School Psychology in New York State: Into the Next Millennium

NYASP/NYSPA Joint Statement on School Psychology Services


                                                                                                July 1, 1999

Overview

School psychology traces its origins, along with clinical psychology, to the formal study of learning and behavior. This work was begun over a century ago in clinical and school settings, and has had a profound impact on society’s understanding of both intellectual and emotional/behavioral aspects of children’s developmental needs, and the ways in which developing minds are impacted throughout the school years. Psychological services in the schools began with a primary focus on testing for intellectual ability and diagnostic testing for disability. School psychology is now recognized under Federal law as a vital component of educational support for children who do not readily adapt to the academic, social, and emotional demands of school life.

For children and adolescents, the ongoing demands of school communities are well-known, but too often discounted until a serious learning or behavioral problem becomes so pronounced it cannot be ignored. Despite the efforts of psychologists to become engaged working pro-actively, to provide ongoing, as-needed supports for teachers, parents and students, short-sighted political, financial, and educational planners often view psychological services as simply representing expenses which can and should be eliminated. Sadly, it takes personal and public tragedies to evoke discussion of the importance of mental health services to children in the schools, and for society to focus on "why" students become alienated, helpless, hopeless, and angry.

Although the new IDEA clearly emphasizes both behavioral considerations and the provision of school psychological services, School District administrators continue to seek ways in which to pare budgets by denying schools ongoing preventive mental health services, or to "contract" or "outsource" services to agencies or individuals. Often this entails piecemeal work by contractors who may be unqualified to provide the level of services our students deserve, and who certainly have no familiarity with a given child’s school milieu, including their classroom experiences, social interactions, student-teacher interactions, and educational climate within a given educational community. For this reason, both the New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) and the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP), have been strongly opposed to taking such expedient short-cuts and in the process denying school populations access to ongoing mental health services which afford prevention and intervention services, rather than simply after-the-fact crisis intervention, or needless (and costly) referrals to Special Education programs.

Educational Issues

The value of psychological services in the school are recognized by mental health professionals, parents, media, teachers, and the students themselves. Legislators on both the Federal and State level have also recognized the importance of mental health services to children, and this is reflected under not only the IDEA, but also in New York State Education Law and State Education Department regulation. School psychologists play a key role within educational settings.

School psychologists in New York State are committed to serving as resources for students, teachers, and parents. We know, as mental health and learning specialists, that there is much more to "successful" schooling than reading scores and staying out of trouble. Children need to be motivated, "ready to learn", and able to focus and comprehend. They need to feel safe enough and competent enough, and to know that there are available supports for their emotional needs, as well as their academic needs.

School psychology has a tradition, dating back to 1896, of specializing precisely in understanding and supporting the needs of students within school settings. Parents too, know that psychologists are who to turn to when they are concerned about their children’s expressions of frustration, changes in behavior, and difficulties in school. But in order for services to be available at critical times for the child, school psychologists need to be there in the schools, as part of the school community, on a regular basis. As such, students’ experiences can be understood in terms of not only test-taking results, but in the context of their daily experiences in classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds as well.

School-based psychologists confer with teachers and parents on an ongoing basis, and have as their priority the well-being of individual students, not the rapid piecemeal completion of a fee-for-service contract. It is because of the concern for actually knowing the child whose entire life may be affected by the recommendation of an evaluation team, that protections for children suspected of having a disability are built in to both Federal and New York State Education Law. Of course, school psychologists strive to work preventively with students before they face years of frustration or anger or depression. But with schools’ continuing focus on damage control and testing, and the thinning out of the numbers of available school psychologists following 1995’s NYS "mandate relief" bill, school districts make it increasingly less likely that students will have accessible psychological services on an as-needed basis. The use of contracted services virtually assures a continued denial of much-needed school-based mental health services, to those students most in need.

Legal Issues

New York State Education Regulations clearly affirm the intent of Congress, and offer protections to our children. Clearly there is recognition of the value of school-based psychological services, by professional school psychologists who have the capacity to provide quality services within the school community. Moreover, the emphasis in the new IDEA on functional assessment and behavior plans truly argues for central role of the school psychologist on school and district-based IEP teams.

Although there are differences in the membership of NYASP and NYSPA regarding such concerns as changes in licensure and scope of practice law, all school psychologists can agree on the value of having psychologists available in the schools. Moreover, the State Education Department consistently re-affirms the central role of school psychologists in the identification of student disabilities and in providing services within school settings. Both NYSPA and NYASP are committed to promoting the value of school psychological services, through both education and example. Our children deserve quality services.

Recently some school districts have been studying the feasibility of eliminating psychological services from the schools, and contracting evaluation services as needed. According to a June 1997 memo from the NY State Education Department (signed by the Associate Commissioner of the Office of the Professions and the Coordinator of Special Education Services), the state-certified school psychologist is required to be a "salaried employee" of a school district. Even in the rare instances where contracting is deemed to be necessary, "A board of education has no general statutory authorization to contract with a licensed psychologist for the services provided by school psychologists unless so ordered by a Court of Law to ensure the timely provision of special education programs and services. [Such is the case in New York City.] As specified in statute and regulations (Section 4402 of Education Law and Section 200.4 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education), a ‘school psychologist’ would determine the need to have a licensed psychologist conduct the psychological evaluation for a school-age student. Such a determination is based on an assessment performed by a school psychologist…." Therefore, a school-based school psychologist is still required to indicate a need for the rare instance (e.g, where there is a bilingual issue) where a contract evaluation is deemed necessary. However, according to a July 1996 memo from the SED, "Certification as a school psychologist is not required for the provision of related services by a licensed independent contractor". While schools are thus free to contract related services such as counseling, they are still required to have school psychologists on their salaried staff for the purpose of evaluating children with disability. Does it not make sense, then, for budget-conscious school districts to combine the roles of school psychologists to provide a more sensible range of services at the same source, in the schools?

Only the school psychologist is in a position to provide both evaluation and support services. This would seem to argue for the hiring and availability of more school psychologists, to be based in schools as available resources, on an ongoing basis. Money would be saved, school psychologists would be "productive" in the sense of diverting special education costs, and the need to spend additional moneys on the contracting of unnecessary services which could be offered in-house, would diminish. Of course, the children themselves would be best served by having consistent access to the full range of services which can be provided in-house by school psychologists. The costs of having school psychologists available to needy children and adolescents would be recovered many times over, not only in terms of dollars, but in terms of lives directed toward productive futures, and successful academic outcomes. It is time to ask, when discussions about "productivity" arise, "what are we producing?" Why not focus on producing "students who are able to successfully get a rich and varied education, and who will be motivated and productive beyond the school years in the world of work and human relationships"?

Looking Toward the Next Millennium

Our children are our most valuable asset, and our future as a society. We owe it to them to provide supports for both their educational and emotional needs, as one cannot possibly be successful without the tools to negotiate the stresses and demands of school. It is impossible to overstate the central role of the school experience in children’s lives.

As psychologists whose special expertise is understanding the dynamics, challenges, and resources within the school environment, and the cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning of children, it simply makes sense that school psychologists play a central role in supporting the educational and mental health needs of students. Legislators know this, educators know this, and increasingly the public recognizes and appreciates this. School psychologists are ready, willing, and able to provide leadership, support, and essential services to our educational communities. Both NYASP and NYSPA encourage our members to actively promote the value of mental health services in our schools through our commitment and our successes, and by our example. As this has been the decade of violence and educational deterioration, we look forward to a new millennium of educational enlightenment which is informed by the expertise of school psychologists, in areas of thinking, learning, motivation, and behavior. We are poised and ready.

Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.                                      Lynne Thies, Ph.D.
President, School Psychology Division               President, New York Association
New York State Psychological Association        of School Psychologists

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This page published: Sunday, 13-Aug-2000 15:55:01 CDT