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Opinion: Why make it hard for potential parapros to take certification test?

Diane Loupe is a former journalist turned educator. In this piece, she talks about the obstacles in the path of metro residents seeking to take the test to become a classroom paraprofessional.

By Diane Loupe

If certification is the name of the game to get a job as a paraprofessional in a classroom, then why isn’t the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators or GACE paraprofessional certification test offered anywhere within the metropolitan Atlanta area?

I am a substitute teacher and former journalist, and I have befriended a hardworking young woman who is interested in becoming a paraprofessional. She, like many low-income women in metro Atlanta, doesn’t have a car, and relies upon public transportation to get to her two jobs.

Because I have taken two GACE tests myself, I was dumbfounded to learn this test wasn’t offered at any location that she could get to. The closest location was Carrollton. I even called Georgia State University, where I know there is a testing laboratory where you can take every kind of test from the GRE, to the GACE, to entrance tests for medical school. Nope, it’s not offered there. No explanation as to why.

A bit about the test. The GACE Paraprofessional test “measures the skills and knowledge in reading, writing, and math possessed by prospective and practicing paraprofessionals. It also measures their ability to apply those skills and knowledge when assisting in classroom instruction.” The test has 90 questions, and takes two-and-a-half hours to complete. Like many tests, it’s computer-based.

Which means it should be easy to deliver it in any school system or at the GSU lab? Nope.

There are a lot of job openings for paraprofessionals in metro Atlanta. And there are a lot of women and men who might qualify for those jobs if they had this certification. People who would well understand the struggles many of metro Atlanta’s neediest students go through on a daily basis.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Georgia State is a publicly funded institution with a testing lab already set up to administer this kind of standardized test. A lab that is centrally located and easily accessible by MARTA.

On a recent afternoon, I counted 52 advertised openings for paraprofessionals in DeKalb County schools, nine in Atlanta, 27 in Gwinnett, 13 in Cobb County. In most of these jobs, to be eligible to be a paraprofessional, if you don’t have a two-year degree or two years of college, you must have high school diploma or GED and this GACE certification.

Now, you can take this test easily all over the state of Georgia, Fitzgerald, Irwinton, Douglas, Winterville, Ellijay, Blairsville, Valdosta, Augusta, Albany, Nashville, Quitman, Metter, Macon, Warner Robins, Milledgeville, Savannah, Homerville, Waycross. But not in the largest city in the state.

And the GACE officials, the ones in charge of this system, couldn’t explain why. Except to tell me to call my local school system. So, I did, and they told me they didn’t offer it in DeKalb, but to contact GACE. A maddening runaround.

I call upon Georgia’s education officials to make this test available at Georgia State and/or at other locations accessible to students.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.