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Paraeducator Training
February 2021


"What does the research say about practices to train paraeducators, especially in the areas of early literacy, culturally responsive teaching, social and emotional learning, and behavioral/mental health?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Anderson, E. M., Blitz, L. V., & Saastamoinen, M. (2015). Exploring a school-university model for professional development with classroom staff: Teaching trauma-informed approaches. School Community Journal, 25(2), 113–134.

From the Abstract:
"Schools serving communities with high rates of poverty face the profound challenge of meeting the needs of students who are often exposed to significant family and environmental stressors and trauma. Classroom staff are vital members of school communities who often work closely with students with the highest needs, but they are typically not provided with professional development opportunities to develop skills for social-emotional learning intervention. This study, conducted in three parts, describes (1) a needs assessment with classroom staff to determine their learning needs, (2) the development and implementation of a series of professional development workshops that incorporated findings from the needs assessment, and (3) post-workshop surveys and focus groups to assess the impact of the workshops and identify ongoing professional development needs. Findings include themes of continuing concern regarding learning, school climate, and the need to address stress and trauma in students' lives. Additionally, findings point to the workplace environment as creating barriers for classroom staff to implement new strategies and make use of the knowledge and skills gained in the workshops. Implications for building or enhancing a trauma-informed school community are discussed."

Barrio, B. L., & Hollingshead, A. (2017). Reaching out to paraprofessionals: Engaging professional development aligned with universal design for learning framework in rural communities. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 36(3), 136–145.

From the Abstract:
"The literature reveals that paraprofessionals are responsible for supporting students at risk of/with disabilities in a variety of academic and nonacademic tasks, yet they often lack appropriate training. Recent studies demonstrated the effectiveness of training for paraprofessionals to support students with disabilities in a meaningful way. In rural communities, such professional development and training opportunities are often unavailable despite the need. The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of a Universal Design for Learning (UDL)--based ongoing professional development model for paraprofessionals in rural general and special education classrooms. Specifically, this study sought to first examine the professional development needs among paraprofessionals in rural communities in the inland Northwest United States and second to provide effective and ongoing professional development opportunities. Findings from this study suggest that ongoing professional development models for paraprofessionals working with students with disabilities, based on needs assessments and consistent with UDL framework, have positive effects. Discussions of implications for future research and practice are included."

Brock, M. E., & Anderson, E. J. (2020). Training paraprofessionals who work with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities: What does the research say? Psychology in the Schools. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Federal law allows for paraprofessionals to provide instruction to students with developmental disabilities if they are adequately trained and supervised, but how to best provide this training and support remains unclear. In this paper, we update a systematic review of experimental studies that test the efficacy of paraprofessional‐ implemented interventions for students with developmental disabilities. We identified 36 studies published 2012–2019. An exciting development is that some researchers are shifting to testing teacher‐implemented training, therefore beginning to address important questions about the feasibility of widespread implementation under real‐world conditions. Based on findings across studies, recommendations for practice include that (a) paraprofessional roles be well‐defined and focused on the implementation of evidence‐based practices; (b) paraprofessional training should feature modeling, an implementation checklist, and performance feedback that is sustained over time; and (c) administrators should ensure that teachers have the time and support that are required for effective paraprofessional training and supervision."

Brock, M. E., & Carter, E. W. (2015). Effects of a professional development package to prepare special education paraprofessionals to implement evidence-based practice. The Journal of Special Education, 49(1), 39–51. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Although paraprofessionals have become an increasingly integral part of special education services, most paraprofessionals lack training in evidence-based instructional strategies. We used a randomized controlled experimental design to examine the efficacy of a professional development training package and its individual components to equip 25 paraprofessionals to implement constant time delay. The effect of the training package on implementation fidelity was statistically significant and large in magnitude (d = 2.67; p 0.001). Video modeling and coaching components were effective, although the effect of coaching alone (d = 2.23; p 0.01) was larger than video modeling alone (d = 0.55; p = 0.18). Recommendations for further refining effective professional development opportunities for special education paraprofessionals are offered along with discussion of future research needs."

Colombo, M., Zhao, Q., & Perez, H. (2013). Tapping the potential of EL paraprofessionals through professional development. TAPESTRY, 5(2), 4. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Many paraprofessionals provide instructional support to English Learners (ELs), yet little research exists regarding their preparedness. Research on paraprofessionals in special education suggests that paraprofessionals are often under-prepared for their responsibilities. This paper explores ongoing professional development (PD) for paraprofessionals using findings from a study of the first year of a 5-year PD initiative for 109 paraprofessionals who worked with ELs in a high-poverty, high-minority urban district. Study findings are derived from the analysis of 57 participant reflection journals, interviews with 12 paraprofessional participants, a focus group with six PD providers, and de-identified observation and focus group data provided by the project’s external evaluator. We found that paraprofessionals wanted to be valued for their skills and were often frustrated by inconsistent work schedules. We also found that paraprofessionals learned useful strategies for working with ELs, yet few paraprofessionals actually reported implementing these strategies with students, suggesting the need for ongoing PD that includes teachers with paraprofessionals. Our findings have implications for any system that utilizes the services of paraprofessionals of Els."

Da Fonte, M. A., & Capizzi, A. M. (2015). A module-based approach: Training paraeducators on evidence-based practices. Physical Disabilities: Education and Related Services, 34(1), 31–54.

From the Abstract:
"Paraeducators are on the front lines in special education settings, providing support to teachers and students with significant disabilities and specific health-care needs. The important role they play demands efficient and cost-effective training in core skills. This study utilized a multiple-baseline across behaviors design to evaluate a module-based training program for paraeducators targeting three instructional strategies that are commonly used in the education of students with a wide range of disabilities: praise, pause, and prompts. Results demonstrated variability in accurate and consistent use of these practices across participants after completion of the modules. Implications for future research and practice are discussed."

Douglas, S. N., Uitto, D. J., Reinfelds, C. L., & D’Agostino, S. (2019). A systematic review of paraprofessional training materials. The Journal of Special Education, 52(4), 195–207. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Paraprofessional training is essential for high quality special education services. Yet, educators may struggle to select appropriate materials for paraprofessional training. A review was conducted of 26 paraprofessional training materials using a rubric designed to evaluate the alignment with federal legislation and professional standards, and use of research-based adult learning methods. Results indicate many training materials aligned with federal legislation, but varied in their content focus, alignment with paraprofessional standards, and use of adult learning methods. Based on results of the review, three paraprofessional training materials reflected high quality training. Features of paraprofessional training materials, recommendations for practice, suggested improvements to training materials, limitations, and future research directions are discussed."

Kim, S., Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, L. K. (2017). Training paraprofessionals to target socialization in students with ASD: Fidelity of implementation and social validity. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 19(2), 102–114. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Although the literature suggests that it is feasible to train paraprofessionals to effectively implement social interventions for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), there is a paucity of research that addresses the social validity of these programs. The present study replicated and extended previous research on paraprofessional training, as well as assessed social validity. Our results suggest that (a) paraprofessionals can be trained to fidelity using a package consisting of lecture and performance feedback, (b) there are collateral gains for paraprofessionals following the training, (c) the social interactions between students with ASD and typically developing peers improve following paraprofessional training, and (d) there is strong social validity in regard to acceptability of the training program. Limitations and future directions are discussed."

Ledford, J. R., Zimmerman, K. N., Harbin, E. R., & Ward, S. E. (2018). Improving the use of evidence-based instructional practices for paraprofessionals. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 33(4), 206–216.

From the Abstract:
"Coaching has been shown to improve the use of evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs), but relatively few studies have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of coaching for adults belonging to minority groups and paraprofessionals in public elementary school settings. In this study, a multiple probe design across participants was used to assess the effectiveness of coaching and the provision of feedback on the use of prompting procedures and associated practices for three adults supporting three young students with autism in a self-contained elementary school setting. Results showed improved use of target practices and increased student engagement. More research is needed regarding the training and coaching of teaching teams and the use of evidence-based coaching and feedback practices to assist paraprofessionals in implementing EBIPs with small groups of students and in a variety of educational settings."

Manz, P. H., Power, T. J., Ginsburg-Block, M., & Dowrick, P. W. (2010). Community paraeducators: A partnership-directed approach for preparing and sustaining the involvement of community members in inner-city schools. School Community Journal, 20(1), 55–80.

From the Abstract:
"Inner-city schools located in high poverty communities often operate with insufficient resources to meet the educational needs of students. Community residents serving as paraeducators offer the dual benefits of expanding instructional capacity and fostering family-school relationships, provided they are appropriately prepared and incorporated with professional staff. This paper introduces a community partnership model for preparing members of the local community to serve as paraeducators and for fostering their working partnerships with professional school staff. A theoretical rationale demonstrating the significance of this model for students from low-income and ethnic minority backgrounds is presented, and key elements in establishing it are discussed. The application of the community partnership model for preparing paraeducators is illustrated through a case example, the Reading Partners program. Future directions to empirically advance the community partnership model are presented."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: (Paraeducator OR paraprofessional OR "instructional aide" OR "teacher aide" OR "teacher assistant"), Training, "Professional development", "Culturally responsive", ("Social-emotional learning" OR "social and emotional learning"), Behavioral, "Mental Health"

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.