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Paraeducator Supports
February 2021


"What does the research say about the effects of paraeducator supports on student academic performance and growth?"

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.


Bingham, G. E., Hall-Kenyon, K. M., & Culatta, B. (2010). Systematic and engaging early literacy: Examining the effects of paraeducator implemented early literacy instruction. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 32(1), 38–49. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This study examined the effect of explicit and engaging supplemental early literacy instruction on at-risk kindergarten children's literacy development. Sixty-three kindergarten-aged children who had been ranked in the lowest 20th percentile on basic literacy skills participated in this study (38 treatment). Results reveal that children who received engaging and explicit supplemental instruction from a paraeducator performed significantly better on rhyming, alliteration, letter knowledge, letter-sound association, spelling, and blending tasks than children who received one-on-one instruction through a tutoring program. Findings highlight the important role that paraeducators can play in implementing explicit and engaging literacy curriculum that positively affects children's development of early literacy skills."

Brock, M. E., Barczak, M. A., & Dueker, S. A. (2020). A randomized evaluation of group training for paraprofessionals to implement systematic instruction strategies with students with severe disabilities. Teacher Education and Special Education, Advance online publication, 1-15. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Paraprofessionals are often tasked with providing instruction to students with severe disabilities despite little or no training in evidence-based practices. Previous studies have demonstrated that specific strategies (i.e., didactic instruction, modeling, and immediate performance feedback) in a 1-to-1 format can enable paraprofessionals to implement practices with fidelity; however, training all paraprofessionals exclusively in a 1-to-1 format with immediate feedback is not feasible. We tested two modifications to improve feasibility: delivery in a group and delayed performance feedback from video recordings. We randomized 17 paraprofessionals to a control condition or group training condition focused on simultaneous and least-to-most prompting. Paraprofessionals in the training condition implemented the prompting strategies with better adherence to steps (d = 0.91 and d = 1.56), better implementation quality (d = 0.60), and their students made more progress (d = 0.29). These findings provide evidence that effective coaching strategies can be utilized in a group context."

Brock, M. E., & Carter, E. W. (2013). A systematic review of paraprofessional-delivered educational practices to improve outcomes for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 38(4), 211–221. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The involvement of paraprofessionals in the education of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) has been both complex and controversial. Many scholars and advocates have raised concerns about the roles these staff members play in schools and the degree to which there is empirical support for their direct work with students. We conducted a systematic review of the literature to address two primary questions: To what extent have paraprofessional-implemented educational practices been shown to improve outcomes for elementary and secondary students with IDD, and what professional development strategies enable paraprofessionals to implement these strategies with fidelity? These studies indicate paraprofessionals, when given adequate training, are capable of effectively implementing a number of educational practices that result in improved academic and social outcomes, specifically, teaching communication skills, reducing problem behaviors, and increasing independence for students with IDD. Follow-up training and support, modeling, and performance feedback were prominent training components across most studies in this review and are validated in the broader research literature. However, limitations leave many questions unanswered about how to best train and support paraprofessionals. We discuss recommendations for preparing paraprofessionals who work with students with IDD, as well as future directions for research."

Clotfelter, C. T., Hemelt, S. W., & Ladd, H. F. (2016). Teaching assistants and nonteaching staff: Do they improve student outcomes? (CALDER Working Paper 169). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

From the Abstract:
"This paper examines the role of teaching assistants and other personnel on student outcomes in elementary schools during a period of recession-induced cutbacks in teachers and teaching assistants. Using panel data from North Carolina, we exploit the state's unique system of financing its local public schools to identify the causal effects of teaching assistants and other staff on student test scores in math and reading and other outcomes. We find remarkably strong and consistent evidence of positive contributions of teaching assistants, an understudied staffing category, with larger effects on outcomes for minority students than for white students. A supplemental table is appended."

Goe, L., & Matlach, L. (2014). Supercharging student success: Policy levers for helping paraprofessionals have a positive influence in the classroom: Policy snapshot. Washington, DC: Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research.

From the Abstract:
"With nearly a million paraprofessionals working in elementary and secondary schools (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013), ensuring they are well prepared and supported is essential to their and their students' success. Paraprofessionals work closely with classroom teachers to support students from special populations and are typically supervised by a general or special educator. Because paraprofessionals often work with students who have a disability, are falling behind in critical skills, or are English language learners, it is important that they have the instructional and management skills needed to support these special populations. In addition, because of the widespread implementation of new college- and career-ready standards, paraprofessionals may require additional support to help students learn more rigorous content in new ways. When properly prepared and supported, paraprofessionals can be valuable, if not essential, members of the school community and can offer multiple benefits to students, teachers, and parents. In this Policy Snapshot, the authors summarize existing research about the instructional contributions of paraprofessionals to student learning and behavioral outcomes, as well as their noninstructional contributions. They also identify important state policy considerations for preparation, supervision, professional development, and career development for paraprofessionals and for teachers working with paraprofessionals. This Policy Snapshot provides information that governors, state legislatures, state boards of education, and state education agencies may wish to consider when designing and implementing policies related to paraprofessionals. To help states make informed policy decisions, the authors also include practical examples of paraprofessional programs and policies as well as other resources."

Jones, B. T., Erchul, W. P., & Geraghty, C. A. 2020). Supplemental reading interventions implemented by paraprofessionals: A meta‐analysis. Psychology in the Schools, 1-42. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Preventative and intensive reading intervention can be administered to at‐risk students in a systematic way to help facilitate gains on literacy outcomes. Despite this fact, there are clear barriers to implementation. One solution may be to use paraprofessionals to provide supplemental reading instruction. This study employed meta‐analytic procedures to address two questions: (a) what is the overall effectiveness of paraprofessionals as implementers of reading interventions? and (b) in which areas are paraprofessionals most effective? A literature search of research from 2001 to 2017 yielded 76 studies. Nine studies meeting a priori inclusion criteria were coded for demographic information and six common reading outcomes. The mean ES across outcomes was 0.55, and spelling and decoding emerged as areas to inform future research. Although these meta‐analytic findings must be interpreted with caution due to issues of sample size and heterogeneity of variance, involving paraprofessionals as reading interventionists appears to be a highly promising strategy."

Madden, N. A., & Slavin, R. E. (2017). Evaluations of technology-assisted small-group tutoring for struggling readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 33(4), 327–334. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This article reports on 2 experiments in inner-city Baltimore evaluating a computer-assisted tutoring approach, Tutoring With Alphie (TWA), in which 1 paraprofessional can work with up to 6 children at a time. In Study 1, we randomly assigned 14 schools to receive TWA or to continue with whatever approaches they were currently using. Each experimental school (n = 8) received a half-time paraprofessional tutor. Struggling readers in the lowest 30% of Grades 1-3 received tutoring using TWA. In comparison to control schools (n = 6), reading outcomes strongly favored TWA (effect size = +0.46, p 0.01). In Study 2, new students in 7 of the 8 TWA schools received tutoring, and 6 schools continued as controls. Results again favored the TWA group (effect size = +0.40, p 0.001). The findings support the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of using technology to offer tutoring to many more students than could have received it individually."

Vadasy, P. F., & Sanders, E. A. (2010). Efficacy of supplemental phonics-based instruction for low-skilled kindergarteners in the context of language minority status and classroom phonics instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 786–803. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This study tested the efficacy of supplemental phonics instruction for 84 low-skilled language minority (LM) kindergarteners and 64 non-LM kindergarteners at 10 urban public schools. Paraeducators were trained to provide the 18-week (January-May) intervention. Students performing in the bottom half of their classroom language group (LM and non-LM) were randomly assigned either to individual supplemental instruction (treatment) or to classroom instruction only (control). Irrespective of their language status, treatment students (n = 67) significantly outperformed controls (n = 81) at posttest in alphabetics, word reading, spelling, passage reading fluency, and comprehension (average treatment d = 0.83); nevertheless, LM students tended to have lower posttest performance than non-LM students (average LM d = -0.30) and were significantly less responsive to treatment on word reading. When we examined the contribution of classroom phonics time to student outcomes, we found that the treatment effect on spelling was greater for students in lower phonics classrooms, whereas the treatment effect on comprehension was greater for those in higher phonics classrooms. Finally, when we examined LM students alone, we found that pretest English receptive vocabulary positively predicted most posttests and interacted with treatment only on phonological awareness. In general, pretest vocabulary did not moderate kindergarten LM treatment response."

Walker, V. L., Douglas, K. H., Douglas, S. N., & D'Agostino, S. R. (2020). Paraprofessional-implemented systematic instruction for students with disabilities: A systematic literature review. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 55(3), 303–317.

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this systematic literature review was to summarize single-case intervention studies involving paraprofessional-implemented systematic instruction for students with disabilities. In the 19 reviewed studies, 60 paraprofessionals received training to implement systematic instruction with most learning naturalistic language strategies, least-to-most prompting, pivotal response training, or discrete trial training. Researchers delivered paraprofessional training in a majority of cases using both didactic and experiential training methods. Paraprofessionals primarily taught students with autism spectrum disorder and focused on social/communication skills in a one-to-one instructional arrangement. The majority of studies demonstrated positive effects on paraprofessional implementation of systematic instruction and student outcomes. Implications for practice, limitations, and areas for future research are addressed."

Additional Ask A RELs to Consult

Ask A REL Southeast at Florida State University. (2018). What research has been conducted on the effectiveness of instructional paraprofessionals? Retrieved from

Ask A REL West at WestEd. (2019). Could you provide research on the relationship between the use of paraprofessionals in K–3 reading instruction and student performance? Retrieved from


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"), ("Student outcomes" OR "student learning" OR "student achievement" OR "student growth" OR "academic achievement" OR outcomes OR growth), Effectiveness

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.