Psychologists in Public Education: Helping Your Child Become a Success in School

Psychologists play a critical role in the identification and placement of students with disabilities in special education programs throughout the nation. Although the professional title of psychologist relates specifically to a doctoral level licensed professional, during the past several years many states have approved a teaching certification for master’s level school psychologists. In the public school system, school psychologists serve on school district committees on special education (i.e., CSEs). As CSE members, their educational assessments and evaluations are often the determining factors in whether a child meets the eligibility criteria for special education (i.e., they will receive certain accommodations such as preferential seating).

Under Federal law Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), CSEs are required to determine eligibility based on evaluation results. Evaluations must be comprehensive and provide information about a child’s unique abilities and needs. Tests and assessments given as part of an evaluation must be administered by a certified professional who can explain the child’s learning difficulties and how those difficulties affect his or her participation in the general education curriculum. School psychologists collaborate with parents, teachers and other professionals to enhance a child’s learning environment by strengthening the relationship between home and school.

Aside from their role on the CSE, school psychologists often work with classroom teachers to develop educational and behavioral plans to improve student performance. When there are significant problems within the home that affect student learning, school psychologists provide counseling supports for students and members of their family. And, when it becomes beyond the scope of school issues, they will refer the student to outside mental health professionals. School psychologists also work to develop school-wide positive behavioral support programs to establish clear expectations for students to exhibit pro-social behaviors. School-wide behavior intervention programs have become particularly important given the dramatic increase in student conflicts and bullying. Interestingly, the relationship between clear expectations and school rewards has been shown to successfully improve student attendance while decreasing the number of disciplinary violations.

Although the primary function of school psychologists in public school relates to assessment activities, surveys have indicated that school psychologists would prefer to expand their professional functioning by reducing their assessment activities in order to develop alternative service roles. The expansion of roles and responsibilities would include intervention and consultation services in general education settings. The current perception of school psychologists as primary evaluators is clearly changing to include more diversified special education roles such as: staff development, parent education, crisis intervention, administration, counseling, behavior management and classroom consultant. These studies indicate that educators clearly value psychological support services in school and want school psychologists to provide additional as well as more diversified services.

Parents can greatly benefit by being aware of the role of the school psychologist. View your school psychologist as a collaborator in making your child’s academic career a success. Contact them if you have a concern about his or her learning rate or social needs. A primary mission of a school psychologist is to evaluate students and to set up programs to increase a child’s success in school.

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