Relationships among the Professional Practices and Demographic Characteristics of School Psychologists

By Curtis, Michael J.; Hunley, Sawyer A. et al. | School Psychology Review, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Relationships among the Professional Practices and Demographic Characteristics of School Psychologists


Curtis, Michael J., Hunley, Sawyer A., Chesno Grier, J. Elizabeth, School Psychology Review


Abstract. A national database resulting from a survey of school psychologists was used to examine relationships between the professional practices of school psychologists and the factors of practitioner training, experience, gender, school district setting, and students-to-school-psychologist ratio. School psychologists with more years of experience and those with higher levels of training were found to have served more students through consultation and to have conducted more inservice programs than did those with less experience or training. Rural school psychologists were generally less experienced and were found to have conducted more special education reevaluations but fewer consultations than had their urban and suburban peers. Larger students-to-school-psychologist ratios were associated with special-education-related practices such as initial evaluations and reevaluations. Implications for future research are discussed.

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Generally, school psychologists spend over two thirds of their time in activities related to students who have identified disabilities (Goldwasser, Meyers, Christenson, & Graden, 1983; Graden, Zins, & Curtis, 1988; Reschly & Connolly, 1990). The services they deliver are heavily oriented toward assessment (50% of the time or more) (Curtis, Hunley, Walker, & Baker, 1999; Fagan & Sachs Wise, 2000; Graden & Curtis, 1991; Smith, 1984), with less emphasis on direct interventions and consultation, and almost no involvement with research.

Major discrepancies have been reported over the last 25 years by school psychologists regarding their preferred versus actual professional practice roles and activities in the schools (Levinson, 1990; Ramage, 1979; Reschly & Wilson, 1995; Smith, 1984). School psychologists have reported that ideal roles would involve a reduction in the amount of time devoted to assessment and an increase in time devoted to interventions and consultation (Reschly & Wilson, 1995; Smith, 1984). These discrepancies represent a source of dissatisfaction for some school psychologists. However, Reschly and Wilson (1995) found that school psychologists in both 1986 and 1991-92 samples reported "a moderate and stable level of satisfaction with their jobs and with school psychology as a career choice" (p. 72). Furthermore, they reported that, although satisfaction of school psychologists in the samples studied was lower regarding both salary and the opportunity for promotion, satisfaction related to the nature of their work, to colleag ues, and to supervision was high. It is, of course, possible that some school psychologists, when choices are available to them, select employment settings that match their personal preferences regarding professional practice orientation. However, the studies reporting discrepancies between preferred and actual roles suggest that many school psychologists do not enjoy such a match.

It has been suggested that school psychologists may underestimate their own influence on job functioning and that they could have more input into the development of their own job descriptions (Benson & Hughes, 1985). Levinson (1990) reported finding significant relationships between the perceived lack of control over and actual time spent in various professional activities and job dissatisfaction. If school psychologists could have more input into their own professional practices in schools, why is there a continued difference between desired and actual roles and activities? Major national studies have addressed this question by attempting to define factors that seem to be associated with differences in actual versus preferred amount of time spent in specific professional activities. The results of these studies have been inconsistent or perplexing in determining the relationships that might be expected between professional practice activities and the characteristics of the practitioner, employment setting, a nd the number of students served.

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