessional works along side of an educator. Currently, due to the increase in the population of students with autism spectrum disorder throughout Virginia, a large number of paraprofessionals are performing a variety of roles. These roles include but are not limited to:
- Implementing teacher planned instruction
- Monitoring and providing assistance to students during classroom activities
- Supporting students using instructional modifications for lessons prepared by the classroom teacher
- Reinforcing skills taught previously
- Communicating with the student's team members about his/her program
- Recording and charting data
- Preparing instructional materials
- Supervising students
- Setting up and cleaning up after class activities
- Providing behavioral and social support
- Implementing behavior management plans developed by the teacher or the team
- Facilitating peer interactions
- Assisting with individualized student plans in educational settings
- Assisting with individualized student plans in community learning settings
- Assisting with personal care including feeding, toileting and hygiene support
- Assisting students with unique motor or mobility needs
- Assisting students with unique sensory needs
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal legislation that governs special education in the United States. This legislation provides provisions for school divisions to provide special education services for individuals with disabilities. IDEA also includes some information about paraprofessionals. For more information about IDEA, please visit the U.S. Department of Education's site on IDEA.
What Does IDEA Say About Paraprofessionals?
IDEA indicates that paraprofessionals should receive professional development when appropriate. The following is a brief section of IDEA that describes professional development activities that may be appropriate for paraprofessionals working with students receiving special education services.
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1454 (2004). SEC. 654.
(a) Professional Development Activities.--A State educational agency that receives a grant under this subpart shall use the grant funds to support activities in accordance with the State's plan described in section 653, including 1 or more of the following:
(ii) involve collaborative groups of teachers, administrators, and, in appropriate cases, related services personnel;
(iii) provide training in methods of--
(II) scientifically based reading instruction, including early literacy instruction;
(III) early and appropriate interventions to identify and help children with disabilities;
(IV) effective instruction for children with low incidence disabilities;
(V) successful transitioning to postsecondary opportunities; and
(VI) using classroom-based techniques to assist children prior to referral for special education;
(v) provide training for special education personnel and regular education personnel in planning, developing, and implementing effective and appropriate IEPs; and
(vi) provide training to meet the needs of students with significant health, mobility, or behavioral needs prior to serving such students.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which gives provisions for education in the United States. This act includes provisions about qualifications of staff, requirements for examining student achievement, and professional development. NCLB also provides information related to paraprofessionals in public school systems. NCLB defines a paraprofessional, discusses the qualifications for paraprofessionals, and provides some guidance on professional development. NCLB clearly outlines that paraprofessionals must be qualified and that parents have the right to know whether their child is receiving services provided by a paraprofessional and, if they are, the qualifications of that paraprofessional. Below you will find information on what NCLB says about paraprofessionals. For more information about this Act, please visit the U.S. Department of Education website on NCLB.
What are the Qualifications for a Paraprofessional According to NCLB?
Paraprofessionals must be qualified. NCLB has provided guidance on these qualifications and states the following:
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, § 115, Stat. 1425 (2002).
SEC. 1119. QUALIFICATIONS FOR TEACHERS AND PARAPROFESSIONALS.
(B) obtained an associate's (or higher) degree; or
(C) met a rigorous standard of quality and can demonstrate, through a formal State or local academic assessment-
(ii) knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness, as appropriate.
(e) EXCEPTIONS FOR TRANSLATION AND PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT ACTIVITIES- Subsections (c) and (d) shall not apply to a paraprofessional-
(2) whose duties consist solely of conducting parental involvement activities consistent with section 1118.
What Does a Paraprofessional Do According to NCLB?
A paraprofessional works under the supervision of a licensed professional, such as a teacher. NCLB provides information on the acceptable duties of a paraprofessional in a school division:
A paraprofessional may be assigned-
(B) To assist with classroom management, such as organizing instructional and other materials;
(C) To provide assistance in a computer laboratory;
(D) To conduct parental involvement activities;
(E) To provide support in a library or media center;
(F) To act as a translator; or
(G) To provide instructional services to students in accordance with:
(B) May assume limited duties that are assigned to similar personnel who are not working in a program supported with funds under this part, including duties beyond classroom instruction or that do not benefit participating children, so long as the amount of time spent on such duties is the same proportion of total work time as prevails with respect to similar personnel at the same school.
What is a Highly Qualified Paraprofessional According to NCLB?
NCLB discusses what makes school personnel "highly qualified," including paraprofessionals. In order to be considered highly qualified under NCLB, a paraprofessional has not less than 2 years of:
- Experience in a classroom
- Postsecondary education or demonstrated competence in a field or academic subject for which there is a significant shortage of qualified teachers.
What Does NCLB Say About Professional Development for Paraprofessionals?
NCLB states that "high-quality and ongoing professional development for teachers, principals, and paraprofessionals... [should be provided] to enable all children in the school to meet the State's student academic achievement standards."
Though NCLB does not indicate specific training standards for paraprofessionals, it is clear from the legislation that paraprofessionals should be considered when developing and planning for professional development in school divisions.
The Virginia Department of Education and Paraprofessionals
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) provides the following information and guidance about paraprofessionals.
The Virginia Paraprofessional Guide to Supervision and Collaboration with Paraprofessionals: A Partnership
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has published a manual describing the regulations and best practices regarding paraprofessionals in Virginia. The manual includes sections with nformation on:
- Paraprofessionals and Supervision
- Team Building: Working with the Paraprofessional
- Communication, Observation, and Feedback
- Solving Performance and Interpersonal Problems
- Related Services Paraprofessionals
- Framework for Professional Development
What Does Highly Qualified Mean in Virginia?
In order to be considered highly qualified in Virginia, a paraprofessional must have a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent. Additionally, paraprofessionals must meet one of the three following options:
- Complete two years of study at an institution of higher education
- Obtain an associate's (or higher) degree
- Meet a rigorous standard of quality and be able to demonstrate, through a formal state or local academic assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics (or, as appropriate, reading readiness, writing, readiness, and mathematics readiness)
The Board of Education has approved the Parapro assessment as the formal state academic paraprofessional assessment. For more information on this topic, please visit the Virginia Department of Education website on Highly Qualified Teachers & Paraprofessionals.
What about Professional Development for Paraprofessionals in Virginia?
In April 2012, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 325 which requires that by September 2014, paraprofessionals who are assigned to work with a teacher who has primary oversight of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) receive training in student behavioral management within 60 days of assignment to such responsibility. In January 2013, the Virginia Board of Education passed the training standards related to this bill. The document, entitled Training Standards for Paraprofessionals Assigned to Work with a Teacher Who Has Primary Oversight of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (PDF), is now available. For more information on these requirements, please see our House Bill 325 and Training Standards page.