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Doing Your Homework:
Why You Should Request a Paraprofessional, Not an "Aide"

by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

It's time to stop using the term "aide" - and stop writing "aides" into IEPs. The No Child Left Behind Act provides the federal definition of "paraprofessional." 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)

There is no federal legal definition for an "aide".

When you use the term "paraprofessional" in the IEP, you refer to a federal legal definition and a quality standard. This is not the case when you use the term "aide".

Paraprofessional as Support for Teacher

You may also want to consider writing the paraprofessional into the IEP as a support for the teacher, not the child. Why?

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)

You want educational responsibility assigned to the teacher, not the paraprofessional. The paraprofessional is a tool used by the teacher to accomplish her responsibility to deliver an education to her students.

A simple change in the wording of the IEP document makes a huge difference in what it says.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Paraeducators & the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)-S.1177 from the National Education Association.

Transitioning to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) U.S. DOE (2016), Requirements for Hiring Paraprofessionals C-7a (page 21).

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

More Information

What Teachers, Principals & School Administrators Need to Know About NCLB

Support for School Personnel and Parent Training: Often Overlooked Keys to Success by Susan Bardet, Esq.

How to Request a One-to-One Parapro for Your Child by Wayne Steedman, Esq.

Title 1 Paraprofessionals - Non Regulatory Guidance, U. S. Department of Education (March 2004)

No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers, U. S. Department of Education (2004) (Archived)


How to be a Para-Pro: A Comprehensive Training Manual for Paraprofessionals by Diane Twachtman-Cullen.

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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