Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Schoolwide Planning to Improve Paraeducator Supports

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Schoolwide Planning to Improve Paraeducator Supports

Article excerpt

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Increasingly paraeducators (also known as paraprofessionals, teacher aides, instructional assistants) are being utilized as a key service delivery support to assist in educating students with a range of disabilities in general education classrooms (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; Giangreco & Doyle, 2002; Minondo, Meyer, & Xin, 2001; Riggs & Mueller, 2001). Although the numbers of paraeducators in special education has grown substantially over the past several years (Pickett, 1999), recent literature persistently suggests that they continue to be underappreciated, undercompensated, and asked to undertake critical instructional responsibilities without sufficient role clarification, planning by qualified professionals, supervision, or training (Giangreco, Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001; IDEA Partnerships, 2001). Ineffective utilization of paraeducators persists in schools even though these same basic issues have been documented in the literature for decades (Jones & Bender, 1993).

Current research data and practical tools are available to address many longstanding paraeducator issues. These include topics such as (a) role clarification, collaboration, and support of paraeducators (Doyle, 2002; Gerlach, 2001; Giangreco, Edelman, & Broer, 2001; Morgan & Ashbaker, 2001); (b) training (CichoskiKelly, Backus, Giangreco, & Sherman-Tucker, 2000; Ghere, York-Barr, & Sommerness, 2002; Institute on Community Integration, 1999); (c) interactions with students (Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997; Marks, Schrader, & Levine, 1999; Werts, Zigmond, & Leeper, 2001); and (d) supervision (French, 2001; Pickett & Gerlach, 1997; Wallace, Shin, Bartholomay, & Stahl, 2001).

Although having a better trained and supported paraeducator workforce is undoubtedly a preferable alternative to the insufficiencies of the existing status quo, is it enough? Strengthening paraeducator supports without due consideration to strengthening the capacity and working conditions of general and special educators may inadvertently interfere with providing a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities by sanctioning the least qualified personnel, typically paraeducators, to assume ever greater responsibilities for students with the most complex and significant learning and behavioral challenges (Brown, Farrington, Ziegler, Knight, & Ross, 1999; Giangreco, Broer, & Edelman, 1999). This paradoxical possibility reminds us that examination of paraeducator support of students with disabilities is appropriately considered within broader school improvement efforts where the roles, responsibilities, and working conditions of teachers, special educators, and administrators are taken into account. By broadening the scope of possible solutions to improve educational opportunities for students with and without disabilities, strengthening paraeducator supports is not viewed as the only option, but rather one among an array of options and combinations.

During the 1999-2000 school year, Giangreco, Broer, and Edelman (2002) conducted a pilot study to field-test a 10-step, schoolwide planning process to improve paraeducator supports. This process was designed to assist schoolbased teams assess their own status on 28 indicators of paraeducator support, identify their priorities pertaining to those supports, develop corresponding plans of action, implement their plan, and evaluate its impact. Although the results of that pilot study provided positive feedback from participants about the process and resulted in constructive actions in the schools, the scope of the study, which was conducted in four schools within the same reasonably well resourced suburban school system, presented significant limitations to commenting on its generalized utility.

The current study aimed to address the limitations of the pilot study by field-testing a slightly updated version of the same process in a larger set of more diverse schools. …

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