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Professional Practice

School Psychologists' Performance on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)

By Joel Kupfersmid

Approximately 52% of school psychologists with doctorate degrees take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) each year. A passing score on the EPPP is a mandatory requirement in all 50 states and in most provinces in Canada for licensure as an independent provider of psychological services (Yu, Rinaldi, Templer, Colbert, Siscoe, & Van Patten, 1997). Approximately 300 students annually are awarded a doctorate in school psychology (Curtis, Grier, & Hunley, 2004). Over 1,400 school psychologists took the EPPP between 1997 through July 2006 (Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards [ASPPB], 2006). The EPPP is a 200-question, multiple choice test administered by the Professional Examination Service. The EPPP exemplifies a high stakes test for the individual sitting for the exam and the program from which the test-taker received his/ her education.

The purposes of this article on school psychology and the EPPP are twofold. First, for future doctorates in school psychology who aspire to independent practice in a noneducational setting, the data reported in this article may influence their application process. That is, individuals desiring independent practice are likely to prefer school psychology programs that produce a high rate of graduates who pass the EPPP. Second, for school psychology faculty, the data provide comparative feedback on the relative success of their students passing the EPPP.

The intent of this article is not to suggest that school psychology programs should be evaluated simply on the scores their graduates receive on the EPPP, as many other factors should be considered when appraising any program. Students’ success rate on the EPPP may be important for only some school psychology programs and for only some doctoral candidates.

Review of Literature

There exists very little if any literature comparing the EPPP scores of school psychologists across training programs. The research comparing EPPP scores of school psychologists to other types of psychology specialties (i.e., clinical and counseling) is limited to three studies conducted in the early 1990s. In all studies, EPPP scores were highest for graduates of clinical programs, followed by those in counseling programs, and then those in school psychology programs (Kupfersmid & Fiala, 1991; McGaha & Minder, 1993; Ross, Holzman, Handal, & Gilner, 1991).

Method

The data used for the current study are based on 40 programs awarding a PhD in school psychology. For each program, at least 10 of their graduates took the EPPP between 1997 through July 2006. EPPP scores were based on those reported by the ASPPB (2006) website. The ASPPB published mean EPPP scores (and standard deviations) of licensure candidates by their specialty and school of training. These scores were transformed into passing percentage for each program by subtracting a score of 140 (minimum passing score in most U.S. states and in most Canadian provinces; Yu et al., 1997) from the mean EPPP score for each program and dividing this product by the EPPP score’s standard deviation. This calculation results in a z score. Glass and Stanley’s (1970) Table B was consulted to determine the area under the normal curve for each program’s z score. This area when multiplied by 100 produces the percentage passing the EPPP for each school. For example, if the average EPPP score for students in Program A is 150 and the standard deviation is 5, the z score under the normal curve equals .9772 (150 - 140 / 5 = 2.00). When this area is multiplied by 100, the percentage of graduates from Program A passing the EPPP is 97.72%.

Passing percentage was chosen over mean scores because the EPPP is a criterion referenced test. When the criterion for passing is 140, there is little practical difference whether one scores 140 or 160; there is a large practical difference whether one scores 139 versus 140. The number of times a candidate took the EPPP before passing was not available.

Results

Across all school psychology programs included in this study, the mean percentage passing was 67.27% (SD = 13.37%, 95% CI: [62.99%, 71.54%]). Table 1 places these 40 programs into six categories based on the percentage of their graduates passing the EPPP. For some programs, the passing scores are more of an approximation than for others. For example, ASPPB (2006) reports the combined scores of the Amherst and Boston campuses at the University of Massachusetts. Other programs within a university have considerable overlap in courses and instructors that teach their doctoral students in school, counseling, and clinical psychology. The distinction, thus, in training exclusively within one psychology specialty is blurred in these programs.

How do the EPPP scores for graduates from doctoral programs in school psychology compare to other practitioner specialties? Given the general content of the EPPP, which stresses psychological problems of adults often encountered in outpatient mental health centers and psychiatric hospitals, one might expect that school psychology graduates pass the EPPP at a lower percentage than those from other psychology programs. It is, thus, no surprise that the mean passing percentage (86.78%, SD = 11.68%, 95% CI [84.65%, 88.91%]) for graduates of PhD clinical psychology programs (N = 118) is significantly higher than those of school psychologists [t (156) = 8.80, p < .001, d = 1.61].

The difference in course content between PhD programs in clinical psychology and school psychologists (where the emphasis is on children/adolescents in a school setting), however, cannot account for the entire disparity in passing percentages between these two specialties based on other findings in this study. When mean percentage passing scores of graduates of school psychology programs are compared to passing percentage of graduates from PhD counseling programs (N = 51, M = 68.92%, SD = 15.14%, 95% CI [64.66%, 73.18%]) there is no statistically significant difference. Similarly, when school psychologists’ passing percentage is compared to graduates from professional schools of clinical psychology awarding a PsyD (N = 40, M = 66.73%, SD = 14.06%, 95% CI [62.23%, 71.23%]), no significant difference is again found. (Note: For all non-school psychology programs, at least 30 students per school took the EPPP). The course content of PhD counseling programs and PsyD clinical psychology programs is more comparable to that found in PhD programs in clinical psychology than in school psychology programs. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) also was conducted. The independent variables were the four psychology specialties (clinical PhDs, clinical PsyDs, school PhDs, and counseling PhDs) with mean EPPP scores for the four groups as the dependent variables. The ANOVA was significant, F(3, 245) = 47.967, p = .000, eta squared = .61. Pairwise analyses (Tukey) indicated that PhD clinical psychologists had EPPP scores significantly (p = .000) higher than the other three specialties. There was no statistically significant difference in mean EPPP scores between the other three groups.

Table 1. Grouping of Passing Schores on EPPP by School Psychology Doctoral Program
Pass EPPP by Schools
90% or Higher (n = 2) Buffalo, SUNY
Tulane
80%–89% (n = 5) Arizona State
Columbia Teacher’s College
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Texas (Austin)
70%–79% (n = 9) Lehigh
Maryland (College Park)
Nebraska
New York
North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Northern Colorado
Syracuse
Texas Woman’s
Utah
60%–69% ( n = 11) Albany, SUNY
Fordham
Georgia
Georgia State
Indiana
Iowa
Louisiana State
Massachusetts (Amherst and Boston)
Temple
Texas A & M
Wisconsin (Madison)
50%–59% ( n = 8) Arizona
Ball State
California (Berkeley)
Indiana State
Kent State
Minnesota
Missouri (Columbia)
North Carolina State
Less than 50% (n = 5) Kentucky
Loyola (Chicago)
Mississippi State
Southern Mississippi
Tennessee

Discussion

The major question posed in this study was: How well do doctoral-level school psychologists perform on the EPPP? The current results indicate that the majority of PhD graduates with degrees in school psychology pass the EPPP. Their passing percentages are comparable to those graduates from PhD programs in counseling psychology and PsyD programs in professional schools. Graduates with doctorates from these three psychology programs, however, do not score as well on the EPPP as PhD graduates from clinical psychology programs.

This study used EPPP scores gathered over 9 years on school psychology programs with as few as 10 doctorates in a given program taking this test over this time interval. The American Psychological Association’s Commission on Accreditation has requested that ASPPB provide trainers with scores on the EPPP for all program graduates on a yearly basis (De- Mers, 2009).

Within school psychology programs, there is a sizeable range in the percentage of graduates passing the EPPP. Analysis of possible reasons for program differences are not addressed in this article. Such an analysis would require far more data, considerably more statistical analysis, and extend well beyond the scope of this article. For example, there are some programs where students in school, counseling, and clinical psychology have considerable overlap in their course work and instructors. The emphasis of these schools may be different (perhaps stressing clinical work in noneducational settings) than programs where doctoral students are trained exclusively with a specialization in school psychology. This variable of different program content or program overlap could account for a considerable portion of the spread of EPPP scores across school psychology programs.

Differences in passing percentage among programs may be a result of student variables, not a programmatic one. About 52% of those awarded a doctorate in school psychology take the EPPP. These students may differ in some important way than doctoral students who elect not to take the exam. Perhaps school psychology students who take additional courses in the clinical psychology department at their university perform higher on the EPPP than those students who take similar courses in the counseling department or in a PsyD program. A next step in examining differences in performance on the EPPP could be to examine course requirements among the various programs. Answers to these questions, and others on this topic, engender the ubiquitous conclusion that more research is needed.

References

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. (2006). 2006 psychology licensing exam scores by doctoral program. Retrieved from http://www.asppb.org/publications/validity/default.aspx#scores

Curtis, M., Grier, J., & Hunley, S. (2004). The changing face of school psychology: Trends in data and projections for the future. School Psychology Review, 33, 49–66.

DeMers, S. (2009). Understanding the purpose, strengths, and limitations of the EPPP: A response to Sharpless and Barber. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40, 348–353. doi: 10.1037/a0015750

Kupfersmid, J., & Fiala, M. (1991). Comparison of EPPP scores among graduates of varying psychology programs. American Psychologist, 46, 534–535.

Glass, G., & Stanley, J. (1970). Statistical methods in education and psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

McGaha, S., & Minder, C. (1993). Factors influencing performance on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 24, 107–109.

Ross, M., Holzman, L., Handal, P., & Gilner, F. (1991). Performance on the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology as a function of specialty, degree, administrative housing, and accreditation status. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 22, 347–350.

Yu, L., Rinaldi, S., Templer, D., Colbert, L., Siscoe, K., & Van Patten, K. (1997). Score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology as a function of attributes of clinical psychology graduate programs. Psychological Science, 8, 347–350.


Joel Kupfersmid, PhD, is a semiretired school psychologist. He worked for the Ohio Department of Mental Health. He now teaches martial arts.