The History of School Psychology

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

School psychology is a relatively new and fascinating field of practice designed to help support the needs of students. This lesson will explore the history of school psychology and will end with a short quiz to test what you have learned.

What is School Psychology

Think back on your early school years. Students from different backgrounds come to school five days a week for eight or more hours a day. While the overall goal as a student is to learn, each and every student probably has a different way of learning, speaking, or understanding.

Students also have different ways of dealing with teachers and other students. How do we accommodate all of these differences to make sure that kids are learning what they need to in school? School psychologists are people who are trained to help facilitate learning by understanding the behaviors and needs of individual students.

School psychology applies the principles of psychology to the field of education. Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior. School psychologists use the scientific principles of psychology to understand the thoughts and behaviors of students in an effort to improve academic success. They work in public and private schools with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. School counselors also work outside of schools in private practice or at the legislative level to advocate for students and the educational field as a whole. In short, they counsel, educate, assess, and advocate.

Some common roles for school psychologists include working with school districts, educators, and families to increase student performance. School psychologists also spend a great deal of time working with students. They may counsel a student who is struggling with a personal issue or they might test a student to determine if there is an issue with his or her ability to learn. School counselors wear many hats to support the needs of the students they serve.

The Foundations of School Psychology

Now that we know what school psychologists do, let's take a look at how this field emerged. In 1918, attending school became mandatory in the United States. Prior to this ruling, it was up to the parents if they wanted their child to be educated in school. As a result of this law, schools were filled with many students of different backgrounds and skill levels. Some students really struggled and seemed unable to keep up.

Teachers and administrators were left with a big problem. How do you educate students who struggle to learn in the traditional classroom? The first step is to figure out what the problem is. Therefore, school officials began testing struggling students in an effort to get to the root of the problem. By this time, standardized testing had become a relatively common method used to screen men prior to placing them in the Army.

Standardized tests are designed to measure academic or intellectual achievement. Everyone who takes a standardized test is given the same questions in the same manner. The scores are then compared to those of other people who have taken the test. This allows test administrators to determine if someone is below average, average, or above average when compared to the others who have taken the test.

Schools began using standardized tests to figure out where students were academically in relation to other students. They believed that this information would make it easier to help everyone learn. Specific school employees were usually in charge of administering these tests and designing a program to help struggling learners. These individuals were the earliest school psychologists.

Modern School Psychology

Now that we know why school psychology developed, let's take a closer look at how the profession of school psychology progressed. As we mentioned, the earliest school psychologists were the people who were responsible for testing and assessing students, but the job of identifying students with special needs or students who had not had much previous schooling did not end there. These individuals also had to figure out ways to educate these students. They counseled the students and their families and advocated for special programs for them.

Initially, these professionals were educators who were more or less appointed to the position. However, it quickly became apparent that special training was needed beyond that of a traditional educator. In 1925 New York University formed the first program designed to train people in school psychology.

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