Historical and Current Perspective on School Psychology

Prior to the 1950s, there were few school psychologists in the public schools. School psychologists employed prior to 1950 typically worked as psychological examiners. Their primary role was to administer psychological tests to identify children who needed special education class placements and those ineligible for public school attendance because of their disabilities.

In the 1950s, developments in the field of psychology gave impetus to the growth of the discipline of school psychology. There was increased recognition of the importance of the childhood years as contributing to the mental health of the eventual adult. This heightened awareness of the mental health needs of children along with increasing school enrollments created a demand for psychologists in the schools. In the 1950s, school psychologists began to function as both psychological examiners and mental health consultants in the schools.

In 1954, the APA sponsored a conference to explore the roles, qualifications and training of school psychologists. The "Thayer Conference" was organized in recognition of the shortage of well-trained psychologists to work in the schools. The Thayer conference marked the emergence of school psychology as a unique discipline devoted to the application of psychological knowledge to the problems of schools and school children.

In the 1960s and 1970s, developments in the field of special education gave further impetus to the growth of school psychology. Court cases filed on behalf of children with disabilities determined that all children have a right to a public education, no matter how severe their disabilities. Congress passed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1976 (P.L. 94-142). This law provided funds to states to ensure a free and appropriate education to all children with disabilities. As a result of this law, subsequent amendments, and civil rights legislation, each state had to develop a plan to assure that every child with disabilities received special education and related services in conformance with an individualized education program. Children had to be assessed on the basis of non-discriminatory assessment and evaluation procedures, and provided an individualized education program in the least restrictive (most typical or normal) setting feasible. School psychologists are an important member of the multidisciplinary committee involved in assessment and program planning to assure all children receive an appropriate education.

The Miami University School Psychology Program began in the 1960's. At that time, the Master of Science Degree program was the terminal degree for professional preparation.  In 1980, the Ohio Board of Regents approved the Specialist Degree Program in School Psychology that was designed to exceed the minimal requirements for state certification as a school psychologist. The Education Specialist Degree (Ed.S.) was not conceived as an intermediate degree on the path to a doctorate, but rather as the professional degree in school psychology as advanced by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the National Council on the Accreditation of Teachers (NCATE).

The program meets the Standards for Graduate Preparation of School Psychologists set forth by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2010) and views these standards as an integrated part of the program’s general training objectives. These standards include: 1) data-based decision making and accountability; 2) consultation and collaboration; 3) interventions and instructional support to develop academic skills; 4) interventions and mental health services to develop social and life skills; 5) school-wide practices to promote learning; 6) preventive and responsive services; 7) family-school collaboration services; 8) diversity in development and learning; 9) research and program evaluation; and 10) legal, ethical, and professional practice.  

In addition, the program’s training objectives (and the NASP standards integrated within them) are consistent with NASP’s School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice III (Blueprint III; Ysseldyke et al., 2006).  Blueprint III embraces two main outcomes for training and practice in school psychology: build and maintain the capacities of educational systems and improve competencies for all children and youth. To address these two main outcomes, Blueprint III identifies eight functional and foundational competencies that all school psychologists should hold (interpersonal and collaborative skills; diversity awareness and sensitive service delivery; technological applications; professional, legal, ethical, and social responsibility, data-based decision-making and accountability; systems-based service delivery; enhancing the development of cognitive and academic skills; and enhancing the development of wellness, social skills, and life competencies). The Miami University School Psychology Program seeks to graduate students prepared to function as competent practitioners with these eight competencies ready to provide school psychology services at universal, targeted, and intensive levels of service delivery as espoused by Blueprint III.

Our students actively attend State and National conferences, and departmental support as well as funding from the Graduate School may be available, especially if the student(s) in question are actually presenting at the conference.  Interested students should ask a faculty member, the program director, or department head for more information.

The program counts hundreds of graduates who span the continent providing school psychological services. Many of the graduates are now in positions of administration, superintendents, principals, directors of psychological services, and university professors. Yearly communication occurs with graduates and the program sponsors periodic reunions on campus in conjunction with our Spring Colloquium series and/or off-campus during national or state conferences and conventions.