Factors Influencing The Tasks Performed By Paraprofessionals In Elementary Inclusive Classrooms

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Virginia Tech

Although there has been a phenomenal growth in the utilization of paraprofessionals in inclusive classrooms in recent years, few researchers have addressed key issues surrounding role changes. A review of the literature indicated a need for additional research in the areas of efficacy of utilization, identification of task assignments, and development of training programs for teachers and paraprofessionals.

Often special education and general education teachers are given the responsibility of determining what tasks will be performed by paraprofessionals without receiving guidelines or supervisory training. The purposes of this project were to determine what factors influenced the decisions made about task assignments for paraprofessionals and to ascertain what training programs would be appropriate and helpful.

Subjects included in this study were the special education teachers, general education teachers, and paraprofessionals serving students in five, elementary inclusive classes in three school divisions in Virginia. Two observations were conducted in each class to identify the tasks performed by paraprofessionals. The general education teachers, the special education teachers, and the paraprofessionals working in each selected class were interviewed for information about their perceptions of paraprofessional task assignments. Other characteristics that might influence decision-making were examined by collecting demographic information on background, education, and training. Tasks performed by paraprofessionals were categorized by using a competency level checklist adapted from a list developed by Pickett (1994). Competency levels were : Level I (Teacher Aide), Level II (Instructional Assistant), and Level III (Assistant Teacher).

Observations conducted in the three school divisions revealed that paraprofessionals usually performed Level II tasks. These tasks involved providing assistance with mobility issues, self-help needs, on task behavior, and assisting with individual programs of study. During the interviews paraprofessionals stated that they did not receive credit for their abilities nor did they receive personal respect. Both teachers and paraprofessionals expressed a desire for more collaborative planning time; paraprofessionals desired more specific training, especially on medical and legal issues.

Paraprofessionals, Inclusion, Tasks, Training Implications