[Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part interview conducted by Miriam Ruff with Dr. Kim Hastings, a nationally certified school psychologist. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity. To read part 1, click here.]
MR: Last week we talked generally about the role of the school psychologist. Let’s change gears a little bit and talk about struggling students specifically.
What needs do you think both struggling readers/learners and gifted students share? Can you address those needs as a group, or do you still have to split the levels?
KH: Struggling learners and the gifted population are both in need of advocates.
MR: How do you identify what special needs a student has, whether struggling or gifted? Are there assessment tests? How specifically can you identify a problem or strength?
KH: Depending on the referral concern, there are certain assessment batteries a school psychologist would implement. Usually a cognitive (IQ measure), academic achievement, and behavioral rating forms and observations are necessary for special education evaluations. Gifted students are usually assessed through a cognitive or IQ measure.
MR: For struggling learners, what do you see, overall, as their most dominant needs? Does it vary according to age and/or grade?
KH: As the national statistics go, we see learning disabilities as the most prominent in deficits for students. A learning disability is a specific disorder that impacts understanding using spoken or written language. This may impact one’s ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or preform mathematical calculations. Learning disabilities could include such conditions as dyslexia, dyscalculia, developmental aphasia, and perceptual disabilities that adversely impact a student’s educational performance.
A school psychologist collects assessment data to determine if students are eligible or not for special education services.
MR: How do you begin to address the needs, both academic and social/emotional? Does that come from an IEP? If so, what’s your role in that process? Which other educators are involved?
KH: Tiers of support is the ideal model to meet academic and social/emotional needs. We begin to address needs first through universal screening for academics and behavior. This is to identify who needs more support, and then we implement varying levels of support based upon the data. This is prior to special education and meant to meet the needs quickly and basically.
Once we implement interventions, we then monitor progress to gather data to see if our interventions are working/successful. That data then inform if we need to intensify or decrease intensity. We work closely with the teachers to gather that data, administrators, specialists (Title I teachers, Reading Specialists, and Special Education teachers).
MR: What do you view as the most important thing you can do to ensure struggling learners stay in school and graduate? Do you think schools, at present, can do enough for this population?
KH: First, creating a connection between the student and a trusted adult. That relationship can be vital for any student. Second, having a trusted adult to problem solve with. I worry that our teachers/staff are overworked that it is hard to make time to create these essential relationships.
MR: Jumping back to COVID for a moment, do you think the period of remote learning negatively impacted struggling students? If so, how? And how can the ground be made up, if at all?
KH: We are all definitely feeling the impact of COVID, especially in the social interactions between students and adults. Yes, there is an academic impact, but the social is one of the more impactful.
MR: What would your “wish list” be for struggling students if you had any and all resources at your disposal? What could a school psychologist do better to help this population?
KH: From an instructional standpoint, we need:
- Well-trained teachers
- Teachers with broad experiences to bring to the classroom
- Curriculum and resources that offer not only quality instruction but are engaging for students and staff
- The ability to implement the best instructional materials that are researched-based to improve skills for students
From a psychology standpoint, we need:
- Help recruiting students to the field of school psychology.
We have hit that point where a large portion of our practitioners are retiring, and the universities are not producing near enough students to fill the vacancies. We are competing with other districts and states to offer competitive pay and retain school psychologists.
- Continuous professional development to continue to enhance our knowledge and leadership. We pride ourselves in trying to lead the state in school psychological services, but that takes dedication toward continual learning and participation in state and national conferences., such as:
NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) annual conference (www.nasponline.org)
OSPA (Oklahoma School Psychology Association) bi-annual conference (okspa.memberclicks.net)
Next week: Gifted Students and the School Psychologist
Kim Hastings, PhD is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, in practice as a school psychologist since 2010 and in the district (Edmond School District, Oklahoma) MTSS Specialist role since 2014. Her current role is to lead the district through a multi-tiered system of support for academics and behavior while also serving as the lead elementary school psychologist.