The National Association of School Psychologists is Going to Get Its Members Fired

George Will

by James C. Sherlock

I had dinner with George Will once years ago aboard ship. He is very smart, uncannily observant, understatedly amusing and a terrific dinner guest.

He published yesterday in The Washington Post a column, “Witness how progressives in government forfeit the public’s trust.”

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has proven that Mr. Will’s observation of progressive behavior has escaped the confines of government and infected nonprofits.

As proof of its commitment to progressive dogma, NASP has published a position statement, Promoting Just Special Education Identification and School Discipline Practices. The redefinitions of roles for and recommended assumptions of authority by school psychologists recommended in that paper are absolutely breathtaking. It unintentionally but very effectively challenges the trust of parents, teachers and principals in the very professionals it represents.

NASP wants them to devalue objectivity, the results of tests that only they are qualified to perform, and assume the roles of school sociologists, principals and assistant principals. Roles the NASP defines, of course, with — wait for it — progressive dogma.

Let’s assume they do that. Two related questions:

  • Who in the schools or among the parents will ever again trust school psychologist evaluations? The NASP has now set them up to be sued. Successfully.
  • What school principal will have them?

Code of Virginia § 54.1-3600 defines the practice of school psychology to include:

  1. Testing and measuring
  2. Counseling
  3. Consultation which “consists of educational or vocational consultation or direct educational services to schools, agencies, organizations or individuals. Psychological consulting as herein defined is directly related to learning problems and related adjustments.”
  4. Development of programs “such as designing more efficient and psychologically sound classroom situations.”

The NASP has challenged its members to:

  • Prevent educational disparities.
  • Prevent inappropriate special education decisions.
  • Prevent disproportionality in exclusionary discipline.

Prevent, not reduce. What could go wrong?

Let’s take these one at a time and see how NASP dogma, in addition to being officious,

  1. challenges the objectivity of the school psychologist in her job;
  2. gives her a mission in which she has little to no possibility of affecting the outcome and a real possibility of being fired; or
  3. both.

Prevent educational disparities.  

The school psychologist is told that she:

…must support schools to ensure that core curriculum, instruction, and social–emotional–behavioral supports are rigorous and engaging by leveraging universal designs for learning framework and ensuring the cultural and linguistic appropriateness of curricula for all students served. This may be facilitated through multitiered systems of support when designed, implemented, and evaluated with explicit attention to social justice, educational justice, and authentic involvement of and support for marginalized students, families, and communities.

“Social–emotional–behavioral supports.” Check. “Multitiered systems of support.” Check. “Social justice, educational justice, marginalized students.” Check.

Then she is told that she must collect and use data:

…to inform decision-making and work on a systems level to create environments conducive to the success of all students (NASP, 2020b). Using data to identify disparities is the first step to remediating educational inequities (McIntosh et al., 2018). In addition to reviewing academic and discipline data, school psychologists should examine other indicators such as attendance, graduation and dropout rates, and perceptions of school climate. Disparities in these indicators may help to explain identified academic and discipline disparities. Collected data should be disaggregated by social category (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, sexual orientation) as well as the intersection of these identities (Gregory et al., 2014). Looking at single social categories likely obscures meaningful subgroup differences and ignores how social identities interact to create systems which oppress multiply marginalized students (Proctor et al., 2017).

“Self-referential citing of authority.” Check. “Intersection.” Check.

“Attendance, graduation and dropout rates” may help to explain identified academic and discipline disparities.” Good to know.

The school psychologist should “work on a systems level.” Admirably vague.

Statistical significance refers to measures that assert that a result from data generated by testing or experimentation is not likely to occur randomly or by chance but is instead likely to be attributable to a specific cause.

NASP does not acknowledge that many if not most schools do not have enough students to disaggregate by “race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, sexual orientation) as well as the intersection of these identities” and come up with any statistically significant conclusion at all.

But if statistical significance is attained, the NASP has offered two “specific causes”: “racism” and “systems of oppression.” Nothing else is possible.

Prevent inappropriate special education decisions.  Students should also have access to “high quality special education evaluations.” That is certainly one process in which school psychologists participate. We certainly hope their inputs are “high quality.”

A primary input of school psychologists to a special education assessment is testing and test results. School psychologists contribute their perceptions of students’ eligibility for special education in cases centering on emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, or autism. They do not test for learning, but rather capacity to learn.

NASP tasks school psychologists to “apply culturally responsive practices and procedures to support multidisciplinary evaluation teams to conduct ecologically and culturally valid multidimensional evaluations.”

Since it is otherwise indecipherable, it is reasonable to read that exhortation to mean school psychologists should work to ensure equal representation in special education by “race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, and sexual orientation.”

Such a bias would eliminate their objectivity, which is, of course, to some modern progressives an oppressive value too affected by unconscious bias to be worth considering. But then there are the test results. Numbers on a page. Hard to approach with unconscious bias.

Prevent disproportionality in exclusionary discipline. This is yet another task proffered by the NASP to school psychologists which is not in their job description. Their actual position in the school discipline system focuses on identifying disabilities that may lead to disruptive behaviors.

School psychologists can play a vital role in supporting (discipline) program evaluation and data-based decision-making.

Evaluating the potential subjective infractions specific subgroups are receiving (e.g., disruption, defiance, or disrespect) may support teams in determining which disciplinary decisions might be influenced by bias or vulnerable decision points (VDPs).

Engaging teams and staff in the process of identifying and addressing their biases may take the form of intentional professional learning coupled with practice and coaching.

Honest to God. That would last about a week before most principals advertised for a new school psychologist.

After locking his APs in their offices until the incumbent cleaned out her office.