Role and Functions of School Psychologists in Virginia: a Ten Year Follow-Up
Lowry, Rebecca Stevenson
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The role and functions of school psychologists and changes in such have been the subject of research by numerous authors both nationally and within the Commonwealth of Virginia. School psychologists have functioned as both direct and indirect service providers to school-aged children, with the former service delivery model, namely that of the diagnostician, taking precedence within the Commonwealth of Virginia. The profession has undergone and continues to undergo noted changes as a result of recent legislation and movements toward educational reform. The purpose of this study is to analyze the role of the school psychologist in the Commonwealth of Virginia, based on a survey of the role expectations of school psychologists. This information will then be compared with the role and function of school psychologists in previous years. The population of school psychologists in Virginia was chosen for the present study because of existing research using this population conducted by Murray in 1975 and by Lovern in 1987.> Data were collected via mailed surveys using a personal data form to gain demographic information, and a modified form of the questionnaire used by Murray (1975) and Lovern (1987). Four hundred and four Virginia members of the National Association of School Psychologists were mailed survey materials. Three hundred and sixty-five surveys were returned and of this total, two hundred and eighty-two met the requirements to be used in the data analysis. This total yielded a final response rate of 78%. Results in terms of practitioner's preferred level of training indicated the specialist (Ed.S.) Level as being adequate. As for the preferred major field, a combination of education and psychology was indicated by most respondents. School Psychology was indicated as the preferred degree specialty with no preference noted for the Doctor of Education, Doctor of Philosophy, or Doctor of Psychology. Preferences for previous experience were mixed, with approximately the same number of respondents rating experience in both the classroom and other psychological and/or psychiatric settings as important. In terms of the perceived importance of various functions, school psychologists rated some of the more traditional direct and indirect services to children as most important. Examples included consultation with teachers, participation in eligibility committee meetings, parent conferences, and diagnostic studies. Those areas rated lower in terms of importance included group test administration, curriculum design, and research activities. As for the actual frequency with which these same functions were performed, practitioners rated diagnostic studies, eligibility committee participation, parent conferences, and consultation with teachers and administrators as being performed most frequently. In contrast, those functions performed less frequently included participation in IEP meetings and transition planning, staff training, curriculum design, prevention programs, and virtually all facets of research. When asked about participation in various professional activities, school psychologists rated membership in The Virginia Academy of School Psychologists (VASP) and The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as very important. Other professional activities which were perceived as important included the reading of current professional publications and maintaining professional relationships. Relationships between selected demographic variables and practitioner responses were evident to a limited degree. It was noted that significantly more males than females believed it was important for the school psychologist to conduct research to evaluate the appropriateness of prevention programs. Respondents with higher levels of training attributed greater importance on having a doctorate; school psychologists with fewer years experience believed it was important to conduct parent education classes; and finally, experience as a classroom teacher was seen as more important by those who had experience in the classroom. Comparisons across the three studies (1975, 1987, 1996) reveal similarities in terms of background experience, academic training, and membership in professional organizations. Generally, agreement was present regarding practitioner perceptions of the frequency of functions; yet to a somewhat lesser degree in terms of the perceived importance of various functions. Results of the present study indicated that "diagnostic studies" no longer lead in terms of practitioner importance ratings; "consultant to teachers" has now been ranked in first place. In contrast, "diagnostic studies" ranked first in terms of respondent's actual frequency of functions performed, a finding consistent with the two previous studies. Finally, agreement continues to exist in terms of practitioner rankings of those functions performed less frequently, both in terms of perceived importance and actual performance frequency. Examples include group testing, curriculum design, community service, and research. Several implications were drawn from the results of the present study leading to recommendations for school psychologists and trainers, employers of school psychologists, and professional school psychology organizations. The recommendations focused on training for school psychologists and topics for further research.
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