Evaluating Multicultural Competence in School Psychology

Article excerpt

A major goal of specialist and doctoral programs in school psychology is to prepare trainees to understand and appreciate diversity and demonstrate sensitivity when working with diverse students and their families in a school setting. This goal is aligned with the Standards for Training and Field Placement Programs in School Psychology (NASP, 2000b) and Professional Conduct Manual (NASP, 2000a) of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (APA, 2002) and Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology (APA, 2009) of the American Psychological Association (APA). It is important to train students to have knowledge of individual differences (e.g., biological, social, cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender-related, and linguistic) and to be able to apply this knowledge to the science and practice of psychology.


Multicultural competence refers to the ability to work effectively with diverse populations through the use of multicultural knowledge so that practitioners may engage in behavior and demonstrate skills that reflect an awareness of and sensitivity to multicultural issues. Multicultural competence also includes the belief that psychologists should appreciate and recognize other cultural groups (Sue, 1998). Professionally trained psychologists are also expected to be aware of and to be knowledgeable about their own cultural heritage and biases and how these may affect their work with clients (APA, 2002, 2009; NASP, 2000a, 2000b). It is a requirement and expectation that, in addition to demonstrating professional competence, professional psychologists (i.e., clinical, counseling, and school psychologists) should exhibit multicultural competence as well when engaging in practice and research.

The need to demonstrate multicultural competence is becoming increasingly important, especially when one considers the high level of ethnic incongruity between school psychologists and the school age populations they serve. The United States is becoming more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse: By the year 2023, over half of all children will be from minority groups (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).

When these projections are compared to the demographics of school psychologists, the current shortage of diverse school psychologists becomes even more significant. In a NASP survey measuring the demographics of the profession of school psychology, it was found that the field reflects very limited racial and ethnic diversity, with 92.6% of survey respondents identifying themselves as White. Nearly all respondents (98.2%) reported serving members of racial/ethnic minority groups, while almost half of the respondents (47%) served 25% or more minority student population, and 28% indicated that they served a school population of more than 50% minority students (Curtis et al., 2008). In a similar study, Loe and Miranda (2005) found that approximately one third of school psychologists have caseloads in which one fourth or more of students represent ethnic minority groups. Although there have been some modest gains in the recruitment and enrollment of minority students in school psychology graduate programs, the field is not expected to reach parity any time soon (Zhou et al., 2004). Therefore, it is incumbent upon all school psychologists to have a thorough understanding of how cultural and linguistic differences impact psychological and educational assessment, consultation, and academic and behavioral intervention. School psychologists also need to understand the relationships that parents and students have with educational professionals and their experiences with and expectations of their schools. School psychologists who are unfamiliar with the diverse backgrounds of the children they serve may make incorrect assumptions that could lead to misdiagnosis, unwarranted placement in special education, and the use of inappropriate interventions (Zhou et al. …