Lost: Distinctions between Best Practices and Ethical Behaviors in NASP's (2010) Ethics Code

By Myers, Carl | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Lost: Distinctions between Best Practices and Ethical Behaviors in NASP's (2010) Ethics Code


Myers, Carl, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Professional associations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), adopt codes of ethics to protect both the profession and the consumer (Williams, Armistead, & Jacob, 2008). As further described by Williams et al., codes of ethics are based on broad moral principles such as "nonmaleficence, fidelity, beneficence, justice, and autonomy" (p. 1). Naturally, the problem with simply relying on broad moral principles to guide a profession is that it becomes unclear how a concept like beneficence or justice applies to everyday practice. Thus, broad ethical principles are considered aspirational, and additional specific standards of conduct are written that become the enforceable standards of conduct (Jacob, Decker, & Hartshorne, 2011).

The latest version of NASP's code of ethics, Principles for Professional Ethics (NASP, 2010), is a major revision of NASP's previous ethics code approved a decade earlier. The new code of ethics contains a structure of four broad ethical themes, 17 ethical principles, and 90 enforceable standards. Those that developed the new code of ethics worked to ensure that the code "would address the unique circumstances associated with providing school-based psychological services" (Jacob et al., 2011, p. 8). Generally, such specificity would be seen as a welcomed improvement. However, all school psychologists should carefully review the new ethics code, as several standards now dictate behaviors as ethical requirements that were previously considered best practices.

The focus on having school psychologists strive toward best practices has long been a premise of NASP. Five editions of NASP's Best Practices in School Psychology (Thomas 8c Grimes, 2008) is a testament to that premise. The current version of the ethics code notes, "school psychologists are encouraged to strive for excellence" (NASP, 2010, p. 3). But does the new code go too far in requiring excellence by making best practices ethical obligations? McNamara (2008) stated that "errors of judgment or performance at a minimal standard" are not ethical violations and that ethics codes "do not require members to employ best practices in their professional activities" (p. 1935). There are several examples in NASP's (2010) ethics code, however, that seem to contradict that distinction between best practices and ethical requirements.

The NASP (2010) ethics code now mandates that school psychologists engage in very specific roles and practices. The first example is one in which there is a direct contradiction between what McNamara (2008) stated and ethical Standard II.2.2 (NASP, 2010). McNamara declared "a school psychologist's failure to provide ongoing support to a teacher who is implementing a recommended intervention is undesirable and probably counterproductive, but represents minimal service provision and poor judgment rather than ethical misconduct" (p. 1935) . Standard II.2.2, however, now dictates, "School psychologists actively monitor the impact of their recommendations and intervention plans. They revise a recommendation, or modify or terminate an intervention plan, when data indicate the desired outcomes are not being attained." Not monitoring one's recommendations went from "poor judgment" to an unethical behavior in a very short period of time. Furthermore, notice the ethical standard implicitly requires that data be collected. Data-based decision-making has been emphasized in NASP's training standards and is certainly a best practice. However, making a change in an intervention without data is now considered an ethical violation.

Best practices also suggest that a school psychologist should seek assistance from colleagues if interventions are ineffective. However, Standard II.2.2 makes that practice an ethical requirement as well: "School psychologists seek the assistance of others in supervisory, consultative, or referral roles when progress monitoring indicates that their recommendations and interventions are not effective in assisting a client. …

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