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Advocating for School Psychologists in Response to the APA's Proposed Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists

By Anastasia Kalamaros Skalski

Author's Note: NASP would like to note that many entities within APA and the field of psychology do not support the proposed language in the revised model licensure act (MLA). References to APA in this article or any other NASP document, unless specifically noted, are focused on the APA Model Licensure Task Force, the body responsible for revising the MLA, and specific forces within APA that are driving removal of the exemption and other proposed changes. We appreciate the recognition by many groups, such as APA's Division of School Psychology and its Board of Educational Affairs, and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, that specialist and doctoral level school psychologists provide vital, specialized, and sound services to children, families, and schools. We also recognize that even those groups within APA advocating for removal of the exemption intend to protect the public welfare and the integrity of the field of psychology; they are simply misguided on this issue.

On March 6, 2009, the APA Model Licensure Act Task Force released its second draft of the policy document known as the proposed Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists. This policy document serves as guidance to state legislatures for how they should set up their psychology licensing laws. The general expectations promoted in the model act are that professionals seeking to use the title "psychologist" and to render "psychological services" are to be doctoral level psychologists only. However, given the growing credentialing of school psychologists by state boards of education, previous versions of the APA model act included an exemption to this doctoral-only standard. The 1987 version of this document read, "It is recognized that school psychologists who are certified by the state education agency are permitted to use the term school psychologist or certified school psychologist as long as they are practicing in the public schools." Over the last 3 decades since the exemption practices began, school psychology has developed into a distinct, well-established profession with a rich body of supporting scholarly research. This exemption has been appropriate and necessary and has helped pave the way for the development of the profession and the high standards for the credentialing of school psychologists required by state education agencies. It has also helped minimize credentialing and licensing conflicts between these agencies and state psychology licensing boards.

Proposed Revisions to the 1987 APA Model Act

Round One: August 2007. In August 2007, APA released a first draft revision of the 1987 model act document. This first revision removed the exemption and also asserted that the only professionals that should be considered eligible to use the title "psychologist" and practice psychology were professors working in universities and doctoral-level licensed psychologists. NASP joined more than 20 other professional organizations and over 10,000 individuals in sending letters to APA opposing the removal of this exemption.

Round Two: March 2009. Despite this outcry, the APA Model Act Task Force has again proposed in their second draft of this revised document that the school psychology exemption be removed, at least in part. APA's most recently released proposed language reflects some changes in their initial position as a result of the first public comment period. The language in the second draft:

  • Removes the licensing requirement
  • Permits doctoral-level professionals to use the title when working in schools, universities, or research settings
  • Restricts the provision of school psychological services to "psychoeducational" services
  • Requires that the doctoral degree be in the area of psychology
  • Restricts the use of the title "school psychologist" to public school settings

The language from the draft clarifying these changes says:

(3) The prior version of this model act included an exemption for the use of the terms school psychologist or certified school psychologist for all individuals credentialed by the state agency regulating practice in public schools. This version restricts the use of the term school psychologist or certified school psychologist to individuals who: 1) have a doctoral degree in psychology; 2) are certified by the state education agency; and 3) are using the terms only during their practice in the public schools. (p.15)

Eliminating School Psychology as a Specialty Within Psychology. Another major shift in policy reflected in the second draft was the change of school psychology from a "specialty" of psychology to a "foundation of psychology." The language in the 1987 model act that recognizes school psychology as a specialty says,

This provision recognizes the broad areas of specialization (e.g., clinical, counseling, school, industrial/organizational) and emerging specialties (e.g., neuropsychology, environmental) and the variety of academic training as separate from proficiencies. For decades, APA has recognized that areas of practice in specialization areas required specialized training…. This limitation is intended to ensure that a psychologist trained in one area (e.g., experimental, development) will not practice in another area (e.g., counseling, industrial/organizational) without completing a retraining program.  (p. 15)

The 2009 proposed language says,

The provision of the Act is intended to ensure licensed psychologists who provide services will not practice outside the limits of their competence…. The Board should recognize that training in psychology includes broad and general training in scientific psychology and in the foundations of practice. Practice areas include: clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school psychology, industrial-organizational psychology and other developed areas of practice. (p.13)

Lowering the Standard for Practice in Schools. As an area of specialization, it is maintained that a professional with psychological training, specifically in school psychology, will practice within this area of specialization and will not practice in another area (e.g., experimental psychology) without retraining. If the new language is approved by the APA leaders and then included in bills by state legislatures, school psychology would become a "foundation of psychology practice" in APA policy. This area would be added to a list of areas in which all psychologists are required to be trained. In order to demonstrate that an individual has met an APA psychological foundation in graduate programs, it is typical that one or more classes in this broad area would be sufficient, and it is probable that no additional supervised experiences in school settings would be required. This reflects a major shift in policy by APA and is considerably less stringent than requiring the completion of graduate training or respecialization in the area of school psychology. NASP believes that this policy shift is highly inappropriate and that it rejects the body of scholarly research linked to school psychological practice.

NASP is also concerned that this policy shift, combined with proposed language in the model act that exempts "licensed psychologists" from the proposed school psychology title use requirements, is intended as a direct challenge to the authority of state education agencies to (a) choose a title for a credential that the state education agency issues, (b) regulate school-based practice for the provision of school psychological services, and (c) establish standards for who may provide school psychological services. In the section of APA's proposed model act that suggests language for regulating the use of the title "school psychologist" and the practice of these professionals, it states that doctoral level "school psychologists"

shall be restricted in their practice and in the use of such title to those settings under the purview of the state education agency. This provision is not intended to apply to licensed psychologists. [emphasis added] (p.16)

Given this language, combined with the language that suggests that "school psychology" now be considered a "foundation of practice" versus a specialization requiring retraining, it can be interpreted that licensed psychologists would have access to the title and practice of "school psychologist" without meeting standards for preparation in school psychology and the corresponding credentialing requirements established by a state education agency. In plain language, if licensed psychologists wanted to call themselves a "school psychologist" and felt that they had sufficient "school psychology" training as part of their "foundational practice" training in psychology, they could probably do so without violating their professional ethics or licensing board scope of practice requirements. Additionally, these provisions, if adopted by state legislatures, could potentially give some authority to the Boards of Psychology to regulate the kinds of services "school psychologists" provide in and outside of schools and by whom these services are provided.

Each of these policy proposals reflect direct attacks on the integrity of the profession, have serious implications for the practice of school psychology in school settings, initiate conflicts between state regulatory agencies, and pose a quagmire for state legislators to sort through as they are faced with resolving the numerous conflicts that could result between state and federal law that would ultimately have to be reconciled if these proposals were adopted. You can read more about the potential implications of these policy proposals by reviewing the two handouts found in Exhibit F of the Advocacy Roadmap for States.

Lack of Need or Research for Change

Surprisingly, APA does not cite as a rationale for these changes any empirical research evidence that suggests that this change is warranted and necessary to protect the public. This is perplexing given the official mission and organizational purposes of APA which emphasize the importance of relying on scholarly research in the advancement of psychology. Quite the contrary, the APA Model Licensure Task Force cites a "public opinion survey" that they have not published or put forth for review and public scrutiny. Research from typical public opinion surveys are not based upon empirical research designs and generally reflect more opinion than fact. A primary purpose of advancing a public policy document, such as the model act, should be to advance scholarly research that promotes access to effective services provided by qualified professionals. APA's proposed removal of the exemption for nondoctoral school psychologists credentialed by their state education agencies has no basis in evidence that the current practice of school psychology by these practitioners causes public harm, or that removing the exemption will promote the public welfare.

The Call to Action

The potential implications of these policy proposals on the lives of children, families, educators, policy makers, and school psychologists call all of us to action! It is important to understand that the proposed model act language is in draft form and APA is currently accepting feedback about these proposals. Besides the opposition from school psychologists, not all of the APA membership agrees with these proposals and these proposals are not yet the "official position" of the organization. For example, the leadership and membership of APA's Division 16 (School Psychology) has officially opposed the removal of the school psychology exemption. They have been a strong advocate for the retention of the exemption and have worked to present to the APA staff, leadership, and Model Licensure Act Task Force the reasons why the removal is a bad idea. NASP is sincerely grateful and impressed with the leadership that Division 16 has shown and encourages you to actively support them and their efforts.

An effective advocacy response has to include not just the leaders and staff of NASP, but also the members. People like youâ€"the over 25,000 school psychologists, graduate students, and professors working in schools and universities across America. Change will only come if all of us believe that it is our personal responsibility to try and prevent these policies from happening. This is true whether you are talking about the reinstatement of the school psychology exemption, improving access to school mental health services, or even the really big issues in life like eliminating hunger or terrorism in the world. As with any issue, if you really want to be part of the solution to a problem, you have to ask yourself several critical questions:

  • What can I do to make a difference? How can I help?
  • What are my leaders doing and what do they recommend that I do?
  • Who do I know who might also be able to help?
  • Where can I go to find the information, materials, and resources that I need to understand the issues to the best of my ability?
  • When do I need to respond to make sure that my response matters?
  • Why should others care about this issue if I'm not willing to do something myself?

The NASP Response to the Model Act

NASP has mounted a comprehensive campaign to try and help APA leaders understand why the removal of the school psychology exemption does more harm than good. This campaign is evolving and has included concrete actions dating back to December 2006 when NASP leaders sent the first letter to the APA Model Licensure Act Task Force expressing concerns about removal of the exemption. NASP actions have been extensive and are summarized in a timeline of the history of our response that can be found at http://www.nasponline.org/standards/roadmapO.pdf.

Many people have written NASP and have asked why NASP doesn't simply hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit against APA. It is important for every member to know that NASP has hired a lawyer and as part of our consultations with this person we have learned that it is only when a state chooses to pass legislation or amend existing rules in accordance with the proposed model act that the legal triggers will be pulled. Up until that point, these are merely policy recommendations from a professional organization and APA or any other organization has the right to draft these types of recommendations. It is only when these recommendations are adopted that legal issues like restriction of trade, violations of free speech, and a host of other legal issues emerge.

Wouldn't it be great, and considerably less expensive, if NASP could avoid legal action all together? Wouldn't this cause less harm and promote more good in the long run? NASP is working to use diplomatic strategies to resolve this conflict peacefully. NASP is trying to help APA understand the probable repercussions of their actions if they are to proceed with the removal of the exemption. Additionally, it is critical that every school psychologist be fully informed about these threats and actively works to oppose them. School psychologists need to understand how they can be a part of the advocacy process and can prevent damaging legislation from being introduced into their state. Every state will have to deal with these issues and every school psychologist can start now by building relationships with their state leaders and elected officials so that they can protect their ability to practice school psychology and call themselves school psychologists in the future. This is one of those defining moments in our professional history where it is only "Advocacy in Action" that will make a difference.


Anastasia Kalamaros Skalski, PhD, NASP Director, Public Policy.