NASP Communiqué, Vol. 33, #6
NASP Study: How Many School Psychologists Are There?
By Jeffrey L. Charvat,
Manager of Research and Information Services
How many school psychologists are there in the country?
How many are providing psychological services in the nation’s schools? A
2004 NASP study examining these questions provides the best—perhaps only—recent
empirically based answers. This article briefly presents some of the results
of the study, makes comparisons with the previous study in 1999, and discusses
the implications of collecting this type of data for the future of the profession.
Estimates of changes in the degree to which states are meeting the NASP-recommended
ratio of one school psychologist per 1,000 students are also provided, and
the benefits and limitations of such estimates are considered.
The school psychology credentialing systems come to mind first as logical
sources of information on the number of school psychologists in the country.
Apart from the NASP Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential,
the credentialing of school psychologists is a matter governed by state laws,
and there is a great deal of variability from state to state. The state agency
usually charged with the credentialing of school psychologists is the state
department of education, though in some states psychology licensing boards
also credential school psychologists. Twenty-six states use the NCSP as part
of their standards for state certification. The NASP website provides brief
summaries by state of certification and licensure requirements, with links
to state departments of education and state licensing boards (www.nasponline.org/certification/state_info_list.html).
With these credentialing systems in place, determining the number of credentialed
school psychologists in the country would seem to be an easy matter. However,
this has not proven to be the case. Difficulties have been reported in obtaining
official data on the number of credentialed school psychologists in some states.
This situation is one of several reasons why there is currently no compendium
of school psychology workforce data that one can reach for to discover how
the workforce changes from year to year.
One federal publication, however, is becoming just such a centralized source
for information on mental health practitioners and trainees, from social workers
and psychiatrists to psychiatric nurses and school psychologists. The most
recent edition, Mental Health, United
States, 2002, includes school psychology data
for 2000, making possible comparisons between the school psychology workforce
and the other professions that provide mental health services (Center for
Mental Health Services, 2004). One impetus for the present study was the need
for updated data for the 2004 edition of this publication. The study was
conducted in the fall of 2004 (Charvat, 2004).
A two-stage survey approach was employed in this study. First, to represent
the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a sample of 10 states was randomly
selected using a stratified sampling approach based on similarities and differences
in states in terms of the population of school psychologists and the residential
population. Leaders in each of the 10 school psychology state associations
were asked by e-mail to provide the number of credentialed school psychologists
in their state and the number of school psychologists providing services.
If their state agencies were unable to supply official statistics, leaders
were asked to make estimates through the systematic application of logical
assumptions about their state’s school psychology population—in short, estimating
the unknown by extrapolating from the what is known (e.g., state association
All 10 states responded to the survey, and the results
from the sample were compared with a similar survey carried out in 1999 (Thomas,
2000). Analysis of the results of this first stage of the survey yielded
a formula representing the overall rate of change in the number of school
psychologists from 1999 to 2004. This formula was used to extrapolate from
the 1999 data the current number of credentialed school psychologists in each
of the states that did not participate in the survey. A similar process was
used to estimate the number of school psychologists providing services in
the remaining states.
In the second stage of the survey, the remaining state association leaders
were provided with the two estimates and notified that these figures were
to be used to represent their state in the publication Mental Health,
United States, 2004.
They were asked to review the estimates to determine if they accurately reflect
the conditions in their state and, if not, to provide either the official
statistics from their state agencies or their own estimates, if the former
were not available. They were informed that the absence of a response would
be interpreted as indicating agreement that the data accurately reflect the
situation in their state.
Number of Credentialed School Psychologists
Overall, 33 states and the District of Columbia provided
data for their states or approved the estimates that were sent to them. The
original estimates for the remaining 17 states were used in subsequent analyses.
The results indicate that there are 37,893 credentialed school psychologists
in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This represents an increase
of 6,615 or 21% from 31,278 in 1999 (Thomas, 2000). The first column of Table
1 provides these results by state.
Table 1. Estimated Number of School Psychologists by State in 2004
and Comparison of Ratios of Students to School Psychologists by
State in 1999 and 2004
||2004 Certified/Licensed School Psychologists 1
||2004 School Psychologists in Public Schools 2
||2004 Students per School Psychologist 3
||1999 Students per School Psychologist 4
||Percentage Change from 1999 to 2004
Number of School Psychologists Providing Services
In estimating the number of school psychologists providing services, these
survey results were supplemented with data from the latest NASP Membership
Survey (Curtis, Chesno Grier, & Hunley,
2004) and the Twenty-Fourth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation
of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (U.S. Department of
Education, 2002). The analysis yielded an estimate of 32,322 school psychologists
providing services in the country in 2004, approximately 85% of the total
number of credentialed school psychologists.
Determining the number of school psychologists providing school psychological
services was a challenge for many states, given that it necessitates accounting
for the full- and part-time activities of school psychologists in a variety
of settings including those in public schools, private schools, independent
practice, and so on. It also requires the ability to factor out university
faculty, administrators, retirees, etc., as well as accounting for those who
fulfill multiple roles, such as those university faculty who provide services
on a limited basis.
The number of school psychologists providing services in public schools is
estimated to be 29,367. The second column of Table 1 presents these results
by state. These estimates were obtained by multiplying the number of credentialed
school psychologists in each state by 77.5%, the percentage of school psychologists
working in public schools according to the most recent NASP Membership Survey
(Curtis et al., 2004).
Ratio of Students to School Psychologists
Additional analyses suggest that there are 1,621 students per school psychologist
in the United States, which represents
an 11% decrease from the 1,816 reported for 1999 (Thomas, 2000). See Table
1 for estimates by state and comparisons between 1999 and 2004. Note that
these two estimates resulted from different methods of data collection, suggesting
the need for some caution in their interpretation. The first estimate was
made using findings from this study, the percentage of school psychologists
in public schools from the NASP Membership Survey (Curtis et al., 2004), and
the number of public school students reported by the National Center for Education
Statistics (2002–03). The second estimate is the mean of self-reported ratios
from a survey of NASP members.
Other cautions are warranted. Note, for example, that these ratio estimates
are for the entire state, whereas the NASP-recommended ratio of one school
psychologist for every 1,000 students is for the “school psychological services
unit” (NASP, 2000, p. 54). Of course, if all units in the state meet the
ratio, then the state ratio will reflect this fact. However, the opposite
is not necessarily true. Because of variability between the school psychological
services units, even if the recommended ratio is met by the state, it is very
possible that some units within the state have not met the recommended ratio
(and may even be far from meeting it). The ratio also does not provide any
information on the quality of services and perhaps only limited information
on the actual workload of school psychologists.
As can be seen from Table 1, the ratios vary dramatically
between states. This is worth noting because the amount of the ratio can
influence the types of professional practices used by school psychologists
(Curtis, Hunley, & Chesno Grier, 2002).
However, it is important to remember that changes in the types of professional
practices used will not themselves be reflected in the ratio. The ratio can
stay the same even in the context of increases in school psychologists’ formal
or informal job responsibilities, such as when the need for services among
a population of students increases as a result of a crisis in the community.
Thus, it is critical to recognize that the NASP-recommended ratio is a meaningful
tool for measuring and comparing the impact of school psychologists’ services
only to the extent that one keeps in mind the amount and type of services
school psychologists are providing. Some suggested future directions for
school psychology, such as for example doing more with less through increased
indirect service delivery (Canter, 2003), may be less well served by a focus
on ratios as a measure of the impact of school psychologists’ efforts. The
idea of indirect service delivery—that school psychologists need to impact
more students by restructuring their roles—runs counter to the linear view
of measuring impact that is a basic assumption of the ratio.
An Alternative to Ratios?
Concerns about the meaning of the ratio are reflected in the debate about
caseload versus workload (see the related article in this Communiqué).
Caseload is epitomized by the measure of the ratio of students to school
psychologists and is an important administrative tool for monitoring the relationship
between staff levels and the number of students that potentially need to be
served. It has the benefit of being relatively easy to measure and compare
and can provide documentation of historical changes. As such, it can be used
for setting goals related to improved service delivery. Decreasing the ratio
can be used as a proxy measure for increased service provision to students,
but only if one has information suggesting that the needs of the students
are relatively constant, likely a risky assumption to make in some school
By contrast, workload refers to the actual amount of various types
of services that a particular school psychologist or psychological services
unit provides. It can, thus, potentially present a more detailed and realistic
picture of the degree to which it is reasonable for a particular practitioner
to be asked to serve more students—indeed, even how reasonable it is to assume
that the practitioner’s current working conditions support effective service
delivery. Its benefits notwithstanding (see related article), it has its
drawbacks. For example, determining the workload for any particular practitioner
or psychological services unit is a labor-intensive task involving the daily
documentation of activities. This may be unduly burdensome for those with
an already packed schedule. And, as with any self-reported measure, it can
introduce an element of measurement error because not everyone is skilled
at such self-observation, because it can be an onerous task when added to
an already overburdened schedule, and because of
self-serving biases (aren’t we all overworked?). In addition, its usefulness
to administrators as a tool for making decisions depends upon their having
workload information on each practitioner or unit. Thus, caseload and workload
approaches are perhaps most realistically viewed as complementary rather than
as mutually exclusive.
Collecting Data for the Future of School Psychology
This article touched briefly on some of the issues
regarding the collection and use of school psychology data. Conducting this
study raised questions concerning how best to institutionalize the collection
of school psychology’s workforce data so as to make valid and reliable information
available from year to year. Some initiatives are underway to develop improved
systems of data collection for the range of professions that provide mental
health services. For example, NASP participates in the Alliance of Mental
Health Professions, a workgroup of the Center for Mental Health Services of
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which
is working to develop a standardized tool for collecting mental health service
provider data across professions. School psychology’s representation among
the range of mental health service professions in Mental Health,
United States, 2002
is one result of that collaboration. NASP is committed to improving—alone
and in collaboration with others—the systems for collecting and using data
that will support effective decision-making regarding school psychology’s
role in serving America’s mental health needs in the future.
Canter, A. (2003, October). Recruitment or restructuring roles: A nonempirical
look at the personnel shortage in school psychology. Communiqué,
Center for Mental Health Services (2004). Mental
health, United States, 2002. Edited by R.W. Manderscheid and M.J. Henderson.
DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 3938.
Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Charvat, J. L. (2004). School psychologists in the U.S.
in 2004: A survey of state associations. Unpublished
paper. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Curtis, M. J., Chesno Grier, J. E., &
Hunley, S. A. (2004). The changing face
of school psychology: Trends in data and projections for the future. School
Psychology Review, 33, 49-66.
Curtis, M. J., Hunley, S. A., & Chesno Grier, J. E. (2002). Relationships
among professional practices and demographic characteristics of school psychologists.
School Psychology Review, 31, 30-42.
National Association of School Psychologists (2000). Professional
conduct manual for school psychologists (4th edition). Bethesda,
National Center for Education Statistics (2002-03). State profiles.
In The nation’s report card [online]. Available:
Thomas, A. (2000, April). Report to the National Association
of School Psychologists’ delegate assembly on the state demographic survey.
Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
U.S. Department of
Education (2002). Twentieth-fourth annual report to Congress on
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.
on a 2004 survey of state school psychology associations (Charvat,
on the 1999-2000 survey finding that 77.5% of school psychologists work in
public schools (Curtis, Chesno Grier, & Hunley, 2004).
3Based on the number of public school students in the 2002-03 school
year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002-03).
4This ratio is the mean of 1999 survey responses from a sample of
NASP members, which includes responses from school psychologists in both public
and private schools (Thomas, 2000).