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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 things that do not work." Thomas Edison

The preceding quotes, although taken from individuals of different disciplines, share a common and pertinent thread that is very much relevant to the field of School Psychology. This field we seek to learn, and ultimately influence, requires us to not only balance a multitude of dynamic responsibilities, it demands that we seamlessly incorporate the needs of students, parents, school administrators, and binding legislation into one cohesive and pragmatic whole. Within the whirlwind of these oftentimes opposing responsibilities, however, we must not loose sight of what lies at the core of a school psychologist’s identity: as both Edison and Pavlov speak to above, we are first and foremost guided by the principals of the scientific method. That is, we seek answers through a systematic implementation of empirically based theory and knowledge which requires us to be self-critical, learn from failures, and delve beneath the data we so meticulously collect.

Using this simple philosophy as a backdrop, the question becomes whether school psychologists are able to reconcile their guiding professional principals with the demands set forth by local, state, and federal laws. Perhaps to better understand the burdens placed by both distinct entities, it behooves us to delineate their major influences and concerns.

In respect to data driven and empirically based practices, school psychology currently employs a multi-tiered approach grounded in the Response to Intervention (RTI) theory coupled with functional behavioral assessment. The former employs universal screening and progress monitoring, strategically selected interventions, and data-based decision making (Peacock, Ervin, Daly III, & Merrell, 2010). The latter attempts to determine the function of a problem behavior by gathering information about the relationship between their antecedents and consequences (Peacock et al., 2010). Both of these problem-solving approaches require deft assessment measure selection, data interpretation, and intervention selection. All the while, the school psychologist must remain vigilant in his or her attention to different hypothesis that can garner the most effective course of action to each child’s unique sensibilities. Moreover, it is imperative that ultimately the intervention be implemented with fidelity, integrity, and in a timely manner for time spent in the process is lost in instruction (Peacock et al., 2010).

Legislative influences are just as important, if not more so, in driving the. Within Chapter 14 of the New Jersey Special Education Administrative Code, Title 6A, the legal responsibilities of school psychologists are methodically detailed. Expectations and rights ranging from school psychologists’ responsibilities, parental involvement and consent, special education classifications, Child Study Team (CST) duties, etc. are disseminated. The New Jersey Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE) provides a more reader friendly version of the statutes, specifically focusing on all parental and child rights and applicable courses of action. Although the two are meant to clearly elucidate both the internal mechanisms and procedures for providing special services, along with the rights and avenues available to parents, they can at times more closely resemble the format of confusing tax forms.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in its Professional Conduct Manual outlines attempts at dovetailing school psychologists’ professional ideals with legislative responsibilities. Ethical guidelines are provided which are part and parcel with providing professional services emphasizing empathy, cultural sensitivity, confidentiality, and overall proper conduct. What is most interesting, however, are the Guidelines for the Provision of School Psychological Services, which provide the underlying goals and direction of school psychology and all its supportive systems. They serve as a model of “good practice” for the field as a whole, as well as aspirations that should be striven for.
Utilizing a synapsis of the relevant literature, theories, and guidelines that dictate the current and potential future practice of school psychology, we now draw your attention to some specific and salient issues and the questions they command.

• The demographics of the United States are changing at a pace that rivals any other time in our history. Together with these changes in the social makeup of our communities, are the ever-increasing financial and acculturative pressures born by minorities in particular. With these realities in mind, are the explanations provided with PRISE sufficient for all parents? That is, are they clear to all cultures, socio-economic statuses, and education levels? Are further supportive measures necessary to ensure all parents fully understand the rights their children and they deserve?

• Procedures are set in place to guide school psychologists and CST’s from referral, to assessment, to intervention, and beyond. Throughout this processes, data-driven decision-making is stressed and employed. IEP’s stipulate that reevaluations are to be conducted every three years, yet RTI’s ongoing progress monitoring can be weekly, even daily, to ensure relevant data are collected and confirm efficacy of interventions. Shouldn’t these evaluation schedules be more proportional to each other if they seek to produce the same theoretical outcome? That is, is a three-year gap between evaluations conducive to effective IEP implementation?

• NASP’s ethical and “good practice” guidelines possess strong ideals that should be anchored in all school psychologists’ underlying principals. It fails, however, in suggesting how to effectively balance its ideals with practical implementation in school districts, which oftentimes do not possess the resources, structures or values for effective problem-solving methodologies to flourish. In fact, NASP states, “Ethical behavior may occasionally be forbidden by policy or law…” (NASP, 2000). Therefore, how might state legal guidelines set forth in Chapter 14 of the New Jersey Special Education Administrative Code, Title 6A be congruent or in opposition with those within NASP’s Professional Conduct Manual? Does the former impose limitations that erode the spirit of the latter? If so, how would you suggest one could more harmoniously bring the two together?

• In a functional analysis of behavior, antecedent and consequence variables are experimentally manipulated to verify the function of behavior, and the effects are compared to increase the validity of intervention selection decisions. In this way functionally significant target variables linked to interventions can be clarified (Peacock et al., 2010). With laws and codes for the performance of school psychology, under NJ Administrative Code Title 6A, delineating actions of school psychologists to the point of diagnosis, along with school districts’ budgets being slashed every year, do you as a future school psychologist feel that you will be able to implement a functional analysis approach? Do you feel state statutes, as they stand, limit your ability to fully utilize your skills as a professional? Furthermore, who do feel is, or should be, the ultimate arbiter that dictates the field’s future direction?

• According to PRISE, parents have rights to refer their children for assessment and according to NJ Administrative Code Title 6A, school psychologists have a professional right to determine what type of assessment is appropriate, and if an assessment is warranted. Peacock (2010) details 3 principles for selecting high-quality academic intervention (p.116):
• Know why and when academic intervention strategies work.
• Select intervention components that match the student's instructional needs.
• Prove that the intervention is valid for the student.

Clearly, not all referrals necessitate the same type of assessment and intervention. It would be your task to effectively apply the steps above in your determination. As a school psychologist, how will you explain to the parent that you do not believe a "full assessment" is appropriate for their child, or that a simpler and less intrusive action is appropriate based on your professional evaluation? What alternative actions beyond formal assessment are available for suggestion?

"Don't become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin." Ivan Pavlov

This BLOG entry was created by Fabio Simao & Rivca Modiano Zacharia.

A Practical Means to a Sometimes Unpractical End: School Psychology

The school psychologist may have a romanticized vision of themselves and their job description. A central role of a school psychologist is to “stand up” for the needs and rights of the student/client, particularly when this may be challenging. In reality the modern school psychologist works within the confines of federal, state, district and professional guidelines, and many times struggle if they do not have the support of the principle, teachers, and parents. A school psychologist may feel constrained and even strangled by the political and bureaucratic aspects of the position, yet, must practice harmoniously with federal, state, and district guidelines, laws, and mandates. What problems do you see arising from the restrictions set on school psychologists by the “N.J.A.C. 6A:14, SPECIAL EDUCATION.? In order for interventions to be successful they need to be endorsed by the principal and followed through by the teacher. What could happen when this support system breaks down? We like to think that school psychologists get to make creative choices and unique interventions. When looking at the NASP guidelines do see an opportunity to use your own ideas? Are the NASP guidelines too strict?

The guidelines of NASP address such issues as professional competency, professional relationships, professional practices, and practice settings - including independent practice. Principle number five under professional relationships states, “School psychologists are responsible for the direction and nature of their personal loyalties or objectives. When these commitments may influence a professional relationship, school psychologists inform all concerned persons of relevant issues in advance, including, when applicable, their direct supervisor for consideration of reassignment of responsibilities.” What are some of the implications of this principle? How and why do you think this is a relevant issue in professional ethics?

It is key to remember that parents are a valued member of the child study team, who contribute to making determinations and developing their child’s IEP. Parents are most empowered when they maintain an active role in their child’s education. To obtain the most from this process, the State of New Jersey has outlined Parental Rights in Special Education for the parents. It details the steps of the special education process, from making a referral, to resources for educational transitions. How familiar are you with the PRISE guidelines? What do you think the extent of the parent’s role is? Too much involvement? Too little involvement? What types of conflicting interests exist between the parent, the district, and the school psychologist?

New Jersey Department of Education. (2012). Parental Rights in Special Education.

National Association of School Psychologists. (2000). Professional Conduct Manual.

“School Psych as a Gatekeeper” (Peacock, G. G., Ervin, R. A., Daly, E. J., & Merrell, K.W.2009)

Peacock, G. G., Ervin, R. A., Daly III, E. J., & Merrell, K. W. (2010). Practical handbook of school psychology. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

This BLOG entry was created by: Sean Latino, Rachel Schneider, Danielle Territo & Jenny Pagonis.