Step 1: Examine the Landscape for School Reform
It is important to be fully aware of the forces (local, state, or federal) shaping policy and practice in your school or district. Additionally, in many districts, there continues to be confusion about the role and services of the school psychologist and the distinctions between other specialized instructional support personnel. This confusion and lack of awareness can add to the complexity of advocating for a comprehensive role. By understanding and considering these issues as they apply to your role as a school psychologist, you can identify the more critical issues to address and adjust your messaging for different audiences (principals, teachers, parents) so that your advocacy messages are heard and received.
Movement Towards Multitiered Systems of Support. Increasingly schools across the country are moving away from traditional evaluations for special education to increased screening and implementation of problem solving approaches like response to intervention, positive behavior supports, and multitiered systems of support that flow from general education. This evolution is very much in keeping with the NASP Practice Model, but in some districts, school psychologists are not viewed as integral to these practices and systems involved, as they occur outside of the special education assessment process. In other settings, offering a multitiered system of supports has had a direct impact on school psychologists as they worked to contribute their data-based decision making expertise to these processes while also balancing the traditional demands of their roles.
Race to the Top Program (2009). The Race to the Top program was spearheaded by President Obama's administration and was the catalyst for sweeping policy reforms at the state level. This program spurred new policies and practices including new academic standards, changes in educator evaluation and compensation, an increasing presence of community agencies in the delivery of services to children in schools, and changes in how we measure student progress and help failing schools meet the needs of students. As a result, in many states school psychologists are being called upon to prove their value, adapt or modify their role, collaborate more with external stakeholders, and serve a population of students with growing needs.
Common Core Standards. School psychologists are in a position to assist students in meeting the Common Core State Standards by removing barriers to learning. Although the emphasis on standards varies by state and district, the budget constraints combined with policy changes associated with these standards have created a professional crisis for some school psychologists as school administrators, teachers, and parents are asking "What do school psychologists do?" and "How does it impact student performance on standards assessments?" As with any crisis, there is both danger and opportunity in this discussion requiring school psychologists to become keenly aware of the forces that may act as a catalyst for, as well as an agent against, their advocacy for the NASP Practice Model.
School Safety and Mental Health Needs. High profile school violence events have contributed to increased efforts to improve school climate, safety, and learning and to improve access to mental and behavioral health services. However, for many school psychologists, the link between a school's need for improved safety hasn't always connected to the skills and expertise of the school psychologist. Schools often give more attention to physical safety measures (e.g., hiring school resource officers or installing metal detectors) rather than psychological safety measures (e.g., implementing strategies to improve school climate or providing greater access to mental and behavioral health services). School psychologists need to advocate for the design, funding, and implementation of comprehensive school-wide approaches that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and build on a multitiered system of supports. Ensuring that mental and behavioral health and safety programming and services are appropriately integrated into the overall multitiered system of supports presents a real opportunity to align your role with the practice model. For more information on NASP's work related to safe and successful schools, see A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools.