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Increasing Educator Diversity & Improving Student Learning Outcomes, One Paraprofessional at a Time

April 8, 2021

In a recent article about Diversifying the Educator Pipeline, we discussed the critical need to recruit, develop and retain teachers of color — specifically Black male educators. As diversification of the educator pipeline remains a critical concern for education systems around the country, researchers, teacher preparation programs and policymakers have identified numerous supports and solutions that can help to address this need. For example, the Call Me Mister® Initiative has championed the importance of recruitment, tuition assistance, academic support and the use of cohorts in teacher preparation programs. These approaches can be found in many other places including Rowan UniversityRelay Graduate School of EducationMan Up  and The Center for Black Educator Development. While these efforts are making considerable inroads, we need more pathways — and quickly — into the teaching profession for educators of color because they are needed in classrooms now.

One underutilized pathway to increasing diversity is the hiring and training of paraprofessionals (teaching assistants). The idea that paraprofessionals can be tapped as future educators is not a new idea, in fact this was promoted in educational articles in the late 1990s. Paraprofessionals by virtue of their experience in the community, schools and classrooms bring a level of knowledge and expertise that far exceeds what is typical of most prospective teachers. Oftentimes, they have already served as an apprentice in classrooms adding to their familiarity with student needs and classroom experience. Paraprofessionals understand how schools and classrooms work and what is required to carry out the day-to-day work as well as the moment-to-moment agility, compassion and support needed of today’s teachers. Through real-time experience they have also developed the critical skills needed to interact with and support students.

Moreover, these skills are tangible: currently 42 states require paraprofessionals to demonstrate knowledge and skills in reading, writing and math, similar to those required for entry into teacher preparation programs. This type of hands-on experience and learning puts paraprofessionals firmly on the path to developing the range of knowledge and skills needed to be successful as a teaching professional. By facilitating the transition of more paraprofessionals into the teaching profession, there is an opportunity to advance diversity and improve the quality of the teaching workforce.

In response to this pressing need, ETS recently launched its newest remote test offering, the ParaPro Test at Home. This exam represents a unique opportunity for classroom aides to become certified by taking the next step in their journeys to become professional educators. ETS worked hard to deliver this offering to test takers during a time when teacher shortages and the need for additional student support has never been greater.

ETS remains committed to increasing inclusion in classrooms across the country by ensuring all students have access to quality education supported by knowledgeable and diverse educators. For more information on the Parapro Test at Home or to register, please visit the ParaPro website.