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Ask A REL Response

October 2018


What research has been conducted on the effectiveness of instructional paraprofessionals?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on the effectiveness of instructional paraprofessionals. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effectiveness of instructional paraprofessionals. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. 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."
  2. 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.
    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. (Contains 3 tables.)"
  3. Feldman, E. K., & Matos, R. (2013). Training paraprofessionals to facilitate social interactions between children with autism and their typically developing peers. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(3), 169-179.
    From the abstract: "To support children with autism in inclusive classrooms, schools are increasingly utilizing paraprofessionals. However, research suggests that paraprofessionals often lack sufficient training and may inadvertently hinder the social interactions between children with disabilities and their peers. This study used a multiple baseline across participants design to empirically investigate whether paraprofessionals could learn to implement social facilitation procedures based on Pivotal Response Treatment. Results indicated that the paraprofessionals learned to utilize the social facilitation procedures with fidelity and generalized the techniques to untrained activities. Furthermore, once the paraprofessionals met the fidelity criteria, decreases in hovering and uninvolved behavior and increases in social facilitation and monitoring were observed. Likewise, the reciprocal social behavior of the children with autism increased rapidly. (Contains 2 figures and 2 tables.)"
  4. Lushen, K., Kim, O., & Reid, R. (2012). Paraeducator-led strategy instruction for struggling writers. Exceptionality, 20(4), 250-265.
    From the abstract: "Paraeducators are an integral part of instruction in public schools. This study used a multiple baseline across participants design to investigate the ability of a paraeducator to deliver Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) instruction in narrative writing. The paraeducator taught the POW + WWW, What = 2, How = 2-story writing strategy to three struggling fourth-grade writers. After receiving the paraeducator-led SRSD instruction, the stories of the struggling writers became more complete, qualitatively better, and longer on average. The paraeducator was able to deliver instruction with a high degree of fidelity. Limitations of the study and implications for practice are discussed. (Contains 3 figures.)"
  5. Mrachko, A. A., & Kaczmarek, L. A. (2017). Examining paraprofessional interventions to increase social communication for young children with ASD. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37(1), 4-15.
    From the abstract: "Social communication skills are considered a core deficit in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Evidence-based practices that have emerged to address these critical skills in children with ASD have largely been implemented by researchers, teachers, and parents. Only recently have researchers studied paraprofessionals as implementers of these interventions. The following review examines studies in which paraprofessionals were taught to implement social communication interventions with young children with ASD. The seven articles that met inclusion criteria were evaluated with respect to (a) type of social communication intervention, (b) evidence of effectiveness, (c) training methods and components, (d) child outcomes. The primary intervention studies included pivotal response training (PRT), natural language paradigm (NLP), and incidental teaching strategies as well as mand training and general antecedent/consequent interventions. All studies reported improvements in paraprofessional implementation fidelity for the chosen intervention, five of which also reported corresponding improvements in child outcomes. Four studies provided definitive evidence of effectiveness for paraprofessional training. Feedback was the only training component used in all seven studies, in conjunction with at least one other component."
  6. O'Keeffe, B. V., Slocum, T. A., & Magnusson, R. (2013). The effects of a fluency training package on paraprofessionals' presentation of a reading intervention. Journal of Special Education, 47(1), 14-27.
    From the abstract: "Paraprofessionals are widely employed in response to intervention (RTI) settings to provide instruction to students at-risk for reading disabilities. However, little research has addressed effective and efficient ways to train these paraprofessionals to deliver instruction with high fidelity. In addition, given the limited time and finances available in most districts, training needs to be as efficient as possible. This study assessed the effects of a 5-hour fluency training package on the presentation rates, praise rates, and error correction accuracy of five paraprofessionals providing supplemental reading instruction within an RTI system using a multiple baseline design across participants. Students' reading accuracy and percentage of intervals with on-task behavior were evaluated. Paraprofessionals generally increased their presentation rates, praise rates, and error correction accuracy. Students' behaviors were affected less. (Contains 1 table and 4 figures.)"
  7. Ratcliff, N. J., Jones, C. R., Vaden, S. R., Sheehan, H., & Hunt, G. H. (2011). Paraprofessionals in early childhood classrooms: An examination of duties and expectations. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 31(2), 163-179.
    From the abstract: "Millions of dollars are expended, in the USA and elsewhere, to provide paraprofessionals or "teaching assistants" for regular early childhood classrooms. However, little consistent information exists related to best practice in the use of paraprofessionals in these early childhood settings. This article describes a study employing the use of 159 teacher and 161 paraprofessional surveys and classroom observations in 23 randomly selected kindergarten and four-year-old classrooms. Paraprofessionals delivered large amounts of group instruction and frequently managed student behavior. Furthermore, it was found that a lack of understanding of specific duties and expectations related to the roles of paraprofessionals was characteristic of both teachers and the paraprofessionals themselves. (Contains 5 tables.)"
  8. Walker, V. L., & Smith, C. G. (2015). Training paraprofessionals to support students with disabilities: A literature review. Exceptionality, 23(3), 170-191.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of this literature review is to describe intervention research studies in which paraprofessionals received training applicable to student with disabilities. Thirty studies were systematically reviewed to identify (a) characteristics of study participants and settings, (b) characteristics of paraprofessional training and paraprofessional-implemented intervention evaluated within these studies, (c) quality of the studies, and (d) implications for practice and areas for future research. Overall, paraprofessional training and subsequent intervention with students yielded positive outcomes. Training sessions typically were delivered by workshops, lectures, or classes and classroom-based training. However, numerous studies failed to demonstrate characteristics of study quality."
  9. Wasburn-Moses, L., Chun, E., & Kaldenberg, E. (2013). Paraprofessional roles in an adolescent reading program: Lessons learned. American Secondary Education, 41(3), 34-49.
    From the abstract: "Paraprofessionals are critical to special education service delivery in inclusive classrooms where they are used to support teachers in reading instruction. This qualitative case study examines the use of paraprofessionals in reading instruction in an adolescent reading program. The study focuses on their roles, training, and the feedback provided. Triangulation of data was achieved through the use of document analysis, direct observation, and interviews with the paraprofessionals, supervising teachers, and the school principal. Findings indicated a need for clarification of paraprofessional roles, individualized training and feedback, and shared planning. Attention to these issues is critical in an era of shifting service delivery models. (Contains 5 tables.)"


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Paraprofessional effectiveness
  • Paraprofessional effectiveness, reading
  • Paraprofessional in regular classrooms

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its 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.