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Things You Learn


San Francisco-based school psychologist Rebecca Bell has a hilarious entry called "The Newbie" on her blog, Notes from the School Psychologist. In it, she offers words of wisdom to other new school psychologists out there:

New psychs: Be patient. It took FOUR years to get the staff on board with the idea that we didn’t need to refer every child with academic or behavioral needs to special education “just to rule out a disability.” I had so much paperwork involved when there was an inappropriate referral it was ridiculous. Some parents didn’t even know that what they signed was permission for testing. One parent’s kid had a 4.0 and that kid was referred because she "talked out in class." Another kid was referred and he had been tested 6 months prior and didn’t qualify.

That's only one of several useful posts on this blog; one post on ways to de-escalate conflict with a defiant student was particularly interesting.

I'd like to know how the role of the school psychologist may be changing, especially with the advent of "response to intervention" as a technique for addressing learning problems early in young students. School psychologists have the reputation of being the people who give IQ tests to children in order to place them in special education, but obviously they do more. Is the job description evolving?


Bell's post was wonderful. I am envious. I want her to come to my kid's school! My goodness, the stories I could tell!

I will share that the most recent MFE that my child had (at high school level) was one of the most helpful--and reflective of ways in which the profession could/should grow. One very helpful feature was that the psych actually called me first to see what I was interested in. At this point, it's pretty much a given that he qualifies (and trust me, no one wants to see that change), so one option was to do a cursory walk through the motions. I suggestee that it had always made very little sense to me to waste the time that goes into an evaluation just to come out with a yes/no answer to the qualifies question (or to define LD vs ED). I suggested that some delving into his areas of strength and weakness would be more helpful.

And she responded. She actually observed and recorded his writing process disorder and how it impacts his ability to learn through the avenue of producing written work--and recommend that learning be supported in other ways. That might typically be pawned off to an OT (or overlooked), but she actually paid attention to it.

Bell's emphasis on prevention rather than identification is really helpful as well. Perhaps with adequate prevention processes in place, teachers will be less likely to request Special Ed referrals for the kids that they don't know how to help (which might result in making the kids somebody else's problem). Certainly we can use the expertise of school psychologists in more helpful ways in addition to identification.

Thanks for the kind words!

I am excited for the role expansion of the school psychologist vis-a-vis the RTI movement. Any school psych trained in the last few years will have a repertoire of skills in prevention and hopefully the districts are ready to include us in RTI models.

Believe me, school psychologists are tired of the "wait-to-fail" model for identifying Learning Disabilities. We are frustrated with being legally bound by IDEA, which makes us have to say ridiculous things like, "Sorry, your son has a severe auditory processing disorder, but is only 1 grade level behind and doesn't qualify."

It is my hope that school psychologists will be directly involved in RTI at all levels, from universal screenings in Kindergarten and 1st grade to SST meetings to develop "Tier 1" interventions, to assisting teachers with data collection and treatment fidelity, to psychoeducational assessment when intensive intervention has not worked.

As you can imagine, this is likely a full-time job to be involved on this level. When there are limited resources, school psychologists are spread thin between 5-6 schools and cannot do their jobs effectively. It is my hope that educational reform leaders understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I, too, am concerned about the role of school psychologists, RTI or no RTI model. Placing highly skilled assessment professionals in the role of gatekeepers for services (or counselors) is systemically problematic. Ideally, this role would be done by an outside professional, to control for bias. Realistically, it is not feasible for school psychologists to travel between numerous campuses and thoroughly assess referred students (particulary students who may qualify with emotional disturbance, ED--a much longer and more detailed process, and resulting in, among other consequences, the misidentification of many students with ED as only LD--or, worse still, no qualification). In my experience, in order to survive, school psychologists tend to simply say 'no' to referrals, under the politically correct guise of not overidentifying. Again in my opinion, this constitutes a denial of FAPE.

Hmm...Kim, you bring up some intriguing points. I hope Rebecca, the school psychologist, happens to come back over here to address them, or you can reach her at her own blog, which I have linked to on the left.

I don't know of school districts who might be trying to shift this evaluation process to outside professionals, do you? There's a great story idea there.

I know of no districts who have exclusively contracted the assessment process for possible special ed. qualification to outside professionals. It has been my experience, though, that school psychologists/psychologists participate in contract work for districts other than their primary employer. I *think* this is done routinely when districts become flooded with referrals. I agree, Christina, that there is a story waiting to be chosen here. I am interested in hearing others' viewpoints about the IDEA/NCLB/RtI interface, particulary in how it impacts professional roles and, most importantly, how it impacts our students and families.

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