May 10, 2007

Special Education Teachers’ Perceptions of School Psychologists in the Context of Individualized Education Program Meetings

By Arivett, Deanna L; Rust, James O; Brissie, Jane S; Dansby, Virginia S

The study assessed the views of 115 special education teachers. They reported demographic information, data related to who was attending and leading individualized education plan (IEP) meetings, and their views about the helpfulness/importance of school psychologists. Special education teachers considered the presence of school psychologists to be moderately important. School psychologists' participation and leadership at meetings was positively correlated with increased ratings of their helpfulness/ importance by special education teachers. Thus the current study gives some insight into teachers' views related to school psychologists at IEP meetings.

School psychologists and teachers collaborate with the common goal of meeting the needs of all students (Pagan & Wise, 1994). It is particularly important for school psychologists to work effectively with special educators and general education teachers and to view themselves as parts of the district-wide educational program (Buktenica, 1980). Recent changes in legislation call for service delivery models that require more collaboration between teachers and school psychologists (IDEA, 2004).

One place that school psychologists and teachers collaborate is in special education eligibility meetings, typically called individualized education program (IEP) meetings (Hubbard & Adams, 2002). In the context of IEP meetings, school psychologists, parents, and teachers come together with others to make decisions about what is thought to be best for a child. Within a group, members have different knowledge and expertise to contribute to the discussion (Yukl, 1998). For example, Dougherty (2000) emphasized the importance of active participation in school-based consultation. He suggested mutual accountability to increase the likelihood of active participation. According to Gress and Carroll (1985), all of the members of IEP teams must contribute and feel a part of the process to insure effective implementation of goals.

Roles of Teachers and School Psychologists in IEP Meetings. Although there is support for participation from all members of IEP teams, the actual roles of the participants have been less clear. Roberts and Solomons (1970) studied parent conferences in Iowa and found disagreements about participants' roles at meetings. They asked school psychologists and special education teachers about who interpreted assessment results during parent conferences. The school psychologists (n = 100) and teachers (n = 296) disagreed about who interpreted test results and who should interpret results to parents at conferences. Teachers reported that they were more involved in interpretation than were school psychologists, and that teachers wanted to be even more involved. On the other hand, the school psychologists reported that they interpreted the assessment results and recommendations at parent conferences and should be the ones to do so. The authors concluded that neither school psychologists nor teachers appear to be aware of the role of school psychologists during parent conferences, and there appear to be gaps in communication between the two disciplines.

Wigle and Wilcox (2003) asked special education teachers (N= 224) from five different states to rate their levels of competency in several roles. Each role contained several activities performed by special education teachers. One of the roles included interpreting assessment data, initiating parent communication, portraying ethical standards, and collaboratively developing education plans. Additional roles included activities such as obtaining funding or administering budgets, using new technology, assessment, and curriculum modification. The special education teachers indicated that they were most competent in the role that included interpreting assessment data, initiating parent communication, portraying ethical standards, and collaboratively developing education plans. The authors stated that this role had been expected from special educators for years.

According to Hardman, Drew, and Egan (2002), IEP meetings should have someone in a leadership role, such as the school psychologist or special education teacher. In a study by Martin, Marshall, and Sale (2004), special education teachers from middle, junior high, and high schools reported speaking more during IEP meetings than any other team members (i.e., students, parents, regular education teachers, administrators, related services, or others). The authors stated that special education teachers are typically in the role of leading IEP meetings. The study was limited because it did not differentiate among related professionals who provide services in the schools (e.g., school psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, central office personnel, school counselors), thereby restricting the power of the analysis.

As perceptions of roles within IEP meetings differ among team members (Roberts & Solomon, 1970) and because effective teams are important for effective schools, special education teachers' perceptions of school psychologists in the context of IEP meetings should be evaluated. While very little research has looked at special education teachers' perceptions of school psychologists at IEP meetings, some studies have investigated educators' more general views of school psychologists.

Teachers Views of School Psychologists. Teachers' views have been used as one way to assess the effectiveness of school psychological services (Hammonds & Rust, 1984). For school psychologists to be effective, they must maintain a positive relationship with other educators (Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000). The question of how teachers view school psychologists was addressed. In a study by Abel and Burke (1985), special education teachers (n = 115) and regular education teachers (n = 170) were asked to rate their school psychologists on helpfulness using the following scale: 1 = detrimental, 2 = no help, 3 = do not know, 4 = slightly helpful, 5 = very helpful. Both the special education teachers and the regular education teachers, on average, rated school psychologists as slightly helpful.

Others found similar results. Gilman and Gabriel (2004) asked 1,533 teachers (199 of those were special education teachers) from Georgia, Nebraska, Arizona, and Florida to complete a survey that used rating scales to report satisfaction during the past year of school with the services of the school psychologists ( 1 = very unsatisfied, 2 = somewhat unsatisfied, 3 = somewhat satisfied, 4 = very satisfied) and to rate the helpfulness of those services for children and educators (1 = no help, 2 = slightly helpful, 3 = moderately helpful, 4 = very helpful). Overall, the teachers reported being somewhat satisfied with the school psychological services, and they rated the services to children and educators as moderately helpful. The authors also reported that there was no overall difference between the ratings of the regular education teachers and the special education teachers in terms of their ratings of satisfaction or helpfulness of school psychological services.

Characteristics of School Psychologists Related to Teachers' Satisfaction. It is important for school psychologists to know what characteristics teachers view as central to satisfaction with school psychologists. What can school psychologists do to be considered successful? Short, Moore, and Williams (1991) investigated expertness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness of school psychologists. They showed teachers (N = 153) a video of a specialist-level school psychologist consulting with a teacher. The school psychologist was experienced and trained in consultation. Some teachers were told the school psychologist had a master's degree, and other teachers were told that the school psychologist had a doctoral degree. Some of the teachers were told that the school psychologist had little experience, and others were told that the school psychologist had considerable experience. After watching the video, teachers then rated the school psychologist on three social influence factors: expertness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness. The independent variables "degree level" and "experience" were both significantly related to teachers' perceptions of the school psychologists. Teachers who were told that the school psychologist had a doctoral degree rated the school psychologist as having more social influence. Teachers who were told that the school psychologist had more experience also rated the school psychologist as having more social influence. When narrowing the analysis, teachers who were told that the school psychologist had a doctoral degree rated the psychologist higher on expertness, and when told the psychologist had more experience, teachers rated the psychologist higher on expertness and trustworthiness. Thus, the authors concluded that teachers' perceptions were somewhat influenced by what they had been told about the degree level and experience of the school psychologist on the tape.

In a study by Schowengerdt, Fine, and Poggio (1976), school psychologists (N = 63) gave teacher\s questionnaires following three child-centered consultations in the regular classroom. They asked teachers to complete questionnaires that contained demographic characteristics, satisfaction with the consultation, and items related to facultative characteristics of the school psychologists. The school psychologists also completed questionnaires following the consultation. Based on 72 questionnaires of teacher/school psychologist pairs, the authors reported that the most predictive factor in teacher satisfaction with school psychologists' consultation skills was facilitative characteristics (congruence, empathy, level of regard, and positive regard). The authors concluded that facilitative characteristics of the school psychologists were the key elements in successful consultation. On the other hand, the more teaching experience the school psychologist had prior to going into school psychology, the less satisfied the teachers reported being with the consultation.

In the study by Short et al. ( 1991 ), some teachers were told that the school psychologist/consultant in the video they were about to watch had teaching experience, and other teachers were told that the school psychologist did not have teaching experience. This study showed that there was no difference in perceived effectiveness of the school psychologist by teachers based on the stated teaching experience of the school psychologist. It appears that teaching experience of school psychologists is not helpful (Short et al., 1991) and may potentially be harmful to their relationship with teachers (Schowengerdt et al., 1976).

Teachers' ratings of school psychologists also may differ depending on the role of the school psychologist. Watkins, Crosby, and Pearson (2001) surveyed 522 school staff members, including regular education teachers (n = 419), special education teachers (n = 52), administrators (n = 18), and support staff (n = 33), about the importance of specific roles of school psychologists. School staff members reported that assessment, consultation, special education input, crisis intervention, and counseling were all important roles of school psychologists, with assessment being the most important role. In a study by oilman and Gabriel (2004), teachers also emphasized the importance of assessment and consultation in the role of school psychologists. Over 32% of teachers desired that school psychologists spend more time in assessment, and 62% desired that school psychologists spend more time in consultation with teachers. The authors concluded that the desire for more assessment and teacher consultation may have lowered the teachers' satisfaction ratings of the school psychologists. Overall, assessment and consultation are viewed as key elements in the role of school psychologists (oilman & Gabriel, 2004; Watkins et al., 2001).

Characteristics of Teachers Related to Teachers' Satisfaction with School Psychologists. Knoff, Sullivan, and Liu (1995) found that teaching experience was related to teachers' views of school psychologists. Teachers (N = 324) from kindergarten to high school completed a revised version of the Consultant Effectiveness Scale (Knoff, McKenna, & Riser, 1991) to report their views regarding the importance of certain factors of consultation. The teachers with 16 or more years of teaching experience perceived the items related to knowledge to be significantly more important compared to the ratings of the teachers with fewer than 16 years of teaching experience. There were no differences in ratings of importance of the consultation factors based on teaching level (e.g., elementary school, middle school, high school).

In conclusion, previous research gives some insight into how teachers perceive school psychologists. Overall, these views appear to be generally positive. Several factors that contribute to those perceptions also have been investigated. Some of those factors include the role of the school psychologist, characteristics of the school psychologist, the number of contacts with the school psychologist, and the experience of the teacher.

The present study asked a national sample of special education teachers about the participation and effectiveness of school psychologists at IEP team meetings. It was hypothesized that the presence of school psychologists at IEP meetings would be viewed as helpful, and that special education teachers would report leading the most meetings. Finally it was expected that school psychologists who led meetings would be regarded as more helpful than school psychologists who rarely were involved in IEP teams.



Participants were a group of special education teachers who responded to a survey mailed in 1999 as part of a larger study done by Brissie and Dansby (2002). The mailing list was obtained from the Council for Exceptional Children. A total of 400 surveys were sent to special education teachers across the United States asking them to participate in the study. Of the 400 questionnaires sent, 115 questionnaires were returned (i.e., a response rate of 29%). Of the 115 participants, 105 were female, nine were male, and one person did not specify gender. The sample consisted of 100 Anglo- Americans, two African-Americans, one Asian-American, one Hispanic- American, and 11 participants who responded as "other" or did not specify race/ethnicity. The participants reported that they worked with the following grades: 54 with elementary, 24 with middle school, 28 with high school, eight with preschool, and one person was missing data. The participants reported a mean of 14 years in education and a mean of 8.7 years in their current professional role.


Participants completed a survey developed by Brissie and Dansby (2002). It requested demographic information and included questions related to special education teachers' experiences at individualized education program (IEP) meetings. Participants were asked to report the number of IEP meetings they had attended in the last 12 months. The questionnaire asked for the percentage of those meetings that a school psychologist had attended (i.e., none or very few, approximately one-fourth, approximately one-half, approximately three-fourths, almost all or all). Participants were asked to report the percentage of those meetings led by each of the following professionals: school administrator, school psychologist, school counselor, special education coordinator, special education teacher, and "others" (e.g., social workers, diagnosticians, outside consultants). The ratings of nine participants did not equal 100%. Many of these were well above 100% (e.g., 250%); therefore, it appeared some participants did not understand the directions. Because of this apparent confusion, these nine data points were considered missing data. Participants also were asked to rate the helpfulness/importance of the school psychologists' presence at those meetings using a five-point scale (1 = Harmful, 2 = Of no importance, 3 = Of little importance, 4 = Of considerable importance, 5 = Extremely helpful). A copy of the survey is available from the second author.


Participants received a questionnaire by mail containing a cover letter explaining the study and asking for their participation. A prepaid, self-addressed envelope for returning the questionnaire was included. The letter asked recipients to pass the questionnaire to someone in the same profession, if they chose not to participate in the study. The authors concluded that no debriefing was necessary.


Special education teachers reported attending an average of 34.8 IEP meetings a year. School psychologists were reported being present about 37% of those meetings. The participants rated the helpfulness/importance of school psychologists with a mean of 3.8 (SD = .998). The rating was slightly lower than the 4 point rating "of considerable importance." Descriptive statistics of the participants are presented in Table 1.

It also was hypothesized that special education teachers would report that they led more meetings in the last 12 months than any other of the participants of the IEP team. A (2 ? 6) chi-square test was conducted to compare the reported percentage of meetings led by special education teachers to the expected percentage based on participant reports. The chi-square was significant, x^sup 2^ (25, N= 103) = 137.56, p

Additionally, participation in and leadership of IEP meetings by school psychologists positively correlated with ratings of helpfulness/importance by special education teachers (r = .46 and r = .31 respectively, p

A (4 x 1) Welch's ANOVA comparing the reported percentage of meetings the school psychologists led based on grade level was significant,F (3,49) = 4.86, p = .005. Games-Howell follow-up tests did not indicate significance between individual grade levels; however, school psychologists at the middle schools led the greatest percentage of meetings, and school psychologists at the preschools led the smallest percentage of meetings. School psychologists were reported leading the following percentage of meetings: preschool (M= .14), elementary school (M = 5.8), middle school (M = 10.23), and high school (M = 6.08).


Special education teachers described their experiences with individualized education program (IEP) meetings. The information was used to determine who was attending and leading IEP meetings and how helpful/important school psychologists were considered.

The results give some insight into special education teachers' views of school psychologists in the context of IEP meetings and some factors related to those views. These results can be useful as psychologists strive to be seen as important team contributors.

The results indicated that the presence of the school psychologists was viewed as slightly less than "of considerable importance" by special education teachers. The ratings were mildly positive and appear to be similar to the ratings of helpfulness that others have given to school psychologists (Abel & Burke, 1985; oilman & Gabriel, 2004). In the study by Able and Burke, regular and special education teachers rated school psychologists as slightly helpful. Gilman and Gabriel found that teachers rated school psychologists' services to children and teachers as moderately helpful. Although, these studies are not exactly comparable to the present study, they all rate school psychologists positively.

The results supported the hypothesis that special education teachers would lead more meetings than any of the other participants. Martin et al. (2004) agrees that special education teachers typically lead IEP meetings. The special education teacher appears to be the key person in IEP meetings. This is not surprising because special education teachers typically have the most experience with the child and may have the most rapport with the parents.

The number of years that special education teachers had worked in education did not relate to their helpfulness/importance ratings of the presence of school psychologists. It was hypothesized that teachers with more years in education would view the school psychologists as more helpful/important. Negative results, such as these, are difficult to interpret. Although Knoff et al. (1995) reported that teachers with more experience were more satisfied with school psychologists in the context of consultation and Severson, Pickett, and Hetrick (1985) found that teachers with more experience viewed school psychologists as more effective with some populations, teaching experience was not related to perceived school psychologist helpfulness/importance here. It is possible that our focus on IEP meetings impacted teachers' views.

The helpfulness/importance of the school psychologist also was related to the percentage of meetings the school psychologists were reported attending and leading. Within an IEP meeting context, special education teachers may view school psychologists as more helpful if the school psychologists are present to interpret their own assessment results. The present results would support such a conclusion. When school psychologists lead meetings, they not only have contact with the special education teachers, but they also reduce the work of the special education teachers and contribute to the meeting. Thus, playing a leading role may be the critical component in enhancing positive ratings.

The current study helps school psychologists understand how teachers view them and the factors related to those views. Special education teachers viewed school psychologists as important to IEP meetings, and other research has shown that school psychologists are viewed as moderately helpful (Abel & Burke, 1985; oilman & Gabriel, 2004); however, these ratings could still be improved. It appears that school psychologists may improve special education teachers' ratings of them by attending and leading more IEP meetings. By doing so, school psychologists may be regarded as being helpful and important.


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