New Brunswick’s college of psychologists is speaking out against portions of Bill 35, An Act Respecting Empowering the School System, that they say would allow some teachers to administer and score psychoeducational assessments.
Psychoeducational assessments refer to testing performed by psychologists to identify learning disabilities and other neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The legislation, introduced on March 17, would allow teachers with a master’s degree approved by the minister, who completes additional training, to administer and score certain tests in order to develop personalized learning plans.
Mandy McLean, executive director of the college, says the legislation misrepresents the complicated and wholistic process that go into assessing children for these types of disorders.
“It just shows a lack of understanding of the process. It says that teachers can administer, they can score, they can interpret the results of the test,” McLean said.
“That’s just one piece … teachers aren’t trained in the mental health piece.”
McLean said that other mental health issues, like depression or anxiety can impact test results. The college is worried that having teachers create learning plans without the diagnosis of a psychologist could lead to children being labelled with learning disabilities they may not have.
“Psychologists are in school for 8 to 10 years, they don’t just do one year of training and then start doing psychoeducational assessments,” McLean said.
Psychologists are also concerned about the lack of consultation on the changes. McLean said the college wasn’t notified until the day the legislation was introduced and didn’t meet with the department of education until the day after.
“This is a major change, not a minor one,” she said. “We were blindsided.”
Education Minister Dominic Cardy called that claim, as well as concerns over misdiagnoses, “rubbish.”
Cardy said the department has had various meetings with the college of psychologists on the issue and that when invited to work with the department to find ways to cut the waitlist, they declined.
McLean said they have met with the department on the issue, but were never told that legislation was coming.
The intent of that legislation, Cardy said, is to allow resource teachers to put together personalized learning plans for students, not to diagnose them with learning disabilities.
“We have 25 or so resource teaches who we’re looking at to be providing assistance and this is in pursuit of providing personalized learning plans that will meet those student’s educational needs, this is not about diagnosis, not about taking work from psychologists,” he told reporters.
Cardy said that some kids wait for psychoeducational assessments for as long as two years and the hope is that using teachers can cut down that waitlist, while freeing up psychologists for other work.
“To allow our massively overburdened school psychologists to continue their incredibly important work, to work on mental health challenges and other areas that are very close to their scope of work and can’t be replaced by teachers,” he said.
New Brunswick has been grappling with a shortage of school psychologists for years. Cardy said that just eight of the 36 school psychologist positions in the Anglophone system are currently filled.
McLean said the legislation is a misguided attempt to attack that issue.
“How would you deal with a patient that needed a cardiac surgeon for a heart surgery and you say no, we don’t have any available, we’re just going to get your family physician to do that,” she said.
“Would that be OK?”
The college has been working with the department of health on a recruitment strategy for some time, which McLean said is yielding good results. But pay and working conditions are still major issues impacting recruitment and retention efforts.
“The issue is, 100 per cent, salary and working conditions,” McLean said.
“School psychologists in New Brunswick can drive from Moncton to Amherst and make $20,000-$30,000 more a year.”
Second reading of the bill could happen Tuesday and McLean said they are hoping to see it fail.