Over the last few months NASP has received a variety of questions from graduate students regarding how the American Psychological Association's (APA) Model Act for State Licensure of 'Psychologists (MLA) proposals could potentially impact their future as school psychologists. Some of these students have asked questions about how these recommendations could impact them if adopted before they complete their programs. Others have expressed discouragement and fatigue and are wondering if their efforts in graduate school will prove to be in vain. This article is written to try and help graduate students have a clearer understanding of the implications of the model act and to be assured that their hard work in graduate school is not just a labor of love. Below are several questions and answers regarding the implications of the APA model act on graduate students in school psychology.
If the APA model act proposed recommendations are adopted by APA, am I wasting my time and money on an EdS in school psychology?
I just want to emphasize that it is unlikely that the current recommendations will ever be passed into law by a state legislature, even if APA decides to proceed with this policy change. These policy changes would be so disruptive to states and so politically unpopular with so many stakeholder groups that it is hard to imagine that a state legislature would intentionally expose their state to such a controversy.
All states currently recognize the important and valuable contribution of school psychologists in schools. Currently, three out of four practicing school psychologists in this country are at the educational specialist level and the reservoir of doctoral school psychologists is diminishing and completely insufficient to meet the needs of students. All states include as part of their existing state laws language that permits nondoctoral school psychologists to practice psychology in the schools. Forty-nine of fifty states put the regulating and credentialing authority over school psychologists in the hands of the state education agencies, not the psychology licensing boards. And 90% of the states recognize the title "school psychologist" within their credentialing system. And that's just state law. In many places in federal law (statutes and regulations) relating to IDEA, NCLB, and the Social Security Act, the title "school psychologist" and the services associated with this practice in schools are recognized. A couple years ago when APA released their first draft of the proposed model act, a federal court judge contacted NASP and shared his outrage over the proposal and brought to our attention some of the legal precedents that he believed will ultimately protect school psychologists from this change ever advancing through states. One of the key points that he made was that Social Security law requires that judges weigh equally the expert testimony of nondoctoral state credentialed school psychologists and doctoral level psychologists and physicians in assessment and eligibility decisions related to disability identification. This is a policy not created by school psychologists, but instead by lawyers to reflect the body of evidence that supports the expertise of nondoctoral and doctoral school psychologists.
There are also many other legal arguments including restriction of trade, freedom of speech, and the claiming of title and practice authority to name a few, that would be significant obstacles to the proposed policies advancing. None of these legal arguments have been tested to date in this case because the model act is simply a policy proposal by a professional association - and this policy proposal is not even finalized yet. It will take at least another year for APA to make its final decisions about the model act language and then, if they do decide to proceed with these recommendations as proposed, they will have to convince state legislatures that pursuing these policies will not disrupt services to students in need, will ultimately benefit the public, are grounded in evidence-based practices and scholarly research, will not cause undue conflict between state agencies, will not require extensive statutory and regulatory reform, will not be politically damaging, and will be Constitutionally viable. This is the Mt. Everest of public policy.
So, with these issues in mind, are EdS students currently wasting their time and money in graduate programs in school psychology? The answer is a resounding, "No." School psychology is a career with a bright and exciting future. It has been recognized in Money magazine as one of the "Best Jobs in America" and in U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation's most secure career tracks. (See http://www.nasponline. org/press/index.aspx for more information.) The job prospects for new graduates are significant as the annual supply-demand employment data published by the American Association for Employment in Education has recognized that there has been a shortage of qualified school psychologists for more than 10 years. Besides the availability of jobs, the job satisfaction that school psychologists report is generally high, suggesting that it is a career that is rewarding and enjoyable. The expertise of nondoctoral and doctoral school psychologists is recognized across the country. It only takes looking at some of the comments made by some of our nation's educational leaders about school psychologists in response to the APA MLA proposals to really understand the breadth of support that school psychologists have. For example, the current Secretary of Education for the State of Pennsylvania, Gerald L. Zahorchak, DEd, wrote in a letter to APA dated April 3, 2009, "These specialist level professionals provide invaluable services to our children, families, and schools. Absent any evidence that a change is necessary or that services would improve, I do and will continue to strongly support maintaining specialist level School Psychologists."
If my state's legislature adopts the APA model act proposed recommendations as currently written, how wiU my practice as an EdS-level school psychologist be impacted?
As I mentioned before, it is difficult to imagine a public policy scenario where the proposed recommendations of the APAModel Act Task force are adopted as is. States can choose to reject in full or in part any of the APA recommendations. Given how many school psychologists would be impacted in each state, it is very unlikely that a state would adopt language that would curtail the practice or title of school psychologists in that state. If they did adopt the APA's language in whole, it is probable that specialist- level school psychologists would have to change their titles, change their practices, and adjust the services that they were providing while also receiving supervision by a doctoral-level licensed psychologist. It is also probable that doctoral-level school psychologists would have to adjust their scope of practice in schools. I think it is very unlikely that state departments of education, let alone local school districts, would ever permit or support this level of disruption. I also think that it is unlikely that state school psychology associations would simply accept these changes without putting up a lot of resistance. How school psychologists are titled or permitted to practice will be, just as it currently is, very much of a state issue that can be impacted by the advocacy of individuals like each of you. If the number of school psychologists that have been willing to express their opposition about the proposed changes is any indication of the level of advocacy that can be expected if these proposals are adopted, it is likely that while APA is climbing this "Mt. Everest" they will also be encountering several serious and tenacious storms along their way.
If my state's legislature adopts the APA model act proposed recommendations as currently written, would current nondoctoral school psychologists and current EdS school psychology students be "grandfather ed" from any resulting changes?
No. The current model act proposed recommendations do not include any opportunity for grandfathering school psychologists. Unless a state legislature would choose to adopt this practice, it is unlikely that this avenue would be available to currently practicingschoolpsychologists. The APAModel Act Taskforce has recommended that these proposed changes be comprehensive and immediate in their implementation if adopted by state legislatures.
What can I do to help prevent the APA model act proposals from being adopted?
We must all recognize that regardless of how unlikely the comprehensive adoption of these proposals are by state legislatures, it is critical that APA and state legislatures understand our opposition to these proposals. We must all be vigilant in protecting the title and practice rights for all school psychologists, and this is why NASP has been so vocal requesting advocacy support from our members, colleagues, and friends. I recommend that every graduate student and every school psychologist send a letter to APA expressing your concerns about their proposals. I recommend that you study the MLA language so that you can inform your fellow students and colleagues of the importance of advocating on behalf of the profession. NASP has posted a variety of resources to assist your efforts, including the "One Click Solution" that makes it easy for you to send a letter to APA. These letters need to be sent by June 5 and I encourage everyone to be familiar with these resources and to actively use them (see this link: http://www.nasponline.org/standards/apamla.aspx). Additionally, as I've mentioned before in this column, it is also important to remember that protecting school psychologists from this attack is largely related to how well school psychologists are actively advocating and promoting school psychology. NASP has also created a set of tools to assist individuals and state associations in promoting and preserving school psychology. These tools can be accessed by members at the following link: http://www .nasponline.org/advocacy/psychservicesroadmap.aspx.Putting "Advocacy into Action" for children and school psychologists is not an option, it is a responsibility.