Selected Essays

By Gary Stoner

School psychology is a professional area within the broader academic discipline of psychology. The profession has experienced tremendous growth over the past several decades, and in that time, also has gained broader recognition of and for its contributions to the education and development of children in our public schools. As a profession the field of school psychology is, and should be, continuously changing as a function of contemporary perspectives on: (a) what is known about the foundations and practices of psychology and education, (b) the demographics and other characteristics of those we serve, and (c) the cultural imperatives that accompany formal schooling in the United States.

To meet the demands for service in the 21st century, school psychology will need to continue to adapt itself in new ways. Chief among these adaptations will need to be a major commitment to prevention as a primary mode of orientation and practice. I have come to this belief in recent years, as I have observed ongoing changes in emphasis and practice. My observations have suggested that a primary shift in the field over the past two decades has been a shift from an assessment focus to a focus on intervention-oriented practice and training. I have contributed to this shift, and believe it is/was timely and important. I also have come to view intervention oriented practice as insufficient to meet the needs and demands for school psychology services in our schools. That is, intervention oriented practices grew out of dissatisfaction with and inadequacy of assessment oriented practices that rendered school psychologists unable to meet the tremendous demand for services (too many children, too little time), and that were primarily designed for classification, not intervention development purposes. While intervention oriented practices have reaped the benefits of recently developed improved assessment-intervention linkages, this improvement is simply not sufficient to improve the effectiveness of our profession to the extent necessary. This is primarily due to the fact that intervention oriented practices, like assessment practices oriented to address referrals, are reactive practices that tend to respond to problems at a point in time when the problems are intractable. As a result, no matter how well we develop and use empirically validated interventions, and intervention linked assessment practices, we still will be rendered either insufficient or ineffective or both, because reactive practices always will be faced with too many problems of too great a magnitude.

To effectively meet the demands for service delivery in the 21st century, then, school psychology and school psychologists, must discover and adopt in training and practice, an effective blend of proactive practices that integrate prevention, intervention, and assessment activities. The professional orientation will need to be one of prevention, and incorporate all levels of prevention (primary, secondary, and tertiary), with an emphasis on primary and secondary level preventive practices. And, the orientation will need to be one of school psychology and school psychologists truly serving all children in their buildings, districts, and beyond. In addition, school psychology will need to take somewhat of a public health approach to thinking about outcomes, where the focus is on incidence and prevalence rates of problems, and their reduction, or on improving quality of life indicators. In school psychology we should take as our goal to increase the prevalence of children experiencing school success, again, in our buildings, districts, and beyond.

Accomplishing this goal will be a significant challenge to our profession. The challenge can be met however, through training and practices that pay careful and significant attention to the following areas of professional preparation:

Prevention (primary, secondary, and tertiary)
Linking assessment to intervention
Intervention practices, and consultation practices
Working with parents on child rearing, school readiness, and school success Linking schools and the people in them, with homes, businesses, and communities

In large part the challenge for our profession is to effectively provide professional training, at both inservice and preservice levels, that will prepare school psychologists to contribute to the promotion of school success for as many American school children as is possible. Prevention oriented practices, along with specific skills in those areas noted, will be the keys to our success.

Finally, there is the issue of shortages of school psychologists. Again, I take the position that significant improvement will depend on the degree to which we can, as a profession, become more proactive in our approach to recruitment and retention of professionals in our field. That is, for the most part, as a profession we take a passive and reactive approach to persons interested pursuing professional training in school psychology. We prepare materials, websites, brochures, and so on, to have them available to persons who happen to become interested in school psychology. Instead, we need a major investment in proactive recruitment and public relations regarding our field. Accompanying activities might include development of funding sources to support graduate education, mechanisms to insure that the public (including high school and undergraduate students) is aware of and has an accurate understanding of the profession and its career opportunities, and improved options for professional training in school psychology for those individuals already holding graduate degrees in education and/or psychology.

In summary, I believe that to meet the needs of children and schools in the 21st century, school psychology, yet again, is in need of a tune up. What is needed most now, is a proactive, prevention emphasis in professional orientation to training and practice, and to recruitment and retention of professionals within the field.

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Last updated at August 30, 2002 by Xiaojing Kou