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Ask a REL Response

Paraprofessionals and reading instruction — July 2019


Could you provide research on the relationship between the use of paraprofessionals in K–3 reading instruction and student performance?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the relationship between the use of paraprofessionals as a regular part of K–3 reading instruction and student performance. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (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. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

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. Abstract available from and full text available 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.”

Brown, K. J., Morris, D., & Fields, M. (2005). Intervention after grade 1: Serving increased numbers of struggling readers effectively. Journal of Literacy Research, 37(1), 61–94. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “The present study replicated the original evaluation of the Howard Street tutoring model (Morris, Shaw, & Perney, 1990), an intervention for struggling readers in second and third grade. It also evaluated the effectiveness of supervised paraprofessionals (Title I aides) in delivering that tutorial. For an entire school year, teachers or paraprofessionals, working under the supervision of a reading specialist, tutored 40 struggling readers twice per week for 45 minutes per session. The tutored group’s instruction included guided reading in leveled texts with controlled vocabulary, word study, and reading for fluency. The control group’s instruction, which was provided daily in a small-group context, featured guided reading and phonics work in the classroom basal reader. Analysis of covariance was used to compare the performance of the two groups on several end-of-year reading measures. Results showed that, overall, the tutored group outperformed the control group on each of the posttest reading measures (standardized and informal). In addition, the subset of students tutored by paraprofessionals outperformed the control students. In fact, results indicated that in the structured tutoring context, paraprofessional tutors were almost as effective as certified teachers.”

Causton-Theoharis, J. N., Giangreco, M. F., Doyle, M. B., & Vadasy, P. F. (2007). Paraprofessionals: The “sous-chefs” of literacy instruction. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(1), 56–62. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “A primary responsibility of general and special educators is to teach students how to read. In inclusive classrooms, paraprofessionals are frequently utilized to support literacy instruction. Paraprofessionals can be employed to help improve the reading skills of students with disabilities and those who are considered at risk. This article outlines commonalities from the body of literature discussing circumstances in which paraprofessionals were used successfully to improve the reading skills of students. The commonalities examined include situations where (a) paraprofessionals were used for supplemental rather than primary instruction, (b) research-based reading approaches were used so that paraprofessionals were not inappropriately asked to make pedagogical decisions, (c) paraprofessionals were explicitly and extensively trained in the research-based reading approach, (d) paraprofessionals were explicitly trained in behavior management, and (e) teachers and special educators provided paraprofessionals with ongoing monitoring and feedback regarding their instruction. Each of these commonalities is addressed and other practical considerations also are shared and discussed.”

Clotfelter, C. T., Hemelt, S. W., & Ladd, H. F. (2016). Teaching assistants and non-teaching staff: Do they improve student outcomes? Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Full text available from

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.”

Gersten, R., Newman-Gonchar, R., Haymond, K. S., & Dimino, J. (2017). What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3? (REL 2017-271). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Full text available from

From the summary: “Response to intervention (RTI) is a comprehensive early detection and prevention strategy used to identify and support struggling students before they fall behind. An RTI model usually has three tiers or levels of support. Tier 1 is generally defined as classroom instruction provided to all students, tier 2 is typically a preventive intervention offered to students who fall behind when given only classroom instruction, and tier 3 is more intensive intervention offered to students who failed to respond to the supports in tiers 1 and 2. This review provides updated information on the evidence supporting the use of reading interventions for students who are at risk of reading difficulty in grades 1–3. The review was conducted by Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast in response to discussions with members of its Improving Literacy Research Alliance. Alliance members became even more interested in the topic after a recently completed national evaluation using intensive reading interventions in an RTI model failed to show positive impacts for students who scored at or slightly below the score that would make them eligible for RTI services in their school (Balu et al., 2015). The review team conducted a comprehensive review of the research literature from 2002 (the year that the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect and triggered large-scale national implementation of reading interventions) to June 2014, when this study started. The purpose of the review was to assess the current evidence base on the use of reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3. The review was limited to studies of tier 2 interventions, those designed to provide preventive services to students at risk of struggling with typical classroom reading instruction. It did not include studies whose subject was intensive (tier 3) intervention—that is, studies geared to students who require more than tier 2 support. The literature search and review identified 27 efficacy studies that the review team determined met What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards either with or without reservations (What Works Clearinghouse, 2014a). Of the 27 studies, 23 compared the performance of students who received the intervention with the performance of students who did not. The remaining four studies either explored variations in components of one specific intervention or contrasted two interventions, without a control condition. Of the 23 studies that compared students who did and those who did not receive the intervention, 15 studies examined 13 interventions in grade 1, and 8 studies examined 7 interventions in grades 2 and 3. Although this report relies heavily on WWC protocols, procedures, and standards, and WWC-certified reviewers conducted the reviews, this report is not a WWC product. Key findings from the 23 efficacy studies of the 20 interventions include: (1) All but 1 of the 20 interventions demonstrated positive or potentially positive effects in at least one of the four areas of reading performance: word and pseudoword reading, passage reading fluency, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Effects were strongest and most consistent in word and pseudoword reading, though some interventions also had effects in reading comprehension and passage reading fluency. No effects were found in vocabulary; (2) All 11 of the individually administered interventions and 8 of 9 of the small-group interventions resulted in positive or potentially positive effects; and (3) All 20 interventions included high levels of ongoing support for the teachers, paraeducators, volunteers, and other adults who worked with students. Though the reviewed studies showed that 19 of the 20 reading interventions were effective, most of the interventions included a component that is atypical of current school practice: ongoing support for the interventionist (the teacher, paraeducator, or member of the research staff responsible for delivering the intervention). In addition, the majority of interventions involved individual (one-on-one) interventions, as opposed to typical school implementations, which involve small groups of three to five students. When considering how to use these findings, it is important to consider that these studies do not reflect typical school practice, where weekly or biweekly monitoring of fidelity of implementation and onsite coaching are rarely available.”

Gest, S. D., & Gest, J. M. (2005). Reading tutoring for students at academic and behavioral risk: Effects on time-on-task in the classroom. Education & Treatment of Children, 28(1), 25–47. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This study examined the effects of individual reading tutoring on the time-on-task and student-teacher interactions of students displaying early signs of academic and behavior problems. Participants were 17 students in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 who were rated by classroom teachers as below average in academic skills and above average in aggressive-disruptive behavior. Ten of these students were randomly selected to receive individual tutoring from paraprofessionals. Classroom observations indicated that tutoring had generally positive effects on time-on-task in the classroom but no clear effects on patterns of teacher attention. Among tutored students, increases in time-on-task were largest among children whose reading skill gains were largest. Results suggest that for students with the dual risks of reading and behavior problems, individual reading tutoring may enhance reading skills and lead to meaningful increases in engagement in classroom learning tasks.”

Goe, L., & Matlach, L. (2014). Supercharging student success: Policy levers for helping paraprofessionals have a positive influence in the classroom. Washington, DC: Center on Great Teachers and Leaders. Full text available from

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.”

Lane, K. L., Fletcher, T., Carter, E. W., Dejud, C., & DeLorenzo, J. (2007). Paraprofessional-led phonological awareness training with youngsters at risk for reading and behavioral concerns. Remedial and Special Education, 28(5), 266–276. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This study examined the efficacy of a paraprofessional-led supplemental early intervention for first-grade students with poor early literacy skills and behavioral concerns. The goal was to determine if (a) the relatively brief intervention was effective in improving phonological skills, and (b) improvements in academic skills would be accompanied by behavioral and social improvements. The results indicated that the students in the treatment condition experienced significant, lasting increases in phonological awareness and moderate improvement in word attack skills. However, significant collateral effects on social and behavioral performance were not observed. Limitations and directions for future investigation are offered.”

Samson, J. F., Hines, S. J., & Li, K. (2015). Effective use of paraprofessionals as early intervention reading tutors in grades K–3. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 23(2), 164–177. Full text available from Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “One-on-one reading interventions have long been supported in the research literature; however, research on effective use of paraprofessionals to deliver remedial reading tutoring early elementary grades is limited. This best-evidence synthesis of the literature was conducted to identify key components associated with effective use of paraprofessionals as reading tutoring in grades K–3. Empirical studies were reviewed to identify best practices for administrators who are seeking to use paraprofessionals to improve students’ reading outcomes. Our findings suggested that effective use of paraprofessionals was associated with: (1) extensive training in the delivery of a research-based reading intervention, (2) close and ongoing supervision of tutors, and (3) access to scripted lessons with a strong phonics component.”

Slavin, R. E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. A. (2010). Educator’s guide: Identifying what works for struggling readers. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This guide summarizes Effective Programs for Struggling Readers: A Best Evidence Synthesis, a research review conducted by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education. The purpose of the review was to evaluate the achievement outcomes of alternative approaches for struggling readers in grade K–5: (1) one-to-one tutoring; (2) small group tutorials; (3) classroom instructional process approaches; and (4) instructional technology. Study inclusion criteria for the review included the use of randomized or well-matched control groups, study duration of at least 12 weeks, and the use of valid measures independent of treatments. A total of 96 studies met these criteria. The key findings of the review were as follows: (1) One-to-one tutoring works. Teachers are more effective as tutors than teaching assistants or volunteers, and an emphasis on phonics greatly improves tutoring outcomes; (2) Although one-to-one phonetic tutoring for first graders is highly effective, effects last into the upper elementary grades only if classroom interventions continue beyond this initial period; (3) Small group tutorials can be effective, but are not as effective as one-to-one instruction by teachers or paraprofessionals; (4) Classroom instructional process approaches, especially cooperative learning and structured phonetic models, have strong effects for low achievers (as well as other students); and (5) Traditional instructional technology programs have little impact on reading. Taken together, the key findings of the review support a strong focus on improving classroom instruction followed by targeted, phonetic tutoring for students who continue to experience difficulties.”

Vadasy, P. F., Sanders, E. A., & Tudor, S. (2007). Effectiveness of paraeducator-supplemented individual instruction: Beyond basic decoding skills. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40(6), 508–525. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “A total of 46 children in Grades 2 and 3 with low word-level skills were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups that received supplemental phonics-based reading instruction. One group received intervention October through March (21.5 hours), and one group served as a control from October through March and later received intervention March through May (17.5 hours). Paraeducators trained in a standard treatment protocol provided individual instruction for 30 min per day, 4 days per week. At the March posttest, the early treatment (ET; n = 23) group outperformed the controls (late treatment, LT; n = 20) on reading accuracy and passage fluency. Across both groups, second graders outperformed third graders on these same measures. At the 3-month follow-up, the ET group showed no evidence of decline in reading accuracy, passage fluency, or words spelled; however, 3rd-grade ET students had significantly higher spelling skills compared to 2nd graders. The LT group demonstrated significant growth during their intervention in reading accuracy and spelling, but not passage fluency. When we compared the ET and LT groups on their gains per instructional hour, we found that the ET group made significantly greater gains than the LT group across all 3 measures. The results support the value of paraeducator-supplemented reading instruction for students below grade level in word identification and reading fluency.”

Vadasy, P. F., Sanders, E. A., & Peyton, J. A. (2006). Paraeducator supplemented instruction in structural analysis with text reading practice for second and third graders at risk for reading problems. Remedial and Special Education, 27(6), 365–378. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Two studies—one quasi-experimental and one randomized experiment—were designed to evaluate the effectiveness of supplemental instruction in structural analysis and oral reading practice for second- and third-grade students with below-average word reading skills. Individual instruction was provided by trained paraeducators in single- and multi-letter phoneme-grapheme correspondences; structural analysis of inflected, affixed, and multi-syllable words; exception word reading; and scaffolded oral reading practice. Both studies revealed short-term word level and fluency effects.”

Vadasy, P. F., Nelson, J. R., & Sanders, E. A. (2013). Longer term effects of a Tier 2 kindergarten vocabulary intervention for English learners. Remedial & Special Education, 34(2), 91–101. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “This study examines the longer term effectiveness of a standard protocol, Tier 2 supplemental vocabulary intervention for kindergarten English learners, designed to develop root word vocabulary knowledge and reinforce beginning word reading skills. Participating students in the original study (n = 93 treatment, 92 control) received 20 weeks of small group instruction from paraeducator tutors during kindergarten. After attrition, students (n = 74 treatment, 66 control) were followed up midyear Grade 1 on English measures of proximal and distal vocabulary as well as word reading. At 6 months postintervention, the treatment benefits were maintained on all three outcomes, and furthermore, there was no evidence to suggest that early receptive vocabulary knowledge moderated longer term treatment effects. Results also showed kindergarten intervention year gains in proximal (i.e., root word) vocabulary uniquely predicted midyear Grade 1 distal vocabulary above and beyond kindergarten gains in distal vocabulary. Implications for English learner early intervention are discussed.”

Vadasy, P. F., & Sanders, E. A. (2009). Supplemental fluency intervention and determinants of reading outcomes. Scientific Studies of Reading, 13(5), 383–425. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This study replicates research on the efficacy of a repeated reading intervention with word-level instruction for students in Grades 2 and 3 with low to moderate fluency skills, examines differences between treatment implementers, and tests unique contributions of treatment-related variables on outcomes. Students from 13 schools were randomly assigned to dyads; dyads were randomly assigned to treatment or control conditions. Schools were matched into treatment implementer groups (teachers or paraeducators) at study onset. Tutoring occurred during school hours for 15 weeks (M = 25.5 hr). Multilevel model results showed treatment students (n = 98) gained more than controls (n = 104) on measures of letter-sound knowledge (d = 0.41), fluency (d = 0.37-0.38), and comprehension (d = 0.30-0.31); students tutored by teachers gained more than their paraeducator-tutored peers on word reading and fluency. Finally, dyads tutored with greater fidelity gained more in word reading and fluency; dyads that read more complex words in their texts gained less on letter-sounds, fluency, and comprehension.”

Vadasy, P. F., Sanders, E. A., & Abbott, R. D. (2008). Effects of supplemental early reading intervention at 2-year follow up: Reading skill growth patterns and predictors. Scientific Studies of Reading, 12(1), 51–89. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This study examined the long-term growth of reading skills following 1 year of supplemental 1st-grade code-oriented intervention provided by paraeducators. A group of 79 1st graders with reading skills averaging in the lowest quartile received explicit alphabetic and decoding instruction and were assessed postintervention and at 1-year intervals through the end of 3rd grade. Growth model results indicate that students continued to benefit from 1st-grade intervention through the end of 3rd grade, with average performance near 50th percentile on decoding and reading fluency, near 40th percentile on word reading and comprehension, and near 30th percentile on spelling. Without exception, both receptive language and rapid automatized naming uniquely predicted 3rd-grade outcomes. Of the students remaining in study in fall of 2nd grade, a subgroup selected by their teachers received additional supplemental instruction. Students referred for added intervention continued to perform significantly lower than those more readily remediated with 1st-grade intervention alone.”

Vadasy, P. F., Sanders, E. A., & Peyton, J. A. (2006). Code-oriented instruction for kindergarten students at risk for reading difficulties: A randomized field trial with paraeducator implementers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 508–528. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of code-oriented supplemental instruction for kindergarten students at risk for reading difficulties. Paraeducators were trained to provide 18 weeks of explicit instruction in phonemic skills and the alphabetic code. Students identified by their teachers meeting study eligibility criteria were randomly assigned to 2 groups: individual supplemental instruction and control. Students were pretested in December, mid-tested, and post-tested in May–June of kindergarten. At posttest, treatment students significantly outperformed controls on measures of reading accuracy, reading efficiency, oral reading fluency, and developmental spelling. Treatment students had significantly higher linear growth rates in phonemic awareness and alphabetic knowledge during the kindergarten treatment. At a 1-year follow-up, significant group differences remained in reading accuracy and efficiency. Ethical challenges of longitudinal intervention research are discussed. Findings have policy implications for making supplemental instruction in critical early reading skills available.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“Paraprofessional” OR “teacher aide” OR “classroom aide” OR “instructional aide” OR “teaching assistant”) AND “reading” AND (“student achievement” OR “student performance” OR “outcome” OR “elementary” OR “effects”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and 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.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included 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 and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.