School psychology

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File:Alfred Binet.jpg
Alfred Binet developed the first norm-referenced standardized intelligence test to help make educational placement decisions for children.

School Psychology is a field that applies principles of clinical psychology and educational psychology to the diagnosis and treatment of children's and adolescents' behavioral and learning problems. School psychologists are educated in psychology, education, child and adolescent development, child and adolescent psychopathology, learning theories, family and parenting practices, and personality theories. They are knowledgeable about effective instruction and effective schools. They are trained to carry out psychological and psychoeducational assessment, psychotherapy, and consultation, and in the ethical, legal and administrative codes of their profession.

Historical highlights

Lightner Witmer, often called the 'father of school psychology' (Fagan, 1996), opened the first psychology clinic in the U.S. in 1896 at the University of Pennsylvania. Witmer's clinic provided services that combined educational and clinical interventions. Clinic staff treated children with psychoeducational difficulties by working directly with the children at the clinic, and also by consulting with educators at local schools (Fagan, 1996). The first person to hold the title 'school psychologist', however, was Arnold Gesell (Fagan, 2000).

The profession of school psychology in the U.S. grew tremendously following the passing of laws mandating compulsory schooling for children in the early 20th century. These laws led to a spurt in the number of children with physical and mental problems in schools who previously would have not attended school, and educators struggled to serve them. At that time, students who were very atypical were usually educated in separate facilities, and the need arose for experts to assist in this educational segregation. At around the same time, advances were made in educational measurement and test construction, leading to the development of standardized tests such as the Simon-Binet IQ test in France. Binet's test was brought to the United States in the early 1900s and was standardized in 1916 by Lewis Terman of Stanford University; today it is the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales (5th ed.). The primary role of school psychologists at that time was administering and interpreting standardized tests. Consulting with teachers and parents about children's learning, emotional, and behavioral difficulties and designing treatments were minor parts of their professional role (Merrell, 2006).

Prior to World War II, the practice of psychology was not formally divided into clinical, counseling, school, and other divisions, as it is today. However, the large number of soldiers returning home from the war led to the appearance of Veterans Administration hospitals to serve them, and to the growth and eventual medicalization of clinical psychology through its interactions with psychiatry. School psychology, however, retained its emphasis on psychoeducational issues (Merrell, 2006). Division 16 (School Psychology) of the American Psychological Association was formed [1] in 1945, and it represents the speciality of school psychology as a doctoral-level field within health service psychology. The majority of school psychologists, however, particularly those employed in schools, possess master's degrees or education specialist degrees. The National Association of School Psychologists[2] was founded in 1969. It represents all school psychologists and is the largest and most influential professional school psychology organization. There are also 52 state school psychology organizations.

In 1975, the landmark federal Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) required that states provide free and appropriate public education of all individuals from 3 to 21 years of age. This act required that all children attend school, including children who previously might not have received public education due to their physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities. Moreover, this act mandated that children should be educated in the least restricted environment appropriate for them (that is, in the regular education classroom, together with their typically-developing peers). These principles were reaffirmed and strengthened in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). Hence, in the U.S. the profession of school psychology flourished as these students needed additional support to be successful in the regular school setting (Merrell, 2006).


Unlike clinical psychology and counseling psychology, which are doctoral-only fields, school psychology includes individuals with Master's (M.A., M.S., M.Ed.), Educational Specialist (Ed.S.), and doctoral (Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D) degrees. Whereas in the past the Master's degree was considered appropriate for practice in schools, the National Association of School Psychologists currently recognizes the 60 credit hour Ed.S. as the most appropriate level of training needed for entry-level school-based practice. According to the NASP Research Committee (NASP Research Committee, 2007), in 2004-05, 33% of school psychologists possessed Master's degrees, 35% the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree, and 32% doctoral (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.) degrees.

Most school psychology training programs are housed in university schools of education. School psychology programs require courses, practica, and internships that cover the domains of (1) data-based decision-making and accountability; (2) consultation and collaboration; (3) effective instruction and development of cognitive/academic skills; (4) socialization and development of life skills; (5) student diversity in development and learning; (6) school and systems organization, policy development, and climate; (7) prevention, crisis intervention, and mental health; (8) home/school/community collaboration; (9) research and program evaluation; (10) school psychology practice and development; and (11) information technology (NASP Standards for Training and Field Placement, 2007). Specialist-level training typically requires 3-4 years of graduate training including a 9-month (1200 hour) internship in a school setting. Doctoral-level training programs typically require 5-7 years of graduate training including a 12-month internship (1500+ hours), which may be in a school or other (e.g., medical) setting. Doctoral level training differs from specialist-level training in that it requires students to take more coursework in core psychology and professional psychology. In addition, doctoral programs typically require students to learn more advanced statistics, to be involved in research endeavors, and to complete a doctoral dissertation constituting original research (APA Committee on Accreditation, 2008; Fagan, 2000).

Doctoral training programs may be approved by NASP and/or accredited by the American Psychological Association. In 2007, approximately 125 programs were approved by NASP, and 58 programs were accredited by APA. Another 11 APA-accredited programs were combined (clinical/counseling/school, clinical/school, or counseling/school) programs (American Psychological Association, 2007). A list of school psychology graduate programs at all levels across the U.S. can be found at the University of California Berkeley's website [3].

Certification and licensure in the United States

School psychologists with Specialist and Master's degrees are eligible for certification by their respective states' departments of education to practice psychology in schools. NASP also offers an optional national credential, the National Certificate in School Psychology (NCSP) [4] for school psychologists with a specialist-level degree who have passed the Praxis-II Exam, a standardized test administered several times each year by the Educational Testing Service. The NCSP credential facilitates professional mobility from one state to another.

School psychologists with doctoral degrees are also eligible for licensure as health service psychologists by their states' psychology licensing boards, in which case they may practice in a wide variety of settings (e.g., as pediatric psychologists) (Merrell, 2006). Additionally, they may pursue board certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP, n.d.).

School psychology services

As noted by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2007) and the American Psychological Association (APA, 2007), school psychologists adhere to the scientist-practitioner framework and make decisions based on empirical research.

School psychologists with doctoral degrees practice in a wide range of settings including schools, clinics, hospitals, forensic settings, universities, and independent practice (ABPP, n.d.).

In many states school psychologists with terminal Master's or Education Specialist degrees are limited to employment in school settings. School psychologists employed in schools conduct psychological and educational assessments, provide interventions, and develop and present prevention programs for individuals from birth to age 21. They consult with teachers, other school personnel, physicians, and other professionals about students and are actively involved in district and school crisis intervention teams. They also may provide professional development to teachers and other school personnel on topics such as positive behavior intervention plans and AD/HD and carry out individual, group, and family counseling.

Employment prospects in school psychology

The job prospects in school psychology in the U.S. are excellent. The U.S. Department of Labor cites employment opportunities in school psychology at both the specialist and doctoral levels as among the best across all fields of psychology (U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2006-07).

According to the NASP Research Committee (2007), 74% of school psychologists are female with an average age of 46. In 2004-05, average earnings for school practitioners ranged from $56,262 for those with a 180-day annual contract to $68,764 for school psychologists with a 220-day contract.

Journals and other publications related to school psychology

Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment

Journal of School Psychology

NASP Communiqué

Psychology in the Schools

School Psychology Forum: Research in Practice

School Psychology International

School Psychology Quarterly

School Psychology Review

The School Psychologist


  • American Board of Professional Psychology (n.d.). Specialty certification in school psychology. Brochure retrieved on January 31, 2008 from
  • American Psychological Association (2007). Accredited internship and postdoctoral programs for training in psychology: 2007. American Psychologist, Vol 62(9), Dec 2007. pp. 1016-1040.
  • American Psychological Association Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (n.d.). Archival description of school psychology. Retrieved on December 29, 2007 from
  • Fagan, T. K. (1996). Witmer's contributions to school psychological services. American Psychologist, 51.
  • Fagan, T. K. & Wise, P. S. (2000). School Psychology: Past, present, and future, (2nd ed.). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
  • Merrell, K. W., Ervin, R. A., & Gimpel, G. A. (2006). School psychology for the 21st century. NY: Guilford.
  • National Association of School Psychologists (July 15, 2000). Standards for Training and Field Placement Programs in School Psychology / Standards for the Credentialing of School Psychologists.
  • National Association of School Psychologists (2007). A Career in School Psychology: Selecting a Master’s, Specialist, or Doctoral Degree Program That Meets Your Needs. Bethesda, MD: NASP. Retrieved on June 4, 2007 from

See also

External links