Education leaders embrace proposal for Idaho-based paraprofessional exam

The Professional Standards Commission (PSC) will recommend that Idaho adopt an alternative paraprofessional assessment that’s developed locally.

Paraprofessionals provide support for students and teachers in areas like special education and student services. They can tutor students or assist the teacher with managing the classroom and organizing instructional materials, and provide individual support for students with special needs.

The PSC makes recommendations to the State Board of Education, which governs public educational institutions and school systems. The 18-member PSC voted unanimously Friday to recommend an assessment developed locally by the Boise School District, called the “Idaho Paraprofessional Testing Alternative” (IPTA).

There is “significant need” for an alternative test for rural schools, said Ryan Cantrell, chief deputy superintendent for the Idaho Department of Education and PSC member. Rural schools “can’t get people to the Praxis,” Cantrell said, referring to the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) ParaPro Assessment, a reading, writing and math certification test for prospective paraprofessionals that is required in Idaho.

Many districts have potential hires drive to distant testing centers, one of four barriers contributing to the statewide shortage of paraprofessionals. Another factor is the $55 testing cost, which has to be paid each time a candidate takes or retakes the test. The other two are outdated equipment and an inordinately high passing score.

“Idaho needs every tool possible to help stem the tide of shortages,” a commission member said Friday morning.

School districts and charter schools have only one choice at the moment. Boise’s IPTA is an alternative method, so districts who prefer the current ETS test can continue using it. The IPTA is designed to meet both state and federal requirements. Idaho Code allows a state-approved assessment for endorsement.

The IPTA has a passing score of 75%. There are two exam options: a no-technology, paper-and-pencil version; and a Google Form version that is automatically graded and scores are saved. Individual school districts and charter schools can choose where to administer the test. The IPTA is free. 

Boise’s methodology utilized five measures: researching state and federal requirements; formatting the test to Idaho’s paraprofessional standards; developing consistency with the ETS test; employing a team of teachers to write content-specific test questions; beta-testing the assessment with teachers and paraprofessionals.

Jason Hutchinson, Boise’s director of human services, and his team presented the IPTA proposal to the PSC’s recommendation’s committee. He noted several issues about ETS’s testing procedures that are complicating the paraprofessional shortage.

One of those is maintaining technology capable of interfacing with ETS’ outdated systems — a major problem for Boise. The district administers the test in-house so it must maintain outdated systems in order to provide the test.

This year Boise administered 19 ETS exams. Two candidates did not pass. Last year, the district provided 56 tests and nine people failed. Those nine did not return to retake the test. At a price of $55, those 56 tests likely cost the district about $3,000.

In other business, the PSC voted unanimously to recommend that the State Board amend the ETS ParaPro Assessment qualifying score from 460 to 457.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan is based in North Idaho and has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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