School Psychologists: Powering Growth in Student’s Academic and Mental Health

Children and adolescents in the United States face significant challenges related to academic achievement and mental health. For example, only 36% (reading) and 40% (mathematics) of 4th grade students scored at or above proficiency on standardized tests in 2015 (McFarland et al., 2017). Approximately 1 out of every 17 students will not complete high school and about 13% of the school population, representing 6.6 million youth, require special education services for one or more disabilities that invariably affect their learning and mental health (McFarland et al., 2017). Roughly 1 out of every 5 students will experience a clinically significant mental disorder chiefly including anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and mood disturbances such as depression (Kessler et al., 2012). Thus, it is clear that our student population needs ongoing, effective support to meet and overcome these challenges successfully. Who will answer the call to address these needs? Fortunately, school psychologists are ideally suited to enhance student academic and mental health given their extensive training and experience in educational and mental health support strategies.

School psychologists traditionally have been involved in identifying students who may need special education support services for educational or emotional/behavioral disabilities. Over the past several decades, school psychologists have taken on more expansive roles that address the potential needs of the entire student population. Specifically, school psychologists:

  • comprehensively assess student academic, social, and psychological functioning;
  • design individual, class-wide, or school-wide interventions that promote successful student educational and mental health development;
  • and consult with teachers and parents regarding effective strategies to be used in classroom and home settings to address specific academic and/or behavioral challenges experienced by individual students.

These activities are provided in the context of a proactive, data-based problem-solving model that emphasizes preventing problems before they occur, promotes systematic and positive approaches to addressing challenging behaviors, and involves ongoing collection of student performance data to inform educational and mental health treatment decisions.

One of the major ways that school psychologists help educators and parents to support children and adolescents is by translating the findings of research studies into everyday practice in school and home settings. For example, there are many studies conducted by university researchers that have demonstrated the successful impact of individual and group reward strategies on student completion of schoolwork, compliance with teacher directives, and positive social behavior. Yet, in order for these same approaches to be successful in “real world” classrooms, school psychologists work with teachers to figure out how to adapt research-based strategies to fit the needs and limitations of specific classrooms and students.

For example, in the past, the two of us worked as school psychologists in preschools and elementary schools for children with special needs. Oftentimes, we communicated assessment results to teachers and parents in friendly language so that they could not only understand the child’s functioning, but also follow through on sound, effective interventions based on assessment results. Translation of assessment results is paramount to the role and function of school psychologists.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has designated November 13-17, 2017 as National School Psychology Awareness Week.  This year’s theme, “Power Up! Be a Positive Charge,” highlights the many ways that individual actions, small and large, can make critical connections that spark positive change for students and their families. One of the major goals for this initiative is to help students realize the power they have to bring about positive changes for themselves and their communities. NASP provides a website that includes resources and activities that can be used to help students be a positive charge with their classmates, teachers, and families.

Educators and parents can learn more about the field of school psychology and the roles and services that school psychologists provide by visiting the NASP website.


Kessler, R.C., Avenevoli, S., Costello, E.J., Georgiades, K., Green, J.G., Gruber, M.J….Ries, K. (2012). Prevalence, persistence, and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69, 372-280.

McFarland, J., Hussar, B., de Brey, C., Snyder, T., Wang, X., Wilkinson-Flicker, S….Hinz, S. (2017). The condition of education 2017 (NCES 2017-144). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved Oct. 25, 2017 from

About the Author

Dr. George DuPaul is Professor of School Psychology in the Department of Education and Human Services at Lehigh University. He has extensive experience providing clinical services to children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and their families as well as consulting with a variety of school districts regarding the management of students with ADHD. He has been an author or co-author on over 200 journal articles and book chapters as well as nine books and two videos related to ADHD and pediatric school psychology. He is co-developer of the ADHD Rating Scale-5 widely used for screening, diagnosis, and treatment evaluation for children and adolescents with ADHD. Dr. DuPaul was School Psychologist of the Year in Pennsylvania in 1999, was the recipient of the 2008 Senior Scientist Award from Division 16 (School Psychology) of the American Psychological Association and was named to the Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD) Hall of Fame in 2008. He is a member of the American Psychological Association Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education.
Vincent C. Alfonso, PhD, is professor and dean in the School of Education at Gonzaga University. His previous roles include Coordinator of the School Psychology Programs at Fordham University, former Executive Director of two University-based assessment centers, and former Acting Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham. In November 2003 Dr. Alfonso received the Leadership in School Psychology Award from the New York Association of School Psychologists and more recently (2014) received the Trainers of School Psychology Outstanding Contribution to Training award. He was elected Fellow of Divisions 16, 5, and 43 of the American Psychological Association and served as president of Division 16 in 2013. Dr. Alfonso is a member of the American Psychological Association Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education and is a certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist who has been providing psychoeducational services to individuals across the life span for more than 25 years.