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School Psychologists' Changing Roles, Responsibilities

Despite the demands of increased testing and identification of students with special needs, the role of the school psychologist as a resource for mental health services continues to grow, according to Charles R. Deupree, president of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Included: Descriptions of the services school psychologists offer.

Charles Deupree, president of the National Association of School Psychologists

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has 52 affiliate state associations and represents almost 23,000 school psychologists nationwide. Its mission is to promote educationally and psychologically healthy environments for all children and youths by implementing effective, research-based, programs. Charles R. Deupree, this year's NASP president, has been a school psychologist in Michigan since 1974. He has worked as a school psychologist and as coordinator for special education preschools in Ionia, Michigan. Deupree is currently on leave from his job as he serves as NASP president.

Education World: How has the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) responded to the September 11 attacks?

Charles R. Deupree: For many years, NASP has had a committee specializing in crisis response. The National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) was established after the Oklahoma City bombings to help support the families and professionals working with children. Our NEAT team has been called in to assist school districts in Columbine, Jonesboro, Paducah, Springfield, and San Diego, to name a few.

Although people in their wildest dreams could not have predicted the horrific acts of terrorism that took place on September 11, we were able to react quickly to support families and professionals across the country. Within hours of the attacks, NASP was able to post handouts and help sheets for parents and schools on the NASP Web page. Within days, we had at least a dozen different handouts and many site links, all of which are now available online at NASP NEAT Resources. Our colleagues from the International School Psychology Association helped translate the handouts into as many as seven different languages. The response was overwhelming. Within three weeks of the attacks, NASP had almost 3 million hits on its Web site.

As a result of NASP support and encouragement across the country, many school psychologists have been trained to respond to crisis events. Many of our members were on call to respond to New York, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania with help and support. A number of members went to assist those communities, and our NEAT team was available around the clock to provide assistance. School psychologists, as part of their jobs within the schools, were called upon to provide assistance in their districts and communities.

EW: What resources do school psychologists need to do their jobs more effectively?

Deupree: School psychology is experiencing a shortage. Our data indicates that almost 25 percent of school psychologists will retire in the next three to five years -- and there are already many unfilled positions nationwide. Fewer psychologists are being asked to do more with less. We would like to see a ratio of at least one school psychologist for every 1,500 students; yet for many school psychologists, the ratio is as high as one to 5,000.

We know that students who need and receive mental health services make better progress than those who need help but do not receive it. Too often school psychologists are unable to provide program intervention services because they are pressed to perform so many special education identification evaluations. There is no time to provide other help -- even though we know that districts that have committed to reduce testing and increase interventions have significant success in providing services that show a positive impact on student performance.

School psychologists need administrative support to do more than testing, to use the many skills they possess that have a positive impact on student success. School districts need financial help to provide funding to hire more mental health workers. Fortunately, there have never been more grant opportunities available to school districts that want to provide more prevention, intervention, and mental health services to children and their families.

EW: What would school psychologists like teachers to know?

Deupree: I think all school psychologists would like teachers to know that we are there to make the teacher's job easier and to advocate for all children. Teachers have a very tough job. They are asked to deal with many different problems and issues throughout the day. We would like them to understand that we can do more than test and place students into special education, and we can help implement prevention and intervention programs that can help avoid special education services. It costs about twice as much to educate a special education student as it does a regular education student. If we can intervene and prevent the need for special education services while programming for success in the classroom, more resources would be available for additional services within the schools.

EW: How have the responsibilities of school psychologists changed through the years?

Deupree: The scope of the school psychologist's job has broadened considerably, and our training standards have been expanded to reflect that change. Training as a school psychologist takes a full three years, which includes a 1,200-hour supervised internship. School psychologists are capable of providing many different services to schools and families. We have the training, and we are available to provide a range of helpful mental health services.

When I started as a school psychologist almost 28 years ago, mandatory special education laws had just been enacted. Most school psychologists were hired to help provide this new service by helping identify students who needed special education programs. In the early 1970s, schools were just beginning to develop special education services and students were finally getting the help they needed. Today, children in this country have many different needs. Parents realize that the schools have a legal responsibility to provide services to eligible students. In the 1970s, many parents were afraid their children would go into special education; today they demand special services.

In addition, students today come to school with a whole lot more baggage than they did 25 years ago. In the '70s, administrators were concerned about students who threw spitballs and kids who skipped school. Today, they worry about kids involved with drugs, use weapons, and exhibit violent behavior. I think it is an understatement to say that students are different today than they were 25 to 30 years ago! The services they need today are also different. The job of school psychologists has evolved from "test and place" to the provision of mental health services that deal with the spectrum of behavioral and academic needs.

Of course, school psychologists still provide evaluations for students, but instead of assessing only whether a student qualifies for special needs identification, they assess what a student needs in order to succeed. Academic assessments have gotten much more involved. Learning styles and remediation strategies are as unique as the students we evaluate; behavioral interventions are research-based and scientifically reliable. One size does not fit all.

EW: What are the NASP's priorities for 2002?

Deupree: NASP's priorities include maintaining our high level of advocacy activities and providing services to children and their families. We will maintain the high number of alliances and coalitions that we have with other organizations that support children, families, and education, because we know there is strength in numbers. We will also maintain, and hopefully increase, our membership levels. Our support of our members and of the profession as a whole, is punctuated by the high-quality professional development opportunities centered around our national convention, which will be held in Chicago, Illinois, from February 26 through March 2, 2002. We also support and lobby for legislation that supports school psychology and educational opportunities -- including prevention and intervention services for all children.

Every five years we are required to review our strategic plan and our mission. With many challenges before us, this is a good time to be completing this review. We will be developing a plan that will help us prioritize our efforts and determine how, and to what extent, we will spend our resources, both fiscal and human. We also have an agenda to support our state affiliate organizations. We believe that with stronger state affiliates we will ultimately have a stronger national association.

Article by Ellen Delisio
Education World®

This e-interview with Charles Deupree is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.