The Chairperson for the Ethics and Professional Practices Committee is responsible for offering timely feedback about professional conduct and challenges faced by school psychologists in the State of Washington. This committee responds to concerns pertaining to ethics and professional practices that may come from school psychologists, other educators, parents, students, private clinicians, and any other individuals who provide feedback and express concern about conduct of a school psychologist. The committee provides NASP-Required National Certification Training on Professional Ethics. The Chair also represents WSASP on the statewide Admissions and Professional Conduct Advisory Committee (APCAC).
Do you have any ethical questions or concerns? Contact Michael Kirlin, WSASP Ethics Chair.
What is Professional Judgment?
There are multiple definitions of this phrase, but two stand out as impacting the life of the school psychologist: the role the Evaluation Group/IEP team, and the role of the professional.
When students are evaluated to determine or rule out the presence of specific learning disabilities, the role of the Evaluation Group/IEP Team comes into play. For the identification of specific learning disabilities (SLD) in Washington State, qualified professionals and parents meet to determine if such a disability in one of eight areas defining specific learning disabilities is present. The evaluation group/IEP Team, and the parent, determines through assessment data, observation and other informal assessments, a review of the student's educational history and health history, and possibly other measures if the student meets the definition of having a specific learning disability in one or more of the eight areas comprising the SLD definition. In the event it is determined that through test measurement error that a student actually meets the SLD definition when assessment data appears to indicate otherwise, the group and the parent may conclude the student indeed meets the eligibility and need criteria for a student with this disability. Thus, the team and the parent utilize professional judgment as a group to establish special education eligibility in the SLD category.
Each school psychologist also has and utilizes professional judgment with every evaluation we conduct. Certification that permits us to work as school psychologists and our contracts allow us to serve students in this role, and we have every right and expectation to be participants that offer professional opinions on behalf of the students we serve. Evaluation groups and IEP Teams commonly depend on us for our professional judgment on all evaluations we conduct, regardless of the student's disability category or even if the student is eligible for special education services at all. Ours is still a professional opinion that is as meaningful as every other participant, who also have certification and contracts permitting them to participate as well. The parent is not a qualified professional, even when a parent is a school psychologist or other public or private professional. Parents participate to advocate for children under their care, and eligibility under the SLD category requires their participation, as does any reevaluation regardless of disability because it is at that point that all groups are essentially IEP Teams.
As school psychologists, we are constantly applying professional judgment, whether to determine SLD eligibility as part of a group that includes a parent, or as professionals working with all students that we serve. We are depended upon and respected for our roles, and the courts have upheld our professionalism to act on our student's behalf. Students, parents and colleagues look to us for guidance that stems from having professional judgment, and we need to embrace the opportunity.
What to do when students transfer to your school district with questionable special education eligibility
This is always a possibility for any school psychologist when we receive and review records for compliance with Washington State special education guidelines. I have been reviewing many records for my school district, most of which are reasonably compliant with what my district will be able to provide. Those records may require updated IEPs or amendments, but little else. Sometimes we receive records based on a desire to provide a service to a student that may have questionable relevance educationally. An example for me was a student from another state who has an IEP for vision therapy. The student is classified as visually impaired, but otherwise has essentially normal academic skills and ability; no significant delays for age were noted in any respect. As for the student's acuity, there was no indication of what it was or if vision specifically had been assessed. The parent received information from a vision therapist suggesting vision therapy was necessary, and the school district proceeded to classify the student visually impaired.
Well, the student has a right to services because of being classified as disabled and in need of special education services, however, the need for a reevaluation to classify or deny special education eligibility in our state is self evident. The most important thing, to me, in situations like this is not to deny the student's due process rights. The student's IEP was provided for a reason, and we have to respect that our colleagues in other places are as professional as we are. We have it in our control now to conduct our own evaluation and draw our own conclusions. Who knows, without working with the student we cannot be sure that there isn't a disability here or other good reasons to do for this student that are not apparent when reviewing the records received. Conducting an evaluation is always suggested if only to err on the side of caution, and again to ensure that the student's and parent's rights are properly recognized.
Writing reports prior to parent meeting
A question was posed about the ethics of preparing an evaluation report prior to meeting with the IEP Team: Is it better to develop a draft of an evaluation report with a proposal of what is the expected outcome to determine special education eligibility and provide service recommendations to the IEP Team, or is it better to wait until the evaluation group and the parent meets and create a finalized report afterward?
I see no ethical or legal guideline that would constitute the "right" answer here. I have a preferred preference, to have an evaluation report prepared in draft form with what I think will be the expected outcome. Key is to remind the group that the report is in draft form at this point, and no final decision is made until the group discusses what that final decision is. There is legal precedent for this approach, and for reference please refer to Citizens Complaint rulings and Due Process Summaries that are located on the OSPI website. Many rulings have included drafts of evaluation reports to guide discussions. The plus to this approach is that the school psychologist's perspective is transparent to the whole group before discussion. I also find it a preferred use of my time than having to wait to write a report, and try to recall the details of the final decision. But that is a choice another colleague might make. By waiting, it could be argued that there is no preconceived determination by any member of the evaluation group. I think that concern can be dispelled by simply rewriting the conclusion if there is a change, but again, that would be a matter of preference for each school psychologist.
As school psychologists, we are depended upon frequently, and for some colleagues always, to provide direction of eligibility for special education and what are next steps for the student. Still, each psychologist is just one member of a larger group that has the final say of what is recommended, provided the decision at hand is a legal one. Groups cannot ethically or legally make decisions outside of established federal and state guidelines, even if we may see reports that appear to violate legal precedent from time to time. If we use the skills we have and depend on our training of school and special education law, there should be no problem presenting a drafted evaluation report with the thought it could be the final outcome for a student. Again, one way or the other is a matter of preference, and stating clearly that a prepared report is in draft form should be as acceptable as waiting until afterward to create the final report.