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School Psychologists Create a Certification Program

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Boston--In a move designed to improve and standardize the training programs and state certification requirements for their profession, the National Association of School Psychologists has created a voluntary national certification program for the nation's nearly 25,000 school psychologists.

Since the beginning of this year, new school psychologists who wish to gain this certification have had to meet certain academic standards, finish a year-long internship, and pass a specially designed standardized test.

Veteran school psychologists wanting to be "grandparented" into the certification system had to apply by the end of last year. These candidates will have until 1991 to make up any coursework deficiencies, but they had to have taken, though not necessarily passed, the standardized test by April 1.

Association officials gathered here for the nasp annual convention said national certification was necessary because of the great variation from state to state in the requirements for becoming a school psychologist.

This variation--and the fact that state education departments have more than a dozen job titles for essentially the same position--make a national system valuable, they said, because it offers a guarantee that all who attain certification have met the same academic standards.

Association officials said they were working to have these new standards eventually adopted by all the states, giving school psychologists much greater job mobility.

They also predicted that the standards would force weaker training programs to upgrade their offerings.

"I think the certification program provides some degree of recognition at the national level," said Michael Curtis, nasp's president. "Down the road, you'd eventually like it to be something recognized by the public."

Some attending the meeting here also said they believed the new certification system, which nasp began de8veloping in the early 1980's and formally announced last year, may serve as a model for other school professionals.

Efforts to develop a national certification system for teachers are not expected to be completed until 1993. But professional organizations representing other school workers, including speech therapists, have already developed such a system.

Although their certification program has been in place for less than a year, nasp officials said, its impact is already being felt in state departments of education.

A handful of states are currently considering whether to adopt the group's new standards as an alternative way of gaining state certification, the officials said. And education officials in other states, including Illinois, have indicated that they took the national certification standards into account in revising their own requirements.

The standardized test, which was developed by nasp and the Educational Testing Service, has become a requirement for certification in approximately a dozen states. And nasp officials said they have fielded many calls from prospective school psychologists trying to determine if a graduate program they were considering met nasp standards.

George Batsche, chairman of the National School Psychology Certification Board, said that the new certification program has allowed psychologists, rather than department of education officials, to decide what types of requirements are relevant to their field.

"Educators should not decide what psychologists need," he said. "Psychologists should not decide4what educators need."

According to the new standards, school psychologists wishing to become nationally certified must complete a master's-degree program and accumulate 60 graduate credits, spend a year working as an intern in a school setting, and pass the two-hour standardized test.

The passing grade for the test has not yet been set by nasp, but officials said they hoped to determine it later this spring.

School psychologists who wish to retain their national certification must complete at least 75 hours of "continuing professional development" in a three-year period.

Those who applied for certification under the "grandparenting" provision had to have a master's degree, have completed 48 credits of graduate work, and have worked in the field for at least two years. They also had to be certified by their states, and to have taken the standardized test by April 1.

More than 15,000 school psychologists have taken advantage of the grandparenting clause, and nasp estimates that the vast majority will meet the standards and be certified.

According to Mr. Batsche, the mean number of graduate credits among those applying for certification under this clause was 82.

"What we anticipated as being a big problem for people turned out not to be," he said.

More problematic for some school psychologists, however, has been the standardized test. Approximately 5,000 nationwide took the test on April 1, including 300 at the nasp annual convention here.

As they stood in a line that snaked from the hotel's main ballroom through a corridor filled with chan4deliers and marble-covered tables, some questioned whether the test was an adequate measure of the skills they need to have mastered.

"There's no way that this test can ask you about everything you do as a school psychologist," said Daniel O'Leary, who works for the Peekskill, N.Y., school system. He added that the benefits of national certification outweighed any flaws in test design.

The view that the new program could correct glitches in the states' certification systems was echoed by Cheryl Caithamer, a school psychologist in Waukegan, Ill. She complained that when she moved there from Florida, "it took a year and a half of paperwork and rigamarole before I got my Illinois license."

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