Training Model: The School Psychologist as a Data-based Problem-Solver

Primary objective

    The primary objective of School Psychology training at USM is to prepare behavioral scientists who can apply their skills to the solution of a broad range of problems related to the processes of schooling. Generalized empirically-based problem-solving skills represent the program's primary emphasis and are seen as essential in order for graduates to assume the diversity of roles associated with School Psychology today and in the future. All training in School Psychology is based on the scientist-practitioner model with special emphasis on integration of the scientist and practitioner dimensions.

    The goal of integrating the science and practice dimensions of the scientist-practitioner model is approached through incorporation of an additional training scheme designated as the Data-Based Problem-Solver model (DBPS). One of the program's primary training objectives is to produce school psychologists who approach their professional activities from a cohesive frame of reference: that of a Data-Based Problem-Solver. The DBPS model teaches students to view all school psychological functions from a problem-solving perspective requiring systematic progression through the steps of (a) problem identification, (b) problem solution, and (c) problem evaluation. In addition, the DBPS stresses the importance of basing hypotheses and conclusions at each step on empirical data.

To facilitate communication..

To facilitate communication, the professional activities of school psychologists are conceptualized as belonging primarily to one of three areas: Science, Practice, or Professional. All students receive didactic instruction and supervised experiences designed to ensure adequate preparation to assume roles associated with each of these areas. Further, students are strongly encouraged to develop a distinct relative strength in at least one area.

Training in the Science area

Training in the Science area is focused primarily on the acquisition of applied research skills. Each student is expected to acquire entry level competencies in research and professional writing. Both the master's thesis and the doctoral dissertation are expected to be research projects which merit presentation at professional meetings and publication in major journals. In addition, all students participate in other program related research projects which culminate in collaborative presentations at professional meetings and in journal publications. Students interested in careers as university trainers, participate in additional independent and collaborative research and acquire supervised teaching experience.

The Practice area

The Practice area encompasses training designed to ensure acquisition of sufficient competencies to function as effective applied problem solvers in the schools. Each student is required to demonstrate the ability to apply data-based problem-solving skills to the functions typically associated with the practice of School Psychology in applied settings. Students who expect to focus their career on the applied practice of School Psychology exceed the minimal time requirements in the schools in order to maximize their development of applied skills, read extensively in the applied literature to acquire new techniques, attend workshops devoted to applied practice, and elect additional practice-related coursework.

Entry level preparation

Entry level preparation in the Professional area includes familiarity with the primary professional associations related to School Psychology and knowledge of their professional standards. Each student is expected to join two or more professional associations and become familiar with the professional literature. Some students develop the Professional area as a strength by regularly attending professional meetings and becoming an active participant in one or more professional associations. While the broad conceptual framework of the DBPS provides a general training guide, achievement of the program objectives is more closely related to the nature and organization of specific training components. In spite of frequent reference to the "training" program, it is recognized that preparation of professional psychologists requires both education (didactic instruction) and training (supervised experience). The individual components of the program have been arranged in a graduated and hierarchical sequence with necessary didactic instruction occurring prior to or concomitant with supervised experience. To facilitate program description, didactic and experiential aspects of the program are designated as belonging to an Education or a Training dimension, respectively

Education dimension

The Education dimension encompasses the didactic aspects of the program, emphasizing a critical and empirical approach to the knowledge bases associated with the disciplines of Education and Psychology and the applied specialty area of School Psychology. The training elements subsumed under the Education dimension provide students with the knowledge base and skills necessary to implement specific data-based problem-solving strategies during their field experiences and to acquire new strategies in the future.

The Education dimension includes coursework and experience related to: (a) Professional Issues, (b) Scientific Methodology, and (c) Theory and Data Bases. Since School Psychology is viewed as a sub-specialty of generic Psychology, training in these areas is provided relative to both the general discipline of Psychology and the School Psychology specialty area. The study of Professional Issues familiarizes students with the major professional organizations and their contributions to the discipline of Psychology and the profession of School Psychology.

Training elements in the Professional Issues area include: professional organizations, standards, ethics, and credentialing; and an introduction to School Psychology. The study of Scientific Methodology provides students with an empirical orientation and the skills to critically evaluate and contribute to the literature of Psychology and School Psychology.Training elements in the Scientific Methodology area include: research design and methodology, scientific writing, research in school psychology, and research participation including thesis and dissertation development. Study in the Theory and Data Bases area provides students with experience in the identification and critical evaluation of theory and data. Specific training elements in the Theory and Data Bases area include: biological and social bases; normal and abnormal development; and educational foundations.

Training dimension

The Training dimension represents supervised experience in the application of problem-solving skills to problems encountered by school psychologists in the schools. Supervised field experiences begin during the first semester of training, promoting an early integration of theory and practice, and continue throughout the program. The specific training elements associated with the Training dimension are organized around the problem-solving components of: (a) problem identification, (b) problem solution, and (c) problem evaluation. Other School Psychology training programs often label similar components as: (a) assessment, (b) intervention, and (c) evaluation. Use of the more general problem-solving terms reflects a conviction that general rather than specific problem-solving strategies are necessary to adequately prepare students to assume the variety of roles expected of school psychologists today and in the future. While the acquisition of specific problem-solving skills associated with the typical roles of school psychologists today constitutes a major focus of field training, students also gain experience in the use of their generalized skills to acquire new information and problem-solving strategies to develop solutions appropriate to the unpredictable problems encountered in the field. Under the supervision of program faculty, students representing each year level work together in teams providing supervisory experience for advanced students and allowing for observational learning by beginning students. Written problem solving plans are developed by each team for each case assigned. The problem solving plans structure the activities associated with each case into the steps of problem identification, problem solution, and problem evaluation and document implementation and outcomes of specific actions at each step of the problem solving process.

     First-year students spend approximately 45 contact hours per semester in the field focusing primarily on acquisition of the problem identification skills of behavioral and curriculum-based assessment and interviewing. Second-year students devote approximately 75 contact hours per semester to the acquisition of problem identification, solution, and evaluation skills associated with educational achievement problems and short-term interventions. Third-year doctoral students devote approximately 75 contact hours per semester to problem-solving activities associated with more general behavioral problems and case management, as well as to acquiring needs assessment, program development and evaluation, and supervision skills. Fourth-year doctoral students devote approximately 75 contact hours per semester to additional supervised experience in handling instructional interventions, behavioral interventions, advanced assessment, and consultation cases, and supervision. In all, students who enter the program with a Bachelor's Degree receive approximately 600 contact hours of supervised practicum experience in the program. Additional training and supervised field experience for fourth-year doctoral students are provided through the one-year internship placement.