The variety of terms used to refer to Bilingual Paraprofessionals explains the lack of a universal definition for this job. Most definitions, however, focus on the roles that paraprofessionals play, namely, assisting professionals in schools (e.g., teachers, speech language pathologists, counselors) and providing services to children or their parents under the supervision of certificated personnel. Bilingual paraprofessionals are usually hired to provide educational services in more than one language, usually English and another language; help students in public or private schools, either in general or special education; and assist with students who may or may not have disabilities.
The National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals (NRCP) in its seventh report, The Employment and Preparation of Paraeducators: The State of the Art- 2003, highlighted the difficulties of collecting data regarding the exact number of paraprofessionals working nationwide. The report estimated the number of paraprofessionals to be more than 525,000 in the year 2000. Of that number, approximately 130,000 were assigned to multilingual, Title I, and other compensatory programs.
The history of the hiring of paraprofessionals, as presented in the NRCP report, clearly reflects the needs of personnel in the field of education and the changes in the paraprofessional’s job description that occurred over the past 50 years. Paraprofessionals became common in the 1950s, when a shortage of certified teachers and parents’ efforts to develop community-based educational services for children and adults with disabilities created a need to hire teacher assistants. At this time, paraprofessionals played mainly a clerical role and performed basic routine and housekeeping tasks in classrooms.
In the 1960s and 1970s, federal legislation such as the Head Start Act; Title I, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; the Bilingual Education Act, also known as Title VII; and the Education for All Handicapped Act led to the creation of programs that addressed the needs of educationally and economically disadvantaged children and their families. These programs focused on young, low-income children in elementary and secondary schools; children with limited English proficiency, now often referred to as English language learners (ELLs); and children with disabilities, respectively.
All of these programs provided funding for the employment and training of paraprofessionals, including bilingual paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals hired to serve in these programs still perform clerical and monitoring tasks but also assist the teacher and other school personnel in the education of children with specific reading, writing, and math needs.