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Aides v. Paraprofessionals v. Highly-Qualified Teachers…

by Pam Wright

Three questions from a special education teacher are answered below with the citations from federal law.

Question #1: When IDEA 1997 was reauthorized as IDEA 2004, Section 1400 Findings and Purposes, Paragraph (E)(i) and (ii) were deleted in entirety.  Are teachers  no longer required to be highly-qualified in IDEA 2004?

Answer: In IDEA 2004, 20 U.S.C § 1400, Paragraph E incorporated (E)(i) and (ii). (20 U.S.C § 1400 (E)); Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 46.

(E) supporting high-quality, intensive preservice preparation and professional development for all personnel who work with children with disabilities in order to ensure that such personnel have the skills and knowledge necessary to improve the academic achievement and functional performance of children with disabilities, including the use of scientifically based instructional practices, to the maximum extent possible;

Question #2: There is an assistant in the classroom with a high school diploma, no college, and no paraprofessional certificate although she says she has passed a test. Can an assistant fulfill direct service hours on student IEPs with no special education teacher present, in an inclusive setting with only a general education teacher present?

Answer: An “assistant with a high school diploma and no paraprofessional certificate” is usually called an aide. Federal law – specifically NCLB and incorporated into IDEA – includes a legal definition of “paraprofessional.”

No, an aide cannot provide direct service hours with or without a special education teacher being present.

According to NCLB, all paraprofessionals shall have:

(A) completed at least 2 years of study at an institution of higher education;
(B) obtained an associate’s (or higher) degree;
(C) met a rigorous standard of quality and can demonstrate, through a formal State or local academic assessment —
(i) knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics; or
(ii) knowledge or, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness, as appropriate.  (20 U.S.C. § 6319(c)); Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, page 200)

Question #3: Can an assistant with a Paraprofessional Certificate  fulfill direct service hours on student IEPs without a special education teacher present, in an inclusive setting with a general education teacher present?

Answer: No Child Left Behind limits the duties and responsibilities of paraprofessionals. A paraprofessional “may not provide any instruction to a student unless the paraprofessional is working under the direct supervision of a teacher . . ” A paraprofessional may not provide one-on-one tutoring at a time when the teacher is available. (20 U.S.C. § 6319(g)); Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, page 201)

Educational responsibility belongs to the teacher, not the paraprofessional. The paraprofessional is a tool used by the teacher to accomplish her responsibility of delivering an education to her students.

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11 Comments on "Aides v. Paraprofessionals v. Highly-Qualified Teachers…"


Working as a Instructional Paraprofessional 10 years now. In Alabama there is 3 different types of Aides working within the classroom.(1) Teacher’s Aide assists Teachers with non Instructional work These Aides were used before there was a requirement to have a College Education.(2)Instructional Aides are no longer hired without the at least a minor degree.NCLB requires for Instructional Para’s to be Highly Qualified just like teachers. There are some school districts that allows Aides to take a Para-pro keys test which insures that the Aide is knowledgeable. We also go to the same professional development classes and workshops that the teachers do. A lot of the Para’s. that I work with have B.A. degrees. Do not assume Para’s are not educated and prepared to do out jobs. We do teach with great outcomes.


Hello, I am needing an answer concerning an aide. My son has been unfortunate this school year and received a different aide than the one he has had for the past 4 years of school. Which he has taken it real hard and is not ajusting well with it. The school is telling me the reason for the new aide is because the one he has had for the past 4 years is not quaified to work as an aide. I am having trouble understanding this because of her being his aide for the past 4 years..what makes it different for this year?? I have been trying so hard to get his old aide back with him but the school and school board are being very uptight about not letting her be his aide because she is not quailfied..but she can be a subsitute aide which makes no sense to me..She has a high school diploma, 43 college credits towards getting her degree, 10 y being aid


In some aspects, I agree with this, but we lucked up and found an awesome aide (who passed her ParaPro test) for my son, and he loves her and he is blossoming under her guidance. She is really good to him and lets me know everything that goes on. Another good thing, I went to school with this girl, so I know her, and she is a good person. Goes out of her way to make him comfortable, sees that he has everything he needs. He is one of the sweetest, kindest kids you would ever want to meet. And she knows what I am saying and have been telling her is right: if you don’t show him that you are interested, he will be the same with you! Just goes to show its the heart where true love for a child comes from. I cannot stand to hear about kids being bullied and terrorized by the ones who are supposed to care for/educate them!


As a former paraprofessional, I did my job quite well–some do not. But, there is so much focus on paras. They are under the instruction of the teacher to deliver instruction. Many do direct instruction, after being trained. I have a child in special ed. I have learned that it is more about delivery than qualifications as the most qualifed may not be able to implement. Any child that is failing to read at grade level needs intensive interventions. I was a highly trained and motivated para–more motivated to do my job than some teachers and I picked up the slack for many teachers who were burned out. Observe a para working with your child, ask questions and know that it is the implementation with fidelity that matters.

Mike the psych

I agree with Sebastian, paraprofessionals are people not tools. There is so much importance to use person first language when discussing students with disabilities, so they don’t become their diagnosis or eligibility, lets try to be just as respectful when considering the roles of school staff.