What is a School Psychological Examiner?

Introduction

In the United States education system, School Psychological Examiners assess the needs of students in schools for special education services or other interventions.

The post requires a relevant postgraduate qualification and specialist training. This role is distinct within school psychology from that of the psychiatrist, clinical psychologist and psychometrist.

Role of Psychological Examiners in Schools

School Psychological Examiners are assessors licensed by a State Department of Education to work with students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade in public schools, interviewing, observing, and administering and interpreting standardised testing instruments that measure cognitive and academic abilities, or describe behaviour, personality characteristics, attitude or aptitude, in order to determine eligibility for special education services, placement, or conduct re-evaluation, or occupational guidance and planning.

The work of the School Psychological Examiners is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. They prepare psychoeducational evaluation reports based on test results and interpretation. Integrated with case history, the evaluation reports should present an accurate and clear profile of a student’s level of functioning or disability, strengths and weaknesses, compare test results with the standards of the evaluation instruments, analyse potential test biases, and develop appropriate recommendations to help direct educational interventions and services in a most inclusive and least restrictive environment. Evaluation reports are framed by laws and regulations applicable to testing and assessment in special education, and must follow school district policies and the codes of ethics applicable to education, special education, and psychological assessment.

School Psychological Examiners also provide psychoeducational interventions such as consultation services, collaboration in behaviour management planning and monitoring, and devising social skills training programmes in public schools.

Unless additionally trained and licensed, School Psychological Examiners do not offer or provide psychotherapy or clinical diagnostic/treatment services, which are attributions of licensed psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, as provided by law and professional regulations.

Qualifications

School Psychological Examiners are highly trained and experienced educators who hold a master’s or higher degree in education or school counselling and at least one endorsement in special education. In addition to school district policies, School Psychological Examiners are bound by professional regulations, as well as by the ethical codes of testing and measurement. Other designations for School Psychological Examiners include ‘Educational Examiners’ or ‘Psychoeducational Examiners.’ Designation of this specialty varies among different school districts.

‘Psychometrist,’ from the term psychometrics, is an occupational designation not inclusive of the broader faculties of School Psychological Examiners. Psychometrists deal exclusively with quantitative test administration, do not require coursework beyond the bachelor’s level, or licensure by a state department of education. Training of psychometrists is primarily done on-the-job, and their services are valuable in mental health community agencies, assessment and institutional research, or test-producing companies, etc., rather than in K-12 schools.

Graduate Training and Licensure of School Psychological Examiners

Typical training includes coursework beyond the Master of Education, Master of Science in Education, or Master of Arts in Teaching degrees. Currently, School Psychological Examiners complete the courses required by their state department of education rather than by a prescribed self-contained programme of studies. The coursework is equivalent to an entire Specialist or Doctoral Degree; unfortunately just a handful of institutions of higher education offer this kind of self-standing graduate programme. Graduate courses of a psychological nature include:

  • Special Education Law.
  • Advanced Child and Adolescent Growth and Development.
  • Psychology of Students with Exceptionalities.
  • Abnormal Child and Adult Psychology.
  • Advanced Statistics and Research in Education and Psychology.
  • Tests and measurements.
  • Assessment and Evaluation of the Individual.
  • Individual Intelligence quotient.
  • Group Assessment.
  • Diagnostics and Remedial Reading.
  • Ethical issues in education and psychological measurement and evaluation reporting.
  • Methods of Instructing Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities.
  • Methods of Instructing Students with Severe to Profound Disabilities.
  • Survey of Guidance and Counselling Techniques.
  • Practicum for School Psychological Examiners (150 supervised contact hours).

Licensure as School Psychological Examiner demands experience in a special education or school counselling setting, satisfactory completion of the required graduate coursework and practicum, plus a passing score on the ‘Praxis II Special Education: Knowledge-Based Core Principles’. Graduate school recommendation and verification of experience by the employing school district complete the requirements. In addition to the practicum, on-the-job mentoring supervision for at least two school years, sometimes four years, allows the transition from initial licensure to standard professional licensure. An annual professional development plan and ongoing performance-based evaluation ensure ‘High Quality’ professionalism as required by the No Child Left Behind law and related regulations.

Competencies

The clinical and technical skills needed to be a competent behavioural and clinical assessor include the abilities to do the following (Sattler & Hoge, 2006):

  • Establish and maintain rapport with children, parents, and teachers.
  • Use effective assessment techniques appropriate for evaluating children’s behaviour.
  • Use effective techniques for obtaining accurate and complete information from parents and teachers.
  • Evaluate the psychometric properties of tests and other measures.
  • Select an appropriate assessment battery.
  • Administer and score tests and other assessment tools by following standardised procedures.
  • Observe and evaluate behaviour objectively.
  • Perform informal assessments.
  • Interpret assessment results.
  • Use assessment findings to develop effective interventions.
  • Communicate assessment findings effectively, both orally and in writing.
  • Adhere to ethical standards.
  • Read and interpret research in behavioural and clinical assessment.
  • Keep up with laws and regulations concerning the assessment and placement of children with special needs.

Additionally, high quality School Psychological Examiners exhibit proficiency-level knowledge on:

  • The provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act and related legislation.
  • State and federal laws, and all the applicable regulations, policies, and standards pertaining the provision of psychosocial and educational services to disabled individuals.
  • Children and adolescents’ advanced development and behaviour.
  • Multicultural factors in attitudes and behaviours.
  • Analysis and diagnosis of learning problems including special consideration of low incidence populations.
  • Integration of knowledge, facts, and theory on classroom environment, psychosocial principles, and test results, to plan for prescriptive instruction, management, and education of students with special needs.
  • Focused and methodical psychoeducational evaluation reporting, providing sound and accurate information and research-based remediation recommendations to improve individual student’s learning, achievement, and behavioural performance.
  • Teamwork and collaboration for the process of staffing with other school professionals and collaborative development of instructional strategies for students with special needs.
  • Provision of assistance with instructional modifications or accommodations, and programming or transition recommendations for the Individualised Education Programme (IEP).
  • Accountability for the monitoring and outcome assessment of services and interventions.

Evaluation Standards

Evaluation standards provide guidelines for designing, implementing, assessing, and reporting the psychoeducational evaluation reported by school psychological examiners. The evaluation is informed by professional codes of ethics.

  • Standards for Qualifications of Test Users.
  • Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education.
  • Standards for Multicultural Assessment.
  • Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.

Reference

Sattler, J. M. & Hoge, R. D. (2006). Assessment of Children: Behavioral, Social, and Clinical Foundations. 5th Ed. San Diego, CA: Jerome M. Sattler Publisher, Inc. p.2.

What is Applied Psychology?

Introduction

Applied psychology is the use of psychological methods and findings of scientific psychology to solve practical problems of human and animal behaviour and experience.

Mental health, organisational psychology, business management, education, health, product design, ergonomics, and law are just a few of the areas that have been influenced by the application of psychological principles and findings. Some of the areas of applied psychology include clinical psychology, counselling psychology, evolutionary psychology, industrial and organisational psychology, legal psychology, neuropsychology, occupational health psychology, human factors, forensic psychology, engineering psychology, school psychology, sports psychology, traffic psychology, community psychology, and medical psychology. In addition, a number of specialised areas in the general field of psychology have applied branches (e.g. applied social psychology, applied cognitive psychology). However, the lines between sub-branch specialisations and major applied psychology categories are often blurred. For example, a human factors psychologist might use a cognitive psychology theory. This could be described as human factor psychology or as applied cognitive psychology.

Brief History

The founder of applied psychology was Hugo Münsterberg. He came to America (Harvard) from Germany (Berlin, Laboratory of Stern), invited by William James, and, like many aspiring psychologists during the late 19th century, originally studied philosophy. Münsterberg had many interests in the field of psychology such as purposive psychology, social psychology and forensic psychology. In 1907 he wrote several magazine articles concerning legal aspects of testimony, confessions and courtroom procedures, which eventually developed into his book, On the Witness Stand. The following year the Division of Applied Psychology was adjoined to the Harvard Psychological Laboratory. Within 9 years he had contributed eight books in English, applying psychology to education, industrial efficiency, business and teaching. Eventually Hugo Münsterberg and his contributions would define him as the creator of applied psychology. In 1920, the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) was founded, as the first international scholarly society within the field of psychology.

Most professional psychologists in the US worked in an academic setting until World War II. But during the war, the armed forces and the Office of Strategic Services hired psychologists in droves to work on issues such as troop morale and propaganda design. After the war, psychologists found an expanding range of jobs outside of the academy. Since 1970, the number of college graduates with degrees in psychology has more than doubled, from 33,679 to 76,671 in 2002. The annual numbers of masters’ and PhD degrees have also increased dramatically over the same period. All the while, degrees in the related fields of economics, sociology, and political science have remained constant.

Professional organisations have organised special events and meetings to promote the idea of applied psychology. In 1990, the American Psychological Society held a Behavioural Science Summit and formed the “Human Capital Initiative”, spanning schools, workplace productivity, drugs, violence, and community health. The American Psychological Association declared 2000-2010 the Decade of Behaviour, with a similarly broad scope. Psychological methods are considered applicable to all aspects of human life and society.

Advertising

Business advertisers have long consulted psychologists in assessing what types of messages will most effectively induce a person to buy a particular product. Using the psychological research methods and the findings in human’s cognition, motivation, attitudes and decision making, those can help to design more persuasive advertisement. Their research includes the study of unconscious influences and brand loyalty. However, the effect of unconscious influences was controversial.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology includes the study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists may also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and programme development and administration. Some clinical psychologists may focus on the clinical management of patients with brain injury – this area is known as clinical neuropsychology. In many countries clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

The work performed by clinical psychologists tends to be done inside various therapy models, all of which involve a formal relationship between professional and client – usually an individual, couple, family, or small group – that employs a set of procedures intended to form a therapeutic alliance, explore the nature of psychological problems, and encourage new ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving. The four major perspectives are psychodynamic, cognitive behavioural, existential-humanistic, and systems or family therapy. There has been a growing movement to integrate these various therapeutic approaches, especially with an increased understanding of issues regarding ethnicity, gender, spirituality, and sexual-orientation. With the advent of more robust research findings regarding psychotherapy, there is growing evidence that most of the major therapies are about of equal effectiveness, with the key common element being a strong therapeutic alliance. Because of this, more training programmes and psychologists are now adopting an eclectic therapeutic orientation.

Clinical psychologists do not usually prescribe medication, although there is a growing number of psychologists who do have prescribing privileges, in the field of medical psychology. In general, however, when medication is warranted many psychologists will work in cooperation with psychiatrists so that clients get therapeutic needs met. Clinical psychologists may also work as part of a team with other professionals, such as social workers and nutritionists.

Counselling Psychology

Counselling psychology is an applied specialisation within psychology, that involves both research and practice in a number of different areas or domains. According to Gelso and Fretz (2001), there are some central unifying themes among counselling psychologists. These include a focus on an individual’s strengths, relationships, their educational and career development, as well as a focus on normal personalities. Counselling psychologists help people improve their well-being, reduce and manage stress, and improve overall functioning in their lives. The interventions used by Counselling Psychologists may be either brief or long-term in duration. Often they are problem focused and goal-directed. There is a guiding philosophy which places a value on individual differences and an emphasis on “prevention, development, and adjustment across the life-span.”

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is devoted to the study of how humans learn in educational settings, especially schools. Psychologists assess the effects of specific educational interventions: e.g. phonics versus whole language instruction in early reading attainment. They also study the question of why learning occurs differently in different situations.

Another domain of educational psychology is the psychology of teaching. In some colleges, educational psychology courses are called “the psychology of learning and teaching”. Educational psychology derives a great deal from basic-science disciplines within psychology including cognitive science and behaviourally-oriented research on learning.

Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology is the psychological study of humans and their interactions with their environments. The types of environments studied are limitless, ranging from homes, offices, classrooms, factories, nature, and so on. However, across these different environments, there are several common themes of study that emerge within each one. Noise level and ambient temperature are clearly present in all environments and often subjects of discussion for environmental psychologists. Crowding and stressors are a few other aspects of environments studied by this sub-discipline of psychology. When examining a particular environment, environmental psychology looks at the goals and purposes of the people in the using the environment, and tries to determine how well the environment is suiting the needs of the people using it. For example, a quiet environment is necessary for a classroom of students taking a test, but would not be needed or expected on a farm full of animals. The concepts and trends learned through environmental psychology can be used when setting up or rearranging spaces so that the space will best perform its intended function. The top common, more well known areas of psychology that drive this applied field include: cognitive, perception, learning, and social psychology.

Forensic Psychology and Legal Psychology

Forensic psychology and legal psychology are the areas concerned with the application of psychological methods and principles to legal questions and issues. Most typically, forensic psychology involves a clinical analysis of a particular individual and an assessment of some specific psycho-legal question. The psycho-legal question does not have to be criminal in nature. In fact, the forensic psychologist rarely gets involved in the actual criminal investigations. Custody cases are a great example of non-criminal evaluations by forensic psychologists. The validity and upholding of eyewitness testimony is an area of forensic psychology that does veer closer to criminal investigations, though does not directly involve the psychologist in the investigation process. Psychologists are often called to testify as expert witnesses on issues such as the accuracy of memory, the reliability of police interrogation, and the appropriate course of action in child custody cases.

Legal psychology refers to any application of psychological principles, methods or understanding to legal questions or issues. In addition to the applied practices, legal psychology also includes academic or empirical research on topics involving the relationship of law to human mental processes and behaviour. However, inherent differences that arise when placing psychology in the legal context. Psychology rarely makes absolute statements. Instead, psychologists traffic in the terms like level of confidence, percentages, and significance. Legal matters, on the other hand, look for absolutes: guilty or not guilty. This makes for a sticky union between psychology and the legal system. Some universities operate dual JD/PhD programmes focusing on the intersection of these two areas.

The Committee on Legal Issues of the American Psychological Association is known to file amicus curae briefs, as applications of psychological knowledge to high-profile court cases.

A related field, police psychology, involves consultation with police departments and participation in police training.

Health and Medicine

Health psychology concerns itself with understanding how biology, behaviour, and social context influence health and illness. Health psychologists generally work alongside other medical professionals in clinical settings, although many also teach and conduct research. Although its early beginnings can be traced to the kindred field of clinical psychology, four different approaches to health psychology have been defined: clinical, public health, community and critical health psychology.

Health psychologists aim to change health behaviours for the dual purpose of helping people stay healthy and helping patients adhere to disease treatment regimens. The focus of health psychologists tend to centre on the health crisis facing the western world particularly in the US, cognitive behavioural therapy and behaviour modification are techniques often employed by health psychologists. Psychologists also study patients’ compliance with their doctors’ orders.

Health psychologists view a person’s mental condition as heavily related to their physical condition. An important concept in this field is stress, a mental phenomenon with well-known consequences for physical health.

Medical

Medical psychology involves the application of a range of psychological principles, theories and findings applied to the effective management of physical and mental disorders to improve the psychological and physical health of the patient. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines medical psychology as the branch of psychology that integrates somatic and psychotherapeutic modalities, into the management of mental illness, health rehabilitation and emotional, cognitive, behavioural and substance use disorders. According to Muse and Moore (2012), the medical psychologist’s contributions in the areas of psychopharmacology which sets it apart from other of psychotherapy and psychotherapists.

Occupational Health Psychology

Occupational health psychology (OHP) is a relatively new discipline that emerged from the confluence of health psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, and occupational health. OHP has its own journals and professional organisations. The field is concerned with identifying psychosocial characteristics of workplaces that give rise to health-related problems in people who work. These problems can involve physical health (e.g. cardiovascular disease) or mental health (e.g. depression). Examples of psychosocial characteristics of workplaces that OHP has investigated include amount of decision latitude a worker can exercise and the supportiveness of supervisors. OHP is also concerned with the development and implementation of interventions that can prevent or ameliorate work-related health problems. In addition, OHP research has important implications for the economic success of organisations. Other research areas of concern to OHP include workplace incivility and violence, work-home carryover, unemployment and downsizing, and workplace safety and accident prevention. Two important OHP journals are the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology and Work & Stress. Three important organisations closely associated with OHP are the International Commission on Occupational Health’s Scientific Committee on Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors (ICOH-WOPS), the Society for Occupational Health Psychology, and the European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology.

Human Factors and Ergonomics

Human factors and ergonomics (HF&E) is the study of how cognitive and psychological processes affect our interaction with tools, machines, and objects in the environment. Many branches of psychology attempt to create models of and understand human behaviour. These models are usually based on data collected from experiments. Human Factor psychologists however, take the same data and use it to design or adapt processes and objects that will complement the human component of the equation. Rather than humans learning how to use and manipulate a piece of technology, human factors strives to design technology to be inline with the human behaviour models designed by general psychology. This could be accounting for physical limitations of humans, as in ergonomics, or designing systems, especially computer systems, that work intuitively with humans, as does engineering psychology.

Ergonomics is applied primarily through office work and the transportation industry. Psychologists here take into account the physical limitations of the human body and attempt to reduce fatigue and stress by designing products and systems that work within the natural limitations of the human body. From simple things like the size of buttons and design of office chairs to layout of airplane cockpits, human factor psychologists, specialising in ergonomics, attempt to de-stress our everyday lives and sometimes even save them.

Human factor psychologists specialising in engineering psychology tend to take on slightly different projects than their ergonomic centred counterparts. These psychologists look at how a human and a process interact. Often engineering psychology may be centred on computers. However at the base level, a process is simply a series of inputs and outputs between a human and a machine. The human must have a clear method to input data and be able to easily access the information in output. The inability of rapid and accurate corrections can sometimes lead to drastic consequences, as summed up by many stories in Set Phasers on Stun. The engineering psychologists wants to make the process of inputs and outputs as intuitive as possible for the user.

The goal of research in human factors is to understand the limitations and biases of human mental processes and behaviour, and design items and systems that will interact accordingly with the limitations. Some may see human factors as intuitive or a list of dos and don’ts, but in reality, human factor research strives to make sense of large piles of data to bring precise applications to product designs and systems to help people work more naturally, intuitively with the items of their surroundings.

Industrial and Organisational Psychology

Industrial and organisational psychology, or I-O psychology, focuses on the psychology of work. Relevant topics within I-O psychology include the psychology of recruitment, selecting employees from an applicant pool, training, performance appraisal, job satisfaction, work motivation. work behaviour, occupational stress, accident prevention, occupational safety and health, management, retirement planning and unemployment among many other issues related to the workplace and people’s work lives. In short, I-O psychology is the application of psychology to the workplace. One aspect of this field is job analysis, the detailed study of which behaviours a given job entails.

Though the name of the title “Industrial Organisational Psychology” implies 2 split disciplines being chained together, it is near impossible to have one half without the other. If asked to generally define the differences, Industrial psychology focuses more on the Human Resources aspects of the field, and Organisational psychology focuses more on the personal interactions of the employees. When applying these principles however, they are not easily broken apart. For example, when developing requirements for a new job position, the recruiters are looking for an applicant with strong communication skills in multiple areas. The developing of the position requirements falls under the industrial psychology, human resource type work. and the requirement of communication skills is related to how the employee with interacts with co-workers. As seen here, it is hard to separate task of developing a qualifications list from the types of qualifications on the list. This is parallel to how the I and O are nearly inseparable in practice. Therefore, I-O psychologists are generally rounded in both industrial and organisational psychology though they will have some specialisation. Other topics of interest for I-O psychologists include performance evaluation, training, and much more.

Military psychology includes research into the classification, training, and performance of soldiers.

School Psychology

School psychology is a field that applies principles of clinical psychology and educational psychology to the diagnosis and treatment of students’ behavioural and learning problems. School psychologists are educated in child and adolescent development, learning theories, psychological and psycho-educational assessment, personality theories, therapeutic interventions, special education, psychology, consultation, child and adolescent psychopathology, and the ethical, legal and administrative codes of their profession.

According to Division 16 (Division of School Psychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA), school psychologists operate according to a scientific framework. They work to promote effectiveness and efficiency in the field. School psychologists conduct psychological assessments, provide brief interventions, and develop or help develop prevention programmes. Additionally, they evaluate services with special focus on developmental processes of children within the school system, and other systems, such as families. School psychologists consult with teachers, parents, and school personnel about learning, behavioural, social, and emotional problems. They may teach lessons on parenting skills (like school counsellors), learning strategies, and other skills related to school mental health. In addition, they explain test results to parents and students. They provide individual, group, and in some cases family counselling. School psychologists are actively involved in district and school crisis intervention teams. They also supervise graduate students in school psychology. School psychologists in many districts provide professional development to teachers and other school personnel on topics such as positive behaviour intervention plans and achievement tests.

One salient application for school psychology in today’s world is responding to the unique challenges of increasingly multicultural classrooms. For example, psychologists can contribute insight about the differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

School psychologists are influential within the school system and are frequently consulted to solve problems. Practitioners should be able to provide consultation and collaborate with other members of the educational community and confidently make decisions based on empirical research.

Social Change

Psychologists have been employed to promote “green” behaviour, i.e. sustainable development. In this case, their goal is behaviour modification, through strategies such as social marketing. Tactics include education, disseminating information, organising social movements, passing laws, and altering taxes to influence decisions.

Psychology has been applied on a world scale with the aim of population control. For example, one strategy towards television programming combines social models in a soap opera with informational messages during advertising time. This strategy successfully increased women’s enrolment at family planning clinics in Mexico. The programming – which has been deployed around the world by Population Communications International and the Population Media Centre – combines family planning messages with representations of female education and literacy.

Sport Psychology

Sport psychology is a specialisation within psychology that seeks to understand psychological/mental factors that affect performance in sports, physical activity and exercise and apply these to enhance individual and team performance. The sport psychology approach differs from the coaches and players perspective. Coaches tend to narrow their focus and energy towards the end-goal. They are concerned with the actions that lead to the win, as opposed to the sport psychologist who tries to focus the players thoughts on just achieving the win. Sport psychology trains players mentally to prepare them, whereas coaches tend to focus mostly on physical training. Sport psychology deals with increasing performance by managing emotions and minimizing the psychological effects of injury and poor performance. Some of the most important skills taught are goal setting, relaxation, visualization, self-talk awareness and control, concentration, using rituals, attribution training, and periodisation. The principles and theories may be applied to any human movement or performance tasks (e.g. playing a musical instrument, acting in a play, public speaking, motor skills). Usually, experts recommend that students be trained in both kinesiology (i.e. sport and exercise sciences, physical education) and counselling.

Traffic Psychology

Traffic psychology is an applied discipline within psychology that looks at the relationship between psychological processes and cognitions and the actual behaviour of road users. In general, traffic psychologists attempt to apply these principles and research findings, in order to provide solutions to problems such as traffic mobility and congestion, road accidents, speeding. Research psychologists also are involved with the education and the motivation of road users.

What is School Psychology?

Introduction

School psychology is a field that applies principles from educational psychology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, community psychology, and behaviour analysis to meet the learning and behavioural health needs of children and adolescents.

It is an area of applied psychology practiced by a school psychologist. They often collaborate with educators, families, school leaders, community members, and other professionals to create safe and supportive school environments.

School psychologists primarily work with students who have learning disabilities, behavioural difficulties, mental disorders, and other health issues. They carry out psychological testing, psychoeducational assessment, intervention, prevention, counselling, and consultation in the ethical, legal, and administrative codes of their profession.

Background

School psychology dates back to the beginning of American psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The field is tied to both functional and clinical psychology. School psychology actually came out of functional psychology. School psychologists were interested in childhood behaviours, learning processes, and dysfunction with life or in the brain itself. They wanted to understand the causes of the behaviours and their effects on learning. In addition to its origins in functional psychology, school psychology is also the earliest example of clinical psychology, beginning around 1890. While both clinical and school psychologists wanted to help improve the lives of children, they approached it in different ways. School psychologists were concerned with school learning and childhood behavioural problems, which largely contrasts the mental health focus of clinical psychologists.

Another significant event in the foundation of school psychology as it is today was the Thayer Conference. The Thayer Conference was first held in August 1954 in West Point, New York in Hotel Thayer. The 9 day-long conference was conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA). The purpose of the conference was to develop a position on the roles, functions, and necessary training and credentialing of a school psychologist. At the conference, forty-eight participants that represented practitioners and trainers of school psychologists discussed the roles and functions of a school psychologist and the most appropriate way to train them.

At the time of the Thayer Conference, school psychology was still a very young profession with only about 1,000 school psychology practitioners. One of the goals of the Thayer Conference was to define school psychologists. The agreed upon definition stated that school psychologists were psychologists who specialise in education and have specific knowledge of assessment and learning of all children. School psychologists use this knowledge to assist school personnel in enriching the lives of all children. This knowledge is also used to help identify and work with children with exceptional needs. It was discussed that a school psychologist must be able to assess and develop plans for children considered to be at risk. A school psychologist is also expected to better the lives of all children in the school; therefore, it was determined that school psychologists should be advisors in the planning and implementation of school curriculum. Participants at the conference felt that since school psychology is a specialty, individuals in the field should have a completed a two-year graduate training program or a four-year doctoral programme. Participants felt that states should be encouraged to establish certification standards to ensure proper training. It was also decided that a practicum experience be required to help facilitate experiential knowledge within the field.

The Thayer Conference is one of the most significant events in the history of school psychology because it was there that the field was initially shaped into what it is today. Before the Thayer Conference defined school psychology, practitioners used seventy-five different professional titles. By providing one title and a definition, the conference helped to get school psychologists recognised nationally. Since a consensus was reached regarding the standards of training and major functions of a school psychologist, the public can now be assured that all school psychologists are receiving adequate information and training to become a practitioner. It is essential that school psychologists meet the same qualifications and receive appropriate training nationwide. These essential standards were first addressed at the Thayer Conference. At the Thayer Conference some participants felt that in order to hold the title of a school psychologist an individual must have earned a doctoral degree.

The issues of titles, labels, and degree levels are still debated among psychologists today. However, APA and NASP reached a resolution on this issue in 2010.

Social Reform in the Early 1900s

The late 19th century marked the era of social reforms directed at children. It was due to these social reforms that the need for school psychologists emerged. These social reforms included compulsory schooling, juvenile courts, child labour laws as well as a growth of institutions serving children. Society was starting to “change the ‘meaning of children’ from an economic source of labour to a psychological source of love and affection”. Historian Thomas Fagan argues that the preeminent force behind the need for school psychology was compulsory schooling laws. Prior to the compulsory schooling law, only 20% of school aged children completed elementary school and only 8% completed high school. Due to the compulsory schooling laws, there was an influx of students with mental and physical defects who were required by law to be in school. There needed to be an alternative method of teaching for these different children. Between 1910 and 1914, schools in both rural and urban areas created small special education classrooms for these children. From the emergence of special education classrooms came the need for “experts” to help assist in the process of child selection for special education. Thus, school psychology was founded.

Important Contributors to the Founding

Lightner Witmer

Lightner Witmer has been acknowledged as the founder of school psychology. Witmer was a student of both Wilhelm Wundt and James Mckeen Cattell. While Wundt believed that psychology should deal with the average or typical performance, Cattell’s teachings emphasized individual differences. Witmer followed Cattell’s teachings and focused on learning about each individual child’s needs. Witmer opened the first psychological and child guidance clinic in 1896 at the University of Pennsylvania. Witmer’s goal was to prepare psychologists to help educators solve children’s learning problems, specifically those with individual differences. Witmer became an advocate for these special children. He was not focused on their deficits per se, but rather helping them overcome them, by looking at the individual’s positive progress rather than all they still could not achieve. Witmer stated that his clinic helped “to discover mental and moral defects and to treat the child in such a way that these defects may be overcome or rendered harmless through the development of other mental and moral traits”. He strongly believed that active clinical interventions could help to improve the lives of the individual children.

Since Witmer saw much success through his clinic, he saw the need for more experts to help these individuals. Witmer argued for special training for the experts working with exceptional children in special educational classrooms. He called for a “new profession which will be exercised more particularly in connection with educational problems, but for which the training of the psychologist will be a prerequisite”.

As Witmer believed in the appropriate training of these school psychologists, he also stressed the importance of appropriate and accurate testing of these special children. The IQ testing movement was sweeping through the world of education after its creation in 1905. However, the IQ test negatively influenced special education. The IQ test creators, Lewis Terman and Henry Goddard, held a nativist view of intelligence, believing that intelligence was inherited and difficult if not impossible to modify in any meaningful way through education.] These notions were often used as a basis for excluding children with disabilities from the public schools. Witmer argued against the standard pencil and paper IQ and Binet type tests in order to help select children for special education. Witmer’s child selection process included observations and having children perform certain mental tasks.

Granville Stanley Hall

Another important figure to the origin of school psychology was Granville Stanley Hall. Rather than looking at the individual child as Witmer did, Hall focused more on the administrators, teachers and parents of exceptional children He felt that psychology could make a contribution to the administrator system level of the application of school psychology. Hall created the child study movement, which helped to invent the concept of the “normal” child. Through Hall’s child study, he helped to work out the mappings of child development and focused on the nature and nurture debate of an individual’s deficit. Hall’s main focus of the movement was still the exceptional child despite the fact that he worked with atypical children.

Arnold Gesell

Bridging the gap between the child study movement, clinical psychology and special education, Arnold Gesell, was the first person in the United States to officially hold the title of school psychologist, Arnold Gesell. He successfully combined psychology and education by evaluating children and making recommendations for special teaching. Arnold Gesell paved the way for future school psychologists.

Gertrude Hildreth

Gertrude Hildreth was a psychologist with the Lincoln School at Teacher’s College, Columbia then at Brooklyn College in New York. She authored many books including the first book pertaining to school psychology titled, “Psychological Service for School Problems” written in 1930. The book discussed applying the science of psychology to address the perceived problems in schools. The main focus of the book was on applied educational psychology to improve learning outcomes. Hildreth listed 11 problems that can be solved by applying psychological techniques, including: instructional problems in the classroom, assessment of achievement, interpretation of test results, instructional groupings of students for optimal outcomes, vocational guidance, curriculum development, and investigations of exceptional pupils. Hildreth emphasized the importance of collaboration with parents and teachers. She is also known for her development of the Metropolitan Readiness Tests and for her contribution to the Metropolitan Achievement test. In 1933 and 1939 Hildreth published a bibliography of Mental Tests and Rating Scales encompassing a 50-year time period and over 4,000 titles. She wrote approximately 200 articles and bulletins and had an international reputation for her work in education.

Issues Related to School Psychology

Intervention

One of the primary roles and responsibilities of school psychologists working in schools is to ensure the interventions they utilise effectively address students’ behaviour problems. Issues arise when school psychologists do not select interventions with sufficient research-based evidence in being effective for the individual with whom they are working. School psychologists, as researchers and practitioners, can make important contributions to the development and implementation of scientifically based intervention and prevention programmes to address learning and behavioural needs of students (National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

There is a concern with implementing academic and behavioural interventions prior to the determination for special education services, and it has also been proposed that MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) may address these concerns. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recognises the need for evidence-based prevention and intervention practices to address student learning, social emotional development, behavioural performance, instructional methodology, school practices, classroom management, and other areas salient to school-based services and improving student outcomes (National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Intervention and prevention research needs to address a range of questions related not only to efficacy and effectiveness, but also to:

  • Feasibility given resources (e.g. time, money, staffing);
  • Acceptability (e.g. teacher, student, and community attitudes toward intervention strategies);
  • Social validity (the relevance of targeted outcomes to everyday life of students);
  • Integrity or fidelity (the extent to which individuals responsible for implementing an intervention can do so as intended by its designers); and
  • Sustainability (extent to which school staff can maintain the intervention over time, without support from external agents).

A specific example of an intervention that has recently become popular among school psychologists is the School-wide Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Authorised under IDEA, the PBIS offers a “preventative, positive, and systemic framework or approach to affect educational and behavioural change” and can be used in the support of Tiers 1-3 in the education system. Research from single-case design studies and group studies demonstrates that the intervention can result in a reduction of major disciplinary infractions and aggressive behaviour, improvement in academic achievement, an increase in prosocial behaviour, a reduction in bullying behaviour reported by teachers, and much more. Through consistent and strong implementation fidelity, PBIS can provide school psychologists opportunities to assist the administration, teaching staff, and students in broad and specific ways.

Prevention

A way in which school psychologists can help students is by creating primary prevention programmes. Information about prevention should also be connected to current events in the community.

Issues with Assessment Process

Empirical evidence has not confirmed biases in referral, assessment, or identification; however, inferences have been made that the special education process may be oversimplified. The National Research Council has called attention to the questionable reliability of educational decision making in special education as there can be vast numbers of false positives and/or false negatives. Misidentified students in special education is problematic and can contribute to long term negative outcomes.

During the identification process, school psychologists must consider ecological factors and environmental context such as socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status may limit funding and materials, impact curriculum quality, increase teacher-to-student ratios, and perpetuate a negative school climate.

Technological Issues

With the ever growing use of technology, school psychologists are faced with several issues, both ethical and within the populations they try to serve. As it is so easy to share and communicate over technology, concerns are raised as to just how easy it is for outsiders to get access to the private information that school psychologists deal with everyday. Thus exchanging and storing information digitally may come under scrutiny if precautions such as password protecting documents and specifically limiting access within school systems to personal files.

Then there is the issue of how students communicate using this technology. There are both concerns on how to address these virtual communications and on how appropriate it is to access them. Concerns on where the line can be drawn on where intervention methods end and invasion of privacy begin are raised by students, parents, administrators, and faculty. Addressing these behaviours becomes even more complicated when considering the current methods of treatment for problematic behaviours, and implementation of these strategies can become complex, if not impossible, within the use of technology.

To incorporate topics in a school, utilise lesson plans for students and staff because the teachers need to ensure the content is connected to other meaningful topics covered in the class/school.

Racial Disproportionality in Special Education

Disproportionality refers to a group’s under or overrepresentation in comparison to other groups within a certain context. In the field of school psychology, disproportionality of minority students in special education is a concern. Special Education Disproportionality has been defined as the relationship between one’s membership to a specific group and the probability of being placed in a specific disability category. Systemic prejudice is believed by some to be one of the root causes of the mischaracterisation of minority children as being disabled or problematic.

“Research on disproportionality in the U.S. context has posited two overlapping types of rationales: those who believed disproportionate representation is linked to poverty and health outcomes versus those who believed in the systemwide racist practices that contributed to over-representation of minority students.”

The United States Congress recently received an annual report on the implementation of IDEA which stated that proportionally Native Americans (14.09%) and African Americans (12.61%) were the two most highly represented racial groups within the realm of special education. In particular, African American males have been overidentified as having emotional disturbances and intellectual disabilities. They account for 21% of the special education population with emotional disturbances and 12% with learning disabilities. American Indian and Alaska Native students are also overrepresented in special education. They are shown to be 1.53 times more likely to receive services for various learning disabilities and 2.89 more likely to obtain services targeting developmental delays than all other Non-Native American student groups combined.] Overall, Hispanic students are often overidentified for special education in general; however, it is common for them to be under-identified for Autism Spectrum Disorder and speech and language impairments in comparison to White students.

Minority populations often have an increased susceptibility to economic, social and cultural disadvantages that can affect academic achievement. According to the US Department of Education, “Black children were three times as likely to live in poor families as white children in 2015. 12 percent of white and Asian children lived in poor families, compared with 36 percent of black children, 30 percent of Hispanic children, 33 percent of American Indian children, and 19 percent of others.” There may be other alternative explanations for behaviour and academic performance as well. For example, Black children are twice as likely as Whites to experience heightened levels of lead in the blood due to prolonged lead exposure. Lead poisoning can be known to affect a child’s behaviour by increasing their levels of irritability, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness even in less severe cases.

Cultural Biases

Some school psychologists realise the need to understand and accept their own cultural beliefs and values in order to understand the impact it may have when delivering services to clients and families. For example, these school psychologists ensure that students who are minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are being equally represented at the system level, in the classroom, and receiving a fair education.

For staff, it is important to look at one’s own culture while seeing the value in diversity. It is also vital to learn how to adapt to diversity and integrate a comprehensive way to understand cultural knowledge. Staff members should keep the terms race, privilege, implicit bias, micro aggression, and cultural relevance in mind when thinking about social justice.

Services

Behaviour Interventions

School psychologists are involved in the implementation of academic, behavioural, and social/emotional interventions within a school across a continuum of supports. These systems and policies should convey clear behaviour expectations and promote consistency among educators. Continuous reinforcement of positive behaviours can yield extremely positive results. Schoolwide positive behaviour supports A systematic approach that proactively promotes constructive behaviours in a school can yield positive outcomes. These programs are designed to improve and support students’ social, behavioural, and learning outcomes by promoting a positive school climate and providing targeted training to students and educators within a school. Data should be collected consistently to assess implementation effectiveness, screen and monitor student behaviour, and develop or modify action plans.

Academic Interventions

Academic interventions can be conceptualised as a set of procedures and strategies designed to improve student performance with the intent of closing the gap between how a student is currently performing and the expectations of how they should be performing. Short term and long term interventions used within a problem-solving model must be evidence-based. This means the intervention strategies must have been evaluated by research that utilised rigorous data analysis and peer review procedures to determine the effectiveness. Implementing evidence-based interventions for behaviour and academic concerns requires significant training, skill development, and supervised practice. Linking assessment and intervention is critical for determining that the correct intervention has been chosen. School psychologists have been specifically trained to ensure that interventions are implemented with integrity to maximise positive outcomes for children in a school setting.

Systems-Level Services

Leaders in the field of school psychology recognise the practical challenges that school psychologists face when striving for systems-level change and have highlighted a more manageable domain within a systems-level approach – the classroom. Overall, it makes sense for school psychologists to devote considerable effort to monitoring and improving school and classroom-based performance for all children and youth because it has been shown to be an effective preventive approach.

Universal Screening

School psychologists play an important role in supporting youth mental wellness, but identifying youth who are in distress can be challenging. Some schools have implemented universal mental health screening programs to help school psychologists find and help struggling youth. For instance, schools in King County, Washington are using the Check Yourself digital screening tool designed by Seattle Children’s Hospital to measure, understand, and nurture individual students’ well-being. Check Yourself collects information about lifestyle, behaviour, and social determinants of health to identify at-risk youth so that school psychologists can intervene and direct youth to the services they need. Mental health screening provides school psychologists with valuable insights so that interventions are better fitted to student needs.

Crisis Intervention

Crisis intervention is an integral part of school psychology. School administrators view school psychologists as the school’s crisis intervention “experts”. Crisis events can significantly affect a student’s ability to learn and function effectively. Many school crisis response models suggest that a quick return to normal rituals and routines can be helpful in coping with crises. The primary goal of crisis interventions is to help crisis-exposed students return to their basic abilities of problem-solving so the student can return to their pre-crisis level of functioning.

Consultation

Consultation is done through a problem solving method that will help the consultee function more independently without the intensive support of a school psychologist.

Social Justice

The three major elements that comprise social justice include equity, fairness, and respect. The concept of social justice includes all individuals having equal access to opportunities and resources. A major component behind social justice is the idea of being culturally aware and sensitive. American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) both have ethical principles and codes of conduct that present aspirational elements of social justice that school psychologists may abide by. Although ethical principles exist, there is federal legislation that acts accordingly to social justice. For example, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) address issues such as poverty and disability to promote the concept of social justice in schools.

Schools are becoming increasingly diverse with growing awareness of these differences. Cultural diversity factors that can be addressed through social justice practice include race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), religion, and sexual orientation. With the various elements that can impact a student’s education and become a source of discrimination, there is a greater call for the practice of social justice in schools. School psychologists that consider the framework of social justice know that injustices that low SES students face can sometimes be different when compared to high SES students.

Advocacy

A major role of school psychologists involves advocating and speaking up for individuals as needed. Advocacy can be done at district, regional, state, or national level. School psychologists advocate for students, parents, and caregivers.

Consultation and collaboration are key components of school psychology and advocacy. There may be times when school personnel may not agree with the school psychologist. Differing opinions can be problematic because a school psychologist advocates for what is in the best interest of the student. School psychologists and staff members can help facilitate awareness through courageous conversations.

Multicultural Competence

School psychologists offer many types of services in order to be multiculturally competent. Multicultural competence extends to race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, and geographic region. Because the field of school psychology serves such a diverse range of students, maintaining representation for minority groups continues to be a priority. Despite such importance, history has seen an underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) school psychologists. which may appear alarming given that the diversity of our youth continues to increase exponentially. Thus, current professionals in the field have prioritised the acquisition of CLD school psychologists. School psychologists are trained to use their skills, knowledge, and professional practices in promoting diversity and advocating for services for all students, families, teachers, and schools. School psychologists may also work with teachers and educators to provide an integrated multicultural education classroom and curriculum that allows more students to be represented in learning. Efforts to increase multicultural perspectives among school psychologists have been on the rise to account for the increased diversity within schools. Such efforts include establishing opportunities for individuals representative of minority groups to become school psychologists and implementing a diverse array of CLD training programmes within the field.

Education

In order to become a school psychologist, one must first learn about school psychology by successfully completing a graduate-level training programme. A B.A. or B.S. is not sufficient.

United States

School psychology training programs are housed in university schools of education or departments of psychology. School psychology programmes require courses, practica, and internships.

Degree Requirements

Specific degree requirements vary across training programmes. School psychology training programs offer masters-level (M.A., M.S., M.Ed.), specialist-level degrees (Ed.S., Psy.S., SSP, CAGS), and doctoral-level degrees (Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D.) degrees. Regardless of degree title, a supervised internship is the defining feature of graduate-level training that leads to certification to practice as a school psychologist.

Specialist-level training typically requires 3-4 years of graduate training including a 9-month (1200 hour) internship in a school setting.

Doctoral-level training programs typically require 5-7 years of graduate training. Requirements typically include more coursework in core psychology and professional psychology, more advanced statistics coursework, involvement in research endeavours, a doctoral dissertation, and a one-year (1500+ hour) internship (which may be in a school or other settings such as clinics or hospitals).

In the past, a master’s degree was considered the standard for practice in schools. As of 2017, the specialist-level degree is considered the entry-level degree in school psychology. Masters-level degrees in school psychology may lead to obtaining related credentials (such as Educational Diagnostician, School Psychological Examiner, School Psychometrist) in one or two states.

International

In the UK, the similar practice and study of School Psychology is more often termed Educational Psychology and requires a doctorate (in Educational Psychology) which then enables individuals to register and subsequently practice as a licensed educational psychologist.

Employment in the United States

In the United States, job prospects in school psychology are excellent. Across all disciplines of psychology, the abundance of opportunities is considered among the best for both specialist and doctoral level practitioners. They mostly work in schools. Other settings include clinics, hospitals, correctional facilities, universities, and independent practice.

Demographic Information

According to the NASP Research Committee, 74% of school psychologists are female with an average age of 46. In 2004-2005, average earnings for school practitioners ranged from $56,262 for those with a 180-day annual contract to $68,764 for school psychologists with a 220-day contract. In 2009-2010, average earnings for school practitioners ranged from $64,168 for those with a 180-day annual contract to $71,320 for school psychologists with a 200-day contract. For university faculty in school psychology, the salary estimate is $77,801.

Based on surveys performed by NASP in 2009-2010, it is shown that 90.7% of school psychologists are white, while minority races make up the remaining 9.3%. Of this remaining percentage, the next largest populations represented in school psychology, are African-Americans and Hispanics, at 3% and 3.4% respectively.

Shortages in the Field

There is a lack of trained school psychologists within the field. While jobs are available across the country, there are just not enough people to fill them.

Due to the low supply and high demand of school psychologists, being a school psychologist is very demanding. School psychologists may feel under pressure to supply adequate mental health and intervention services to the students in their care. Burnout is a risk of being a school psychologist.

Bilingual School Psychologists

Approximately 21% of school-age children ages 5-7 speak a language other than English. For this reason, there is an enormous demand for bilingual school psychologists in the United States. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) does not currently offer bilingual certification in the field. However, there are a number of professional training opportunities that bilingual LSSPs/School Psychologists can attend in order to prepare to adequately administer assessments. In addition, there are 7 NASP-Approved school psychology programs that offer a bilingual specialisation:

  • Brooklyn College-City University of New York- Specialist Level.
  • Gallaudet University- Specialist Level.
  • Queens College-City University of New York- Specialist Level.
  • San Diego State University- Specialist Level.
  • Texas State University- Specialist Level.
  • University of Colorado Denver- Doctoral Level.
  • Fordham University- Lincoln Centre – Doctoral Level.

New York and Illinois are the only two states that offer a bilingual credential for school psychologists.

International School Psychology

The role of a school psychologist in the United States and Canada may differ considerably from the role of a school psychologist elsewhere. Especially in the United States, the role of school psychologist has been closely linked to public law for education of students with disabilities. In most other nations, this is not the case. Despite this difference, many of the basic functions of a school psychologist, such as consultation, intervention, and assessment are shared by most school psychologists worldwide.

It is difficult to estimate the number of school psychologists worldwide. Recent surveys indicate there may be around 76,000 to 87,000 school psychologists practicing in 48 countries, including 32,300 in the United States and 3,500 in Canada. Following the United States, Turkey has the next largest estimated number of school psychologists (11,327), followed by Spain (3,600), and then both Canada and Japan (3,500 each).

Credentialing

In order to work as a school psychologist, one must first meet the state requirements. In most states (excluding Texas and Hawaii), a state education agency credentials school psychologists for practice in the schools.

The Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential offered by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). The NCSP credential is an example of a non-practice credential as holding the NCSP does not make one eligible to provide services without first meeting the state requirements to work as a school psychologist.

State psychology boards (which may go by different names in each state) also offer credentials for school psychologists in some states. For example, Texas offers the LSSP credential which permits licensees to deliver school psychological services within public and private schools.

Subspecialisations

  • Paediatric School Psychology.
  • Systems Level Consultation.
  • School Based Mental Health.
  • Behavioural School Psychology.

Professional Organisations in the United States

  • National Association of School Psychologists.
  • American Psychological Association.

Journals

  • Psychology in the Schools.
  • School Psychology Quarterly.
  • School Psychology Review.
  • School Psychology Forum: Research in Practice.
  • School Psychology International.
  • Canadian Journal of School Psychology.
  • International Journal of School & Educational Psychology.
  • Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment.