Private Supports for Adult Students

In our previous blog, we discussed the supports that you can access at a postsecondary educational institution. Services, such as accommodations through a Section 504 Plan (link), must go through the Disability Services or Student Accessibility Services office.  Many postsecondary organizations also provide additional supports that all students can access (link), such as the writing center or counseling center.  There are also many services offered privately within the community. Typically, private services may be closer to the direct instructional services that you received as part of your IEP.

Private Tutoring. There are many different types of tutoring that are provided privately; however, they typically fall into two general categories.

  • General Academic Tutoring. The first type of tutoring for adult students is general academic tutoring. General academic tutoring provides overall coaching on study skills that can have an impact on multiple subject areas and enhance learning outcomes. They may provide you with general learning skills, study skills, test taking skills, tools for homework and assignment completion, brainstorming, editing, and accountability to ensure assignments are completed in a timely manner.
  • Subject-Specific Tutoring. Subject-specific tutors fall into two categories. The first category work with students in a specialized academic subject, such as chemistry, psychology, or physics. This type of tutoring focuses on current work in the specific subject area of the tutor’s expertise. The second category of tutors work with individuals who have deficits in specific foundational skill areas such as reading, written expression, or math that impact global educational functioning. The most common deficit is in the area of reading, which impacts the learner’s ability to achieve across all subjects areas. There are many research-based programs that have been proven to help individuals build their skills in the area of reading. At Achievement Advantage, we provide Wilson Reading System tutoring to support and build reading skills for both K-12 and adult students.

Executive Function Coaching. Executive functions are the self-management system of the brain. Many individuals with ADHD and other related diagnosis have weak executive functioning skills that make it difficult in the college environment. Executive function coaching focuses on teaching specific strategies and tools to improve sustained attention, organization/time management, planning, task initiation, task completion, self-monitoring, and emotional regulation. Mastering these skills has a positive impact on educational, occupational, and social functioning.

Private Therapy. Some students may wish to forego the counseling center at their university or may not have counseling services available to them at the school they attend. In these cases, private therapeutic services may be beneficial. When seeking private therapeutic services, the individual has the ability to choose a therapist that specializes in your specific diagnosis or needs.

Private Evaluation. Another service that adult learners may wish to seek privately is a comprehensive evaluation. Many adults seek private evaluation when they begin to struggle to master the content in a postsecondary setting that may reveal an undiagnosed learning disorder. Other adults seek a private evaluation in order to clarify a previous diagnosis that they feel may be incorrect or need updated documentation to substantiate the presence of a disability. Moreover, some adults may seek an evaluation to provide updated recommendations for accommodations and specific intervention services to address the educational needs that they have.

Knowing all of your service options and seeking the appropriate supports is essential for individuals transitioning from K-12 to adult educational options. When both public and private services are combined, students with disabilities succeed at postsecondary institutions at high rates. Next time we will discuss assistive technology that can further aid adult learners with disabilities succeed beyond high school.



Additional Supports for Adult Students

Last week we shared information about accommodations students with disabilities might need in a postsecondary setting.  While a Section 504 Plan is designed to help you better access the curriculum, you may still find that additional services are required to meet your needs.  Many career centers, colleges, and universities offer a variety of supports that all students can access. 

Disability Services.  In order to obtain accommodations, you will need to contact the office that supports students with disabilities.  They will be able to inform you about their process for requesting accommodations.  They may also have additional services available to you such as on-going meetings with their staff, workshops, or access to assistive technology.  They will also be able to make recommendations about where to find additional services you may need.

Counseling Center.  All students have access to the counseling center, but if you have a disability that affects your mental health, the counseling center can be an invaluable resource.  Most counseling centers have a variety of counselors who specialize in different areas of mental health. 

Medical Center/Clinic.  If you have a disability that affects your health or you need to take medication to address symptoms of a diagnosis, clinics are staffed by doctors and nurses.  In the event that they are unable to meet your needs, they will be able to make an appropriate referral to another professional in the area.

Writing Center.  Writing centers are widely offered in many educational settings.  Staff members will be able to help you at all stages of your writing, depending on your needs.  They can help at the planning, writing, and editing stages.

Academic Departments.  If you are having difficulties in a certain subject area, you should consider speaking with the administrative assistant of that department.  Often times, they may have formalized tutoring hours that you can attend.  If not, they may know of other students who volunteer as tutors.

Communicating with Professors.  While professors are not responsible for providing remediation instruction, they are required to have office hours and are able to answer questions and provide guidance.  If you did not do well on an exam or assignment, make time to meet with your professor and ask them about how you can do better in the future.  If you have an upcoming test, you can ask questions about topics you still are unclear about.  Or if you have an assignment coming due, they can ensure that you are on the right track.  In all cases, when you meet with your professor, you should come prepared.  This means that you should already be doing the work, whether that’s having begun studying or started upcoming assignments, so that you have specific questions. 

While accommodations and other services provided by postsecondary services are necessary and helpful, sometimes adult students need additional services to help them be successful in school and other areas of life.  For the next blog, we will focus on private services students with disabilities may wish to seek outside of their educational organization.

Accommodations for Adult Students

In a previous post, we shared about the differences you will likely see between services and accommodations a student might receive in the K-12 and postsecondary settings.  While students in a college or vocational setting will not be provided direct services to remediate learning deficits like they would with an IEP in the K-12 setting, students with disabilities still have rights that will protect them at the postsecondary level.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act makes it clear that “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  While an IEP and the services it ensures does not continue once you graduate from high school, under Section 504 an individual with a disability is defined as someone with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.  If you are a student with a disability, your postsecondary institution must provide reasonable accommodation to address your specific disability.  The accommodations you may receive will be linked to your areas of need.  Below are a variety of common accommodations that are frequently used by students with disabilities.  It is important that you meet with the person responsible for providing services to students with disabilities at your educational setting.  They will be able to give you more information about all of the accommodations and services they can offer.

Classroom Accommodations

  • Depending on your disability, you will likely need accommodations within the classroom setting.  These may include:
  • Copy of notes.  This may come in the form of a copy of the teacher’s slides or a copy of notes taken by another student in the class.
  • Assistive technology.  This may include things like typing written responses instead of hand writing them to allow you to spell check them.  You may also be able to audio record class lectures.
  • Preferential seating.  This could vary depending on the type of disability you may have.  For example, if you have visual, hearing, or attention issues related to your disability, you may prefer to sit nearest to the point of instruction.  If you experience anxiety or have a medical diagnosis that might require you to leave the room if you are experiencing symptoms, you might prefer to sit near the end of the row closest to the door.
  • Breaks as appropriate.
  • Extra time to complete in-class assignments. This accommodation may be provided if it takes you longer to complete tasks based on your disability.

Testing Accommodations

  • Taking assessments in a reduced distraction environment.
  • Extra time on assessments.  For most disabilities, postsecondary organizations typically allow an additional 50% to complete assessments.
  • Read aloud.  Tests may be read allowed to students who have significant reading deficits or visual impairments. 
  • Typing written responses.
  • For the next blog, we will share about additional services that postsecondary organizations may offer and how to find private services if you need additional supports.

Addressing Unhelpful Thinking Styles: A Coping Strategy for Students Experiencing Anxiety

We are pleased to welcome Katie D’Fantis to the Achievement Advantage Blog.   Katie is an LPC, a board certified music therapist, and an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) clinician who works with teens and adults. She specializes in helping those who struggle with relationship issues, anxiety, and issues of self worth that stem from adverse life events such as grief/loss, abuse, and other traumatic experiences.  You can learn more about Katie's experience and services she offers, by visiting The Balanced Living Center's website.


You can often hear me ask my clients “Where do you feel [that emotion] in your body?” And very often when the emotion they’re feeling is anxiety, my clients say they feel it in their head like “a dark cloud” or “a tornado” or like “static on a television set”. If you have ever struggled with anxiety, then you know that anxiety clouds your thoughts, perceptions and beliefs about yourself, others, and your experiences within the world. I have heard countless stories from my clients who are students and/or professionals about how these unhelpful ways of thinking have gotten in the way of their school work, preparing for a test or presentation, trying something new, or going out with friends on the weekend. As we embark on a new school year - a time when anxiety can run high - I want to share with you a tool that I find myself teaching almost every one of my clients at some point in our work together.

Below is a list of Unhelpful Thinking Styles. These are unhelpful ways of thinking that we all use from time to time and you may find that there are a select few that you use more often. Here are the steps to using this as a coping skill to develop more helpful ways of thinking:

Read through the left column and take note of which unhelpful thinking styles you have used in the past/noticed yourself using presently. Become familiar with the ones you use most often.

Over the next week, just notice when you use an unhelpful thinking style. You will most likely notice you’ve used it after the fact; this is completely normal and is a step in the right direction!

Name It
Once you’ve noticed it, name the unhelpful thinking style. Just naming it and calling it what it is helps to diminish its power in the moment. For example, “I’m totally going to bomb this test! ...oh wait, that was me jumping to conclusions. I always do that before a big test, don’t I?!”

Work To Change It
Now it’s time to familiarize yourself with the right column of the page. These alternative responses are the ideal/more positive ways of thinking.  Over time and with continued work to improve your self-awareness, you’ll become better at noticing when you use these unhelpful thinking styles. Then you can work to change them by substituting the unhelpful thought with the alternative responses. Or, better yet, you’ll be able to anticipate the unhelpful thought, stop it before it happens, and the alternative responses will become your default way of thinking.

Wood, J.C. (2010).  The cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for personality disorders: A step-by-step program.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Wood, J.C. (2010). The cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for personality disorders: A step-by-step program. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Mastering these steps will take practice. Don’t forget to have compassion for yourself and to be patient. Think about it this way, you’ve likely spent years perfecting these unhelpful styles as your default, so naturally it would take time to change your default way of thinking. Practice makes permanent.

Wishing you all a successful start to the school year!

A Counselor's Take on Depression in Adult Students

We are excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Lauren O’Brien, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who works with older children through adult clients at Lifestance/PsychBC in Fairlawn, Ohio.  While she works with many clients with a variety of needs, Lauren specializes in treating clients with depression and anxiety.  You can learn more about her background and services by visiting her Facebook page or her Psychology Today page.  We hope you find her insight helpful!

“Where does depression hurt?  Everywhere.”  I think about this commercial when working with clients because, although the verbiage seems cliché, it is quite true.  Even though the commercial may be talking about everywhere in regards to the physical body, when working with my clients we discuss how “everywhere” can refer to many facets of life.  For the sake of this blog post, let’s use school and work.  Depression is often a vicious cycle of minimal motivation, disinterest in self-care or hygiene, withdrawal, decrease in self-esteem or self-worth, and the cycle continues. 

Let’s put this into play with a fictional student named Rob.  Rob has low self-esteem and recently has been experiencing depressed mood.  He has not been feeling well and has minimal motivation to do ADL’s, or activities of daily living. Rob has skipped his morning shower for the last few days, and this morning is disgusted with his greasy hair and unpleasant body odor.  He normally plays softball in a recreational league on Tuesdays and Thursdays but has felt that the past two weeks the team is better off without him.  He has turned down many opportunities over the last two weeks to spend time with friends and has begun to miss classes at his university.

Using the example of Rob, it appears he struggled with depressed mood and ultimately it affected his self-esteem, relationships, school status and probably several other facets of his life.  I can only imagine that if Rob’s cycle would continue without help, it would continue to hinder social interactions, hygiene, relationships and jeopardize his status as a student at his university. Depressive thoughts can contribute to irrational thought processes, and those thoughts can trigger emotions and behaviors. In therapy, I like to use thought logs to assist in challenging irrational beliefs.  A thought log looks something like this:

  1. Event: Received F  on Test
  2. Thought: I'm the stupidest person that has ever existed
  3. Consequence (Emotion or Behavior): Embarrassment, Sadness, Shame, Withdrawal from Classes
  4. Alternative Response: OK- I bombed that test.  How can I better prepare myself for next time?

I challenge my clients by utilizing an exercise like this in daily life to help alter thought processes. 

Coping skills can assist in diminishing symptoms. Some of the coping skills that I recommend to clients are keeping a schedule, exercising, journaling, staying involved with friends and family members, and reaching out to a trusted person when the thoughts get the best of you.

I feel there are times in every student’s life where they may experience symptoms of depression; that does not necessarily mean this student has a depression diagnosis but is experiencing depressive symptoms.  Even if you don’t have a diagnosis, it is important to seek out the support you need.  Partnering with a mental health provider can often help you work through periods of depressed mood.  Most postsecondary education institutes have counseling centers that provide services, or you may prefer to find a counselor in a private practice setting.  If you do have a diagnosis, you can visit your institution’s Accessibility Office, who can help you secure appropriate accommodations.  Your mental health provider will be able to write them a letter including information about how your diagnosis impacts your life and what supports you need to be a successful student.

Depression can become overwhelming and at times can lead to suicidal thoughts or plans.  Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-34 as reported by the Center for Disease Control.  There are resources for students who feel suicidal.  Thanks to Logic, the Grammy nominated artist, the national suicide hotline has become more recognizable.  It is 1-800-273-8255.

If Rob sounds like you or someone you know, there is help.  Should you need further assistance, there are plenty of therapists out there who are willing to help, including myself.  Please know that depression is workable, and with the right support and assistance, you can work through the symptoms.  I’m here for you, you are not alone.

IEP: Specifically Designed Instruction

In our last blog, we discussed the central component of an effective IEP: SMART goals. This week, we will discuss the complimentary portion of the IEP, which is Section 7. This section spells out the specially designed instruction, sometimes abbreviated SDI, that your child will receive to reach the objectives and goals that are described in Section 6. This section outlines what services the child will get, who is responsible for providing these services, the location of the services, and the amount of time that the child will receive these services.

We cannot express the importance of this section enough; this section explains what special education will look like for your child. Each area of specially designed instruction will be linked with the goal or goals that it is intended to address. The most important portion of the section is what specially designed services will be provided to your child. It is imperative that these supports are research-based interventions and services. However, it is not enough that they be research-based. The research must show that they improve the specific deficits that your child is identified as having. There must be a direct link between the need, the goal, and the service that is based on best practice and is supported by empirical literature.

Who is providing that service to your child is just as important. This is frequently driven by the location of services. If your child will receive their services using an inclusion model, typically these services will be the responsibility of the general education teacher and the intervention specialist. If your child is to receive their services in a resource room or self-contained classroom, these services are typically the sole responsibility of the intervention specialist. If your child qualifies for related services, then the provider may be a speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or specialized expert such as an orientation or mobility specialist.

Another extremely important factor is the amount of time that your child will be receiving these services. The amount of time your child receives specially designed instruction should be directly related to the intensity of need that the child has. The more intensive the need, the more direct special education services the child should receive. Additionally, the more goals a child has, the more special education services they should receive. After the team details the instructional, behavioral, and functional goals in section 7, the same process will be repeated for any related services that your child qualifies to receive.

Next week we will be discussing the second half of Section 7, which is accommodations and modifications.

Difference between an IEP and a Section 504 Plan

Although an Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and an Individual Educational Program (IEP) are required for a child to receive special education and related services, there is another type of plan that is available to support children with disabilities: A Section 504 Plan. This is an individualized plan that serves as a blueprint for specific accommodations and changes to the learning environment that a child requires in order to have access to the curriculum. Under Section 504, there is no list of approved disabling conditions; therefore, it covers a wide variety of disabling conditions. Instead, the law describes a person with a disability as someone who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,” has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Frequently, children with diagnoses of attention disorders and medical conditions receive school supports through a Section 504 Plan. Major life activities can include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, and working. Common accommodations found on a 504 Plan include: frequent breaks, extended time, small group testing, and prompting/cueing. An evaluation is required to determine if the child meets these criteria and is eligible to receive accommodations through a 504 Plan. Typically, these plans are reviewed and updated on a yearly basis to ensure that they continue to meet the child’s needs.

There are two defining differences between a child who has a 504 Plan and a child who has an IEP: the laws that regulate these plans and the services outlined on the plan. The first major difference is the law under which they are housed. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) are federal laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and provide protection for those individuals. It is under these laws that individuals with disabilities are afforded Section 504 Plans. Individuals from birth to death are covered under these non-discrimination laws. Therefore, the accommodations that are necessary to level the playing field for the individual are provided in a variety of settings across the individual’s lifespan. The special education services outlined on an IEP are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is the federal law that ensures special education services are provided to children with disabilities. IDEA has more stringent eligibility criteria; a student must meet the definition of 1 of 13 disability categories and must require specially designed instruction in order to make educational progress. When a student meets eligibility criteria under IDEA, that is when a IEP is created. IDEA is a special education law specifically for school-aged students. Individuals are no longer protected under IDEA once they either graduate from high school or are 21 years of age. This means the protections of IDEA do not extend to college and adult life. Many times individuals who were provided services under an IEP K-12 education are transitioned to Section 504 Plans in college.

The second difference is the content of the plans. A Section 504 Plan is designed to provide equal access to individuals with disabilities and level the playing field with non-disabled people to mitigate discrimination. Therefore, Section 504 Plans are made up of specific accommodation supports for the child. It also specifies who is responsible to provide each support and the individuals who are responsible for ensuring that the plan is implemented. The purpose of an IEP is to design an individualized special education program with specific learning goals and objectives and describe the specially designed services that the child requires to meet those goals. An IEP also provides accommodations that would be incorporated into a 504 Plan, but it goes beyond accommodations with specialized educational services. The law specifies many more components that must be included in an IEP. The contents of an IEP were covered in our last blog. Essentially, a 504 Plan provides accommodations and supports in order to provide the individual access to the educational environment, while an IEP provides specific instructional supports in order to teach specific skills to meet measurable educational and functional goals.

Eligibility under either law requires that the school must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for the student and provide additional legal protections based on the identification of child as having a disability. Due to the fact that Section 504’s has a broader definition of disability than IDEA’s definition, this means that many more children are provided protection under this law and are eligible for a plan under Section 504 than are eligible for an IEP. Therefore, many children who are not eligible for special education services or the team does not believe that specialized instruction is necessary are referred to determine their eligibility under Section 504. A Section 504 Plan can provide the appropriate level of support for a student who requires the support of accommodations in order to level the playing field to ensure that they have equal access to the curriculum.

Differences Between Public Education and Private Practice Evaluations

Having worked in both public education and private practice as school psychologists, we are often asked about the difference between school and private practice evaluations.  As with most things, there are pros and cons for each.  In this post, we will share some information about each to help you make the best choice for your own situation.

Public School Special Education Evaluations

You have the right to request an evaluation from the school district in which your school is located.  The school district has 30 days to respond to your request.  When you speak with the school district, it is important to provide as much information possible about your areas of concern.  A school district may deny your request if they do not suspect a disability based on student data (assessment scores, grades, etc.).  If the team agrees that an assessment should take place, it will be at no cost to the student’s family, and it will be completed by the education team within 60 days of signing consent.  When the team goes over the results, they will determine if the student meets the definition of a student with a disability, as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  These are educational diagnoses that may differ from medical diagnoses that may be given by counselors, psychologists, or doctors.  Essentially, if the student is determined to have a disability, they will then be provided special education services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Private Practice Evaluation

If you choose to pursue a private evaluation, you typically will be responsible for the cost.  While this can be a deterrent for some people, it also allows client additional flexibility and control that they likely will not have in a public school evaluation.  This means that you will be able to choose who conducts the evaluation and your concern drives the entire evaluation process.  You will also receive a diagnosis based on the information found in the evaluation.  As mentioned before, it is important to note that educational and medical diagnoses do differ, and only a school team can decide whether a student qualifies for special education.  However, they will generally use the information obtained during a private evaluation during their evaluation process. 

Additionally, you may get an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) from a private practice at your school’s expense.  If the district conducts an evaluation and you disagree with the findings, you have the right to request an IEE, which is completed by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district.  Upon completing the IEE, the school team reconvenes to consider the new results and determine whether the student qualifies for special education services.

While we now work in private practice, it has been very helpful to have a background in public education as school psychologists.  With our experience, we are able to conduct evaluations that are accepted by the school team and provide recommendations that educators can easily put in place within the school setting.  It also allows us to better advocate for our clients since with are familiar with what is available in a school setting.  If you are pursuing a private evaluation, please consider the background and reputation of the practitioner so that you are able to get the most helpful services possible.  Those who have worked in public education or who frequently conduct evaluations for school age students will likely be an asset during the entire process.

What is a school psychologist?

In honor of School Psychology Awareness Week, we would like to highlight our chosen profession! At its core, school psychology is a helping profession, which lends itself more to a week of awareness than appreciation-awareness about all of the ways school psychologists are trained to help reduce educational barriers and improve outcomes for clients and their families. According to the National Association of School Psychologist website, school psychologists' graduate training develops knowledge and skills in the following areas: data collection and analysis; assessment; progress monitoring; school-wide practices to promote learning; resilience and risk factors; consultation and collaboration; academic/learning interventions; mental health interventions;  behavioral interventions; instructional support; prevention and intervention services; child preparedness, response, and recovery; family-school-community collaboration; diversity in development and learning; research and program evaluation; and professional ethics, school law, and systems (NASP, 2014). 

School Psychology Training

School psychologists receive graduate training in education and psychology aimed to develop skills in psychological theory, educational strategies, and assessment. Training includes both coursework and practical experience. School psychologists take classes in child development, assessment, diagnosis, educational skill development, academic interventions, social/emotional interventions, problem-solving consultation, group and individual counseling, diversity, special education laws, and ethical issues.

Currently, there two degree tracks that school psychologists complete: specialist-level or a doctorate. A school psychologist with a specialist-level degree completes at least 60 credits, which takes three years of full-time study, and typically earns either an Educational Specialist degree (Ed.S.) or a Psychology Specialist degree (Psy.S.). Some individuals who received their training in the early stages of the profession may hold a Master's degree. To earn a doctoral degree, school psychologists complete at least 90 credits and write a dissertation, which generally takes between 5 and 7 years. Both those with specialist-level and doctoral degrees end their training with a year-long 1200-hour supervised internship. In addition to competing the coursework and practical components, school psychologists must also pass the Praxis School Psychologist examination (NASP, 2014).

Although all school psychologists receive similar training, work setting often drives the skill set that they use most often. School psychologists may work in public schools, private schools, independent private practice, hospitals, preschools, school district administration offices, school-based health and mental-health centers, community-based day treatment or residential clinics, and juvenile justice programs. We will cover public schools, private schools, and private practice, where the greatest number of school psychologists work. The information below is based on school psychology experience in Ohio. It is important to note that each it may vary depending on the specific state you reside and its laws.

School Psychologists in Public Schools

The majority of school psychologists (81%) work in public school settings (NASP, 2017). These school psychologists are licensed by the State Board of Education, and their main role is to support students academically, behaviorally, and social-emotionally within the school setting.

A large part of supporting students happens through Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tier Systems of Support (MTSS) frameworks. Both RTI and MTSS, which are similar, are tiered systems that use a problem-solving approach to provide increasing levels of support for school-related needs. Fully integrated RTI or MTSS systems address both academic and social-emotional/behavioral concerns.

In the academic RTI/MTSS system, school psychologists use their knowledge of child development, academic skill development, and grade-level curriculum to ensure that effective instructional practices are driving instruction within the general education classroom. School psychologist also use data to determine which students still need additional academic interventions and supports despite receiving quality instruction in the classroom.

On the behavioral side of RTI and MTSS, school psychologists work to implement a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional, and behavioral interventions and supports though the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework. Within this infrastructure, school psychologists and their school teams create school-wide supports to promote healthy social-emotional development and appropriate school behavior through positive strategies. Similar to academic supports, behavioral and social-emotional interventions intensify based on the student's response to the supports provided. If a student fails to respond to the school-wide behavior plan, the student might need an individualized plan. School psychologists are uniquely trained to conduct Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA). During FBAs, data is collected to determine the triggers and consequences of specific behaviors to find out why a student behaves in a certain way and how the behavior is being reinforced. Based on the results, school psychologists and team members create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to reduce the unwanted behavior by providing ways in which a student can get his/her needs met while behaving in a more positive and appropriate manner. School psychologists may also provide individual or group counseling to students through the intervention process.

School psychologists' skills allow them, along with a team, to design an intervention plan, monitor the student's progress, and evaluate if intervention is being provided with fidelity to determine whether or not a student has responded to the interventions. Based on the team's findings, after receiving intensive interventions, a student may be referred for an evaluation if the team suspects a disability.

School psychologists in the public schools can assess students for a variety of reasons, but the majority of the time they are conducting special education evaluations. School psychologists serve as the team chairperson and case manager of psychoeducational evaluations, known as an Evaluation Team Reports (ETR). These reports are referred to as an ETR because a team approach is used to determine if a student has an educational disability under one of the 13 disability categories defined in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The school psychologist and other evaluators on the team provide a description of the child's educational needs and the implications that those needs have on instruction and progress monitoring. Based on those needs and implications, an Individual Educational Program (IEP) is created for the student with specific goals the student will achieve the following year and the services that they need to meet those goals. 

Despite having many responsibilities in a public school setting, the child remains the school psychologist's main focus. Advocating for the best interest of the student is the foundation of all work that a school psychologist does. Family involvement is essential, so a large part of student advocacy involves collaborating with the family. School psychologists also work to link students and families to outside services to ensure that the student’s needs are being met.

School Psychologists in Private Schools

The role of school psychologists in the private school setting vary greatly. In private schools, their role is typically shaped by the type of students the school serves and what both the school and individual students need.

School Psychologists in Private Practice

School psychologists who work in private practice only need to be licensed by the State Board of Psychology. Most individuals engaged in private practice have licenses from the State Board of Education and the State Board of Psychology.

To gain a license from the State Board of Psychology, a school psychologist must have four years of experience working as a school psychologist and pass an oral exam to demonstrate understanding of laws governing school psychologists. This additional license allows those who work in private practice to provide diagnoses within their areas of expertise.

Depending on their focus, those who work in private practice primarily use their expertise in assessment to conduct comprehensive psychoeducational evaluations. Such evaluations include assessment of intellectual ability, learning patterns, achievement, motivation, behavior, or personality factors directly related to learning problems for both children and adults. These evaluations are conducted based on client self-referral. While assessments are chosen by the school psychologist, the driving force behind the assessment is the client’s presenting concern.

In a school setting, a school psychologist is conducting a psychoeducational evaluation to determine if the student has an educational disability that needs to be addressed through special education. In a private practice, a school psychologist is evaluating based on the diagnostic criteria of DSM-5 or ICD-10 to determine if the client has a disabling condition. A private school psychologist can provide a diagnosis and make recommendations regarding disability categories that the school should assess, but only a school team can determine if a student qualifies for special education services.

School psychologists in private practice also frequently complete Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs). IEEs are evaluations conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district. If a parent disagrees with the outcome of the evaluation that a school district has completed, the parent can request an IEE. School psychologists in private practice are uniquely positioned to complete IEEs because of their familiarity with both DSM diagnostic criteria and educational disability criteria under IDEA.

As part of an evaluation, school psychologists in private practice incorporate recommendations that can be used in educational planning. For K-12 students, this may include strategies for the child's teacher, private tutor, or family members to use at home, such as accommodations and/or direct instruction strategies. For adult clients, recommendations may include accommodations for a Section 504 Plan in the classroom setting or standardized professional assessments as well as strategies/supports for the client to implement themselves or seek out from professionals.

Within their private practice, some school psychologists may provide services that are recommended. School psychologists' training prepares them to provide counseling, academic intervention, behavior intervention, and tutoring services.

They may also provide advocacy services. Having worked both in public schools and private practice, school psychologists understand the complicated special education process. As advocates, school psychologists are available to attend meetings with clients and their educational team to help guide them through the process and act as a bridge between clients and school staff to ensure that their client's educational needs are met so they can achieve their fullest potential.

No matter what setting school psychologists are employed in, their main goal is to help individuals thrive within their educational setting.

For more information on school psychologists, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists website at  

National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). A Career in School Psychology: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from

National Association of School Psychologists. (2014). Who Are School Psychologists. Retrieved from


Hello, and welcome to our new blog! 

We are Greer and Jen, Directors and School Psychologists at Achievement Advantage Assessment & Services. 

We are excited for the opportunity to bring an additional resource to parents, clients, and educators by providing blogs related to education and learning exceptionalities, including information about special education law, the evaluation process, instructional practices to best meet the needs of students with learning differences, and much more!

Additionally, we will be inviting guest bloggers who work in the education, mental health, and medical fields to share about their areas of expertise.

Our goal is to provide information that you will find beneficial.  Do you have a topic you would like to learn more about?  Please let us know by contacting us via email at  We welcome your input!