Roles of the Reading Specialist

Because reading specialists have advanced degrees in reading, they are in a position to prevent reading failure at their schools. This position statement describes the roles reading specialists can play in instruction, assessment, and school leadership.

Teaching all children to read requires that every child receive excellent reading instruction and that children who are struggling with reading receive additional instruction from professionals specifically prepared to teach them. Teaching all children to read also requires reading specialists in every school because the range of student achievement in classrooms, with the inclusion of children who have various physical, emotional, and educational needs, requires different educational models from those of the past.

In order to provide these services, schools must have reading specialists who can provide expert instruction, assessment, and leadership for the reading program. Reading specialists are professionals with advanced preparation and experience in reading who have responsibility for the literacy performance of readers in general and struggling readers in particular. This includes early childhood, elementary, middle, secondary, and adult learners. Learners can be in public, private, and commercial schools, or in reading resource centers or clinics.

The International Reading Association's recommendations for the roles of the reading specialist in the three specific areas mentioned above include the following:


The reading specialist supports, supplements and extends classroom teaching, and works collaboratively to implement a quality reading program that is research-based and meets the needs of students.


The reading specialist has specialized knowledge of assessment and diagnosis that is vital for developing, implementing, and evaluating the literacy program in general, and in designing instruction for individual students. He or she can assess the reading strengths and needs of students and provide that information to classroom teachers, parents, and specialized personnel such as psychologists, special educators, or speech teachers, in order to provide an effective reading program.


The reading specialist provides leadership as a resource to other educators, parents and the community.

Roles of the Reading Specialist: Summary of position statement (March, 2000). International Reading Association. Reprinted with permission.

Read or purchase the full text of IRA's position statement, Roles of the Reading Specialist on IRA's web site:


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.


Even with a Bachelor's degree in elementary education, I was not taken seriously as an interventionist because I worked as a Title I para. I was still at the mercy of the learning facilitators to do what I was told and where. I was split between 2 schools. At one school, I was strictly an interventionist. The other school, I was basically a floater who went between classrooms to help kids stay on task during whole group instruction and centers. I believe the title of the job should not identify one's capabilities. I have the same education as the teachers I worked with. I chose to continue working as a para because I felt I could focus more on the at risk kids than I could as a classroom teacher. I understand its insulting when someone with less education says they can do the same job as someone with a higher education. But it's also insulting to categorize para's as being beneath everybody else just because they are a para. I have since quit my job and went back to school to get my master's so that maybe I'll be taken seriously. It's only about status and holding the right pieces of paper. Without them, nobody is taken seriously based on their education and experience alone.

I hold an elementary certification and upon graduation was hired as a long-term sub for a year, then hired on permanently in the district as a para. The para position was that of a reading teacher. I saw small groups of students in a pullout situation. I later continued my education to learn more about reading because of the love I have for it. I have a teacher of reading certificate for k-12 not a full masters. I have not had classroom experience, but have a strong background (10 years) in teaching reading in small group setting. I am unable to get hired as a teacher or a reading specialist. I do not think that all Para's are unqualified. I think too many people have placed a label on a what a PARA positon is and this position is changing with the lack of teacher positions available and the amount of people trying to get into the position. And districts are utilizing them to save money. I think there should be a position for people like us who do have the expertise and have devoted all our time learning about reading, but have not been in the classroom. We still have a vast amount of expertise and knowledge.

It is very insulting to hear that teachers or any staff member in a school thinks that a para can do a "decent job" in teaching reading to students who struggle. I am a reading specialist with a para. Yes she does a "decent job", but in no way in any shape or form has the knowledge, education, experience, and leadership of a Reading Specialist. First of all, doing a decent job is not what I would want for my children or school district. I would want the BEST I could get for a district. Second, intuition is a big no no. You would know that if you had the correct training and professional training. We are taught how to assess and read data and look for specific problems that will impede reading such as vision, hearing, and language problems. As mentioned above, we have spent countless hours receiving professional development, specific training, college hours, and we also present to the staff on our information! Wow!

I was a paraprofessionl working in a special education department in one of the highest paid districts in Massachusetts, right outside of Boston. I made 18k a year. Clearly not enough to live in Boston! I did reading intervention and brought my student up a grade level, from 5th grade reader to 6th grade. I was proud of this because she had fetal alcohol syndrome and dyslexia. I highly considered becoming a teacher but's just too terrifying how poor the schools are managed. Agreed that job should go to a masters level professional, but it doesn't.

Agreed! Unfortunately our district is deleting the reading specialist role to save money. They have all been offered classroom positions, and now every Gen. Ed. teacher will be responsible for giving extra interventions to their struggling readers. People who have no idea about a reading specialist's expertise are making recommendations in a school where we a have a huge population of students reading below grade level. What they need is more reading specialists. Instead they have nixed all of them. In the end, it's the students who will suffer the most for these poor decisions.

Thank you Kim! I just completed my Master's and Reading Endorsement and I have learned so much more about reading, interventions, assessments, etc.... plus my six years of teaching experience. A good para is great but, in no way can they replace a good reading specialist.

Yeah, as for your "trying to save money in a district" add-on here at the end, no para is going to have the educational background necessary to provide the role an actual literacy specialist provides. How insulting to literacy specialists who spent the time, money, and effort going through a master's program to gain the educational knowledge and experience necessary to work with struggling readers that you would say that.

Trying to save money in district?A paraprofessional who has been involved in reading and literacy programs for quite awhile can also do a pretty decent job as an interventionist.One of the biggest qualities I think an interventionist needs is something they don't learn in school - its called intuition. If you have good intuition and flexibility and experience, you will do alright because data collecting, reading it and interpreting it is the easier part of the job.Often the teachers really value the input of the experienced para as a second set of eyes and ears.

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