The role of paraprofessionals in quality inclusive educational programs

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Luanna H. Meyer


teaching assistants

Subject Categories

Elementary Education and Teaching | Special Education and Teaching


There is a growing literature on quality inclusive education for students with significant disabilities. Various models and services to support these students have been proposed and described. A paraprofessional or teaching aide (TA) is typically a central component of the services provided to students in inclusive programs, yet there is virtually no empirical base for this role in inclusive settings. This study examined the roles and responsibilities of eight paraprofessionals working in grades 2-5 in four elementary schools from four districts in New York State that participated in a larger scale evaluation of their inclusive programs. Data collection included interviews and direct observation of the paraprofessionals, as well as interviews with the principals of the participating schools, the director of special education for each district, parents of the students with special needs who are being supported by paraprofessionals, students within the program, and the general and special education teachers who work with these paraprofessionals. In addition, relevant district documents were examined.

This study investigated (a) how the teaching team views the role and responsibilities of the paraprofessional, (b) paraprofessional involvement in individual program planning, (c) types of job training paraprofessionals receive to prepare them to carry out their responsibilities, and (d) ways in which teaching assistants might be assigned to work one-to-one with the student with disabilities versus a support role within the class that includes working with students with and without disabilities. Findings indicate that historical job descriptions, indeterminate supervision, ineffective team practices, and inadequate training all contribute to the confusion that surrounds what it is paraprofessionals are responsible for and actually doing. In most cases paraprofessionals were inadvertently interfering with the instructional programs of both typical students and students with disabilities by providing a great deal of one-to-one support and furnishing students with answers rather than guiding them to find the information they need.

The outline included in the final chapter could be used as a guide by districts interested in developing a more effective process for hiring and employing paraprofessionals to support the needs of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Results from this study could also serve as a reference for paraprofessional staff development and contribute to the national discussion of appropriate roles and responsibilities for paraprofessionals in inclusive education.


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