Kelly Sefcik: “Vermont Students Deserve Better”

Best practice” for Vermont’s students would be to have every school’s faculty and staff appropriately trained to handle any student’s behavior problems in order to better assist that student academically. Whether that will ever come to fruition remains to be seen. It is not up to those who work closest with the students. So what’s the problem and who is responsible for fixing it?


What’s A Paraeducator? 

“Paraeducators are an integral part of the educational process. A majority of Paraeducators work directly with students in their formative years at the preschool, kindergarten, and elementary levels. An even larger number work with special education students. Most have job responsibilities that relate to academic achievement and school safety.” (National Education Association, 2013) The “No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires that all paraprofessionals shall have:

  • completed at least 2 years of study at an institution of higher education;
  • obtained an associate’s (or higher) degree;
  • met a rigorous standard of quality and can demonstrate (through a formal State or local academic assessment)  knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics, or (as appropriate)  knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instructing, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness. (20 U.S.C. § 6319(c))” (National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. February, 2013).

So…What’s the Problem? 

            Although “[t]here seems to be general agreement in the field that paraprofessionals should be trained for the tasks they perform, oriented to their roles, carry out plans that have been developed by qualified professionals, and receive support and supervision on an ongoing basis,” (Giangreco, M., Suter, J., and Doyle, M., 2010) that is not what is happening. Paraprofessionals have “reported that they lacked training, especially for supporting students with behavioral challenges…” (Giangreco, M., Suter, J., and Doyle, M., 2010) There is a shortage of “paraprofessionals in school with sufficient training and background in Autism Spectrum Disorder.” (McFadden, C. and Bruno, C., March, 2006). ).  “An immediate need is workshops that will provide basic information about the spectrum, brief overview of interventions, and behavior management.” (McFadden, C. and Bruno, C., March, 2006). The tremendous benefits of Paraeducators, the lack of professional development they receive, and the availability of training through videos is discussed in the following clip.

A Case Study:

“W” has been a special education Paraeducator in Vermont for seven years. Although some general professional development has been provided in the past, none has been received for the current assignment of a severely autistic student. Communication is problematical with this student, who demonstrates major sensory issues. “Nonsuicidal self-injurious behavior (NSSIB) is one of the most perplexing and challenging behaviors special educators come across in their schools. Thus, there is a need for special educators to be equipped with information regarding NSSIB to help identify students with disabilities who engage in these behaviors and provide them with appropriate support or referrals.” (Jasper, A., Morris, C., Feb. 2012)

W’s student has scarring on both hands due to self-biting. During the first month of school, “W” was repeatedly scratched and cut as this student used fingernails as weapons. “W” is now a statistic because “[r]esults revealed that although many special educators serve students who engage in self-injurious behaviors, many did not receive training on how to implement strategies for students who self-injure.” (Jasper, A., Morris, C., Feb. 2012)” “W” hopes to receive training soon, for both their sakes. “Those special educators who received training were more confident in their abilities to work with students who self-injured compared with those special educators who did not receive training.” (Jasper, A., Morris, C., Feb. 2012)

Is There Training Available? 

            “There are relatively few training programs that meet the needs of staff and educators to provide for the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum in Vermont.” (McFadden, C. and Bruno, C., March, 2006 “A relatively small number of existing materials are specifically designed to address the training of Paraeducators to work in inclusive classrooms assisting students with a full range of disabilities and support needs.” (Giangreco, M., Backus, L., Cichoski-Kelly, E., Sherman, P. and Mavropoulos, Y., 2003)  Paraeducator training is available online through homemade videos and at sites such as this one, which offers “over 135 online courses” (The Master Teacher. 2013): Paraeducator PD Now

Why Aren’t Paraeducators Getting that Training?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA) (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.) focused renewed and increased attention on paraprofessionals as a support service within special education. (Giangreco, M., Backus, L., Cichoski-Kelly, E., Sherman, P. and Mavropoulos, Y., 2003)  Unfortunately, “only the most recent amendments to the IDEA in 1997 specifically allowed for paraprofessionals who are “appropriately trained and supervised . . . to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities” (20 U.S.C. 1412 (a)(15)(B)(iii). Yet, nowhere does the IDEA specify what constitutes “appropriately trained and supervised.” (Giangreco, M., Backus, L., Cichoski-Kelly, E., Sherman, P. and Mavropoulos, Y., 2003) “Consistent with earlier research, recent data suggest that availability and adequacy of training for paraprofessionals remains a persistent need.” (Giangreco, M., Suter, J., and Doyle, M., 2010)

Most Paraeducators refuse to take the incentive and educate themselves, believing “that responsibility lies collectively with those who are accountable for ensuring appropriate education for all students (e.g., government education officials, community school board members, school administrators, special educators, teachers.” (Giangreco, December 2013) With today’s economy and the public outcry against higher taxes, the cost of training Paraeducators is a major issue for all school districts, “[t]here are some training opportunities and higher education courses available to these professionals, but time and costs are sometimes barriers to accessing them.” (McFadden, C. and Bruno, C., March, 2006).

Survey Shows…?           

            What do Vermont’s educators think? One hundred percent of the Paraeducators who answered the survey, as well as one third of the teachers who responded to it, said they didn’t receive any professional development training prior to beginning their work with special education students. A Paraeducator responding to the survey stated, “I walked into my first classroom with zero training.” (Sefcik, 2013, Anonymous Survey Response) Seventy percent of the respondents answered that they have been afraid for their own safety because they had not been trained to work with their students. Another Paraeducator commented that “[i]t can be a somewhat dangerous position, especially without restraint training, which appears to be reserved for others instead of the actual paras who work with the students.’ (Sefcik, 2013, Anonymous Survey Response)

The situation appears to be improving at some schools, as this respondent remarked that “[a]t the school I am a Paraeducator at, there is now extensive behavior management training, social thinking, CPI, etc. This was not always the case, and is new in the last two years.” (Sefcik, 2013, Anonymous Survey Response) “Best practice” for Vermont’s students would be to have every school’s faculty and staff members appropriately trained to handle any student’s behavior in order to better assist that student academically. Whether that will ever come to fruition remains to be seen. It is not up to those who work closest with the students. The decision to require and provide the training must be made by those at the Vermont Agency of Education, or possibly even at the level of the United States Department of Education. Vermont students deserve better and so do the people who work most closely with them. 



French, N. (2012). Paraeducators-quality training preview clip [Video file]. Retrieved from–wWvccbf7M

Giangreco, M.F. (December, 2013) Teacher assistant supports in inclusive schools: Research, practices and alternatives. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 37, (2), 93-106. Retrieved from

Giangreco, M., Backus, L., Cichoski-Kelly, E., Sherman, P., & Mavropoulos, Y. (2003) Paraeducator training materials to facilitate inclusive education: Initial field-test data. Rural Special Education Quarterly.

Giangreco, M., Edelman, S., & Broer, S. (2001). Respect, appreciation, and acknowledgment of paraprofessionals who support students with disabilities. The Council for Exceptional Children Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 485-498.

Giangreco, M., Suter, J., & Doyle, M. (2010). Paraprofessionals in inclusive schools: A review of recent research. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation 20:41-57.

Jasper, Andrea D.; Morris, Carrie Wachter. (Feb. 2012.) Special educators and nonsuicidal self-injurious behavior: Self-injury training, exposure, and self-efficacy. Retrieved from

McFadden, C. and Bruno, C. (March, 2006). Vermont interagency white paper on autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from

NationalDisseminationCenter for Children with Disabilities. (February, 2013). Paraprofessionals. Retrieved from

National Education Association. (2013). Paraeducator Roles and Responsibilities. Retrieved from

Sefcik, K. (December, 2013). “Professional Development: A Survey of Vermont Educators.” Survey. December 2, 2013. Web. December 5, 2013.

The Master Teacher. (2013). Paraeducator PD Now. Retrieved from

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APA cite this article in text as: (Sefcik, 2014)

APA cite this article in your References as: Sefcik, K. (2014).  Vermont students deserve better. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from

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Kelly Sefcik: Mom of two grown daughters, wife for 28 years, lover of learning, reading, and improving the lives of children.

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