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History of School Psychology at Penn State

School Psychology at Penn State

Taken from: French, J. L. (1987). School psychology at the Pennsylvania State University since 1931. Professional School Psychology, 2, 81-92.


Introduction to School Psychology at Penn State

In 1931, Robert G. Bernreuter was brought to Pennsylvania State University to teach, conduct research, and develop a clinic that would provide psychological services to schoolchildren and students in the university, and consultation with their teachers. With the clinic came new courses to prepare students for service in the clinic and later in the schools. In 1937, Bernreuter took the lead in developing certification requirements for school psychologists and state regulations for their employment. Enrollment in these programs expanded for a while but decreased during the war and later, when the emphasis in psychological services shifted from children to adults with financing provided by the Veterans Administration. Following booming school enrollments in the early 1960s, school psychology at Penn State was reorganized as an independent graduate program that was quickly accredited by all appropriate bodies.

Introduction to School Psychology

School psychology dates from 1896 when Lightmer Witmer opened a clinic at the University of Pennsylvania to facilitate the work of teachers who were treating children with learning disorders. School psychology at Penn State had a similar beginning in 1931, when Will Grant Chambers, Dean of the School of Education who had studied under American Psychological Association (APA) Presidents G. Stanley Hall and John Dewey, created a faculty position that included directing a psychoeducational clinic. Chambers, who had been impressed by the services provided to teachers by psychological clinic staffs at the University of Pennsylvania and in an increasing number of universities across the country, wanted to provide such help for schoolchildren in central Pennsylvania.

Instead of turning to Witmer, the acknowledged leader in the East, Chambers sought a recommendation from the head of Stanford's psychology department, Lewis Terman. His nominee was Robert G. Bernreuter, an advisee who was just completing work on a thesis involving the creation of The Personality Inventory, a scale that became the generic title of such scales in practice today. Bernreuter sought an endorsement from E.K. Strong with whom he was assisting with the development of the Vocational Interest Blank. Strong had obtained help from Bruce V. Moore, the head of the psychology faculty at Penn State, in conceptualizing the interest inventory when they were both at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

PhDs encountered quite a bit of difficulty in obtaining positions in the 1930s. Bernreuter was the last Stanford PhD to get a regular, full-time position during the depression. Although Bernreuter's salary was guaranteed, he had to teach extension courses for two thirds of his first-year salary and one third of his second to cover the payroll until there was sufficient money in the general fund from state appropriations. He was prepared to direct a psychology clinic by his faculty mentors and in the two years he spent with Stanley D. Porteus at the University of Hawaii clinic.

In the Beginning - A Clinic

At Penn State, Bernreuter introduced psychology courses concerning intellectual assessment and exceptional children; these supplemented those in educational, abnormal, and experimental psychology. He also taught measurement courses for teachers. Psychology and education were joined in one department and housed in the "Old Beta fraternity house" in the 1930s. For its first 5 years, the Psychoeducational Clinic was located in the attic. William M. Lepley, then a graduate student and later an outstanding Penn State professor who emphasized learning theory and motivation, was also housed in the same room for a while. Lepley received the first PhD in psychology at Penn State in 1934, two years after the graduate major was instituted.

The Emergence of Specialties

Until 1938, emphases in psychology were not designated by specialty. Four or five persons a year in the mid-1930s graduated with degrees in psychology including Benjamin S. Bloom (1942). In 1936, Laura Murphy was the first student to earn a PhD who later became a school psychologist.

Certification of School Psychologists From 1937

The year before requirements were designated for the specialties, Bernreuter was on leave from Penn State to assist the Division of Special Education in the state education agency (SEA). Of five major changes affecting psychologists statewide that Bernreuter introduced during the 1936-37 school year, four were implemented and three are still in place....In addition to establishing regulations for certifying school psychologists and for their appointment in the schools and legislation requiring their use in decisions about special education placement, Bernreuter prepared and obtained introduction of a law requiring generic licensing of psychologists by a board of examiners. Although willing to regulate the entry of psychologists to work in the schools in 1937, the Pennsylvania legislature did not pass legislation regulating entry to practice in the private sector until 40 years later.

Prior to creating certification and employment for school psychologists, the Pennsylvania State Council on Education had established a system whereby "mental clinics" in colleges and universities would be allowed to provide psychoeducational diagnosis and prognosis. Penn State's clinic was approved; it was directed by Bernreuter.

Certification as a public school psychological examiner or school psychologist in 1937 required graduation from an approved college or university, the completion of one year of graduate work, and the completion of 36 or 66 semester hours of work. Courses were required in five general areas: general and theoretical psychology, psychometric techniques, other specialized techniques, related courses, and clinical practice.

When Bernreuter returned to Penn State from the SEA, Dean Chambers had retired and Marion Trabue, who had studied with Edward Thorndike and who belonged to APA Divisions 13, 14, 15, and 17 had been appointed in his place. Bernreuter and the Psychoeducational Clinic were moved to two rooms in the top floor of Old Main. From this location, the clinic staff provided group testing and most of the individual testing for the local schools as well as services from the clinic offices.

Production of school psychologists increased across the state but about one third of the first supervisors of special education (i.e., school psychologists) held degrees from Penn State. About one third of the first county school psychologists and at least half of the school psychologists employed in school districts were women. However, married women had a difficult time finding employment in the 1930s. Laura Murphy received her PhD in 1936, but could not find work until 1937, when she was hired as a special education teacher. In those days, many boards of education were reluctant, if not unwilling, to hire a married woman because unmarried women and men were considered to be more in need of employment.

Post-World War II Expansion of Services

Following enthusiasm for employing school psychologists in the late 1930s came World War II. Many of the men, including Bernreuter, and some of the women went to war. When the war was over, enrollment in higher education began to grow rapidly. In the late 1940s, the clinic had a professional staff of eight, including one psychiatrist, and 75 practicum students from each graduate year level in clinical and/or school psychology.

With peace, emphasis in psychological services shifted from helping schoolchildren to helping veterans adjust to civilian status and to helping college students. In this postwar period, Bernreuter's interests turned from psychology in the public schools to psychology in the colleges. These interests were supported by President Milton Eisenhower and other university administrators. A testing and counseling program for all entering university students was inaugurated at Penn State and served as a model for many other institutions.

The Lean Years While Adult Services Expanded

By the mid 1950s, Bernreuter had been promoted to higher administrative roles in the university. Financial aid for graduate students in psychology came primarily from VA traineeships and from graduate assistantships in the Division of Counseling. Research funds were not yet readily available to psychologists. With these funding sources little aid was available for students planning to work in the public schools and the once thriving school emphasis was essentially without students in the early 1950s.

Ellen V. Piers was brought in to revive the program in 1956. The few clinical students expressing interest in children were channeled to Piers who, with the assistance of Deno G. Thevaos and F. L. "Pete" Whaley from the educational/developmental faculty group and Leon Gorlow and William U. Snyder from the clinical group, provided most of the faculty advisement. At Penn State, Piers developed the Piers-Harris Scale for which she is well-known. Employment in schools was not plentiful for psychologists. The Penn State Placement Service recorded an average of only 14 vacancies a year in 1954-56, but 104 a year in 1962-64, as school enrollments boomed because of the increased birth rate, the national commitment to educate handicapped children, and cultural pressures on youths to complete high school.

The psychology department that had been in an administrative unit with education since 1910 studied itself and was subjected to external reviews in the early 1960s. The university was reorganizing. Three core colleges were formed with seven professional colleges. The Department of Psychology voted to enter one of the core colleges and by two votes chose the College of Liberal Arts over the College of Science in 1963. However, units with such titles as Educational Psychology, Special Education, and Counselor Education remained in the College of Education to expand into independent departments.

Reorganization, Independence, and Growth

In 1963, external reviewers had recommended that school psychology become an intercollege program bridging the psychology department and the other units just named. In September, 1964, Joseph L. French joined the Penn State faculty to reorganize school psychology along the lines suggested and to chair its faculty. A proposal for an independent major was submitted in 1965 and approved in time to admit the first students in fall of 1965.

School psychology remained an intercollege program for about 10 years. Bartell W. Cardon was hired in 1966, to add a recently prepared faculty member from a graduate program in school psychology (Minnesota). When Cardon moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1969, he was replaced by David A. Sabatino, an expert in securing external funding. Soon James E. Ysseldyke was added with an appointment also in special education.

In 1976, the College of Education was reorganized to cope with financial retrenchment under its recently appointed Dean, Henry J. Hermanowicz. With only personnel support and no funding coming from the College of Liberal Arts, School Psychology was adopted by the College of Education. In the reorganization of the College, departments were abolished and larger administrative units, divisions, were created. School psychology retained its independent program status; that is, the "professor-in-charge" continued to relate directly to the graduate dean on program matters such as admission of students, appointment of committees to guide doctoral study of students, signing for the department on theses, and on matters relating to governance of the graduate school. School Psychology became one of four graduate programs and one undergraduate (Rehabilitation Education) program administered in the Division of Counseling and Educational Psychology: Counselor Education, Counseling Psychology, Educational Psychology, and School Psychology. Also with the reorganization, school psychology was assigned two positions that were similar to postdoctoral fellows. Program accreditation was received from the American Psychological Association (APA) on June 19, 1976. In 1980, a tenure track position was filled by Robert L. Hale from the University of Nebraska.

The College of Education was again reorganized in 1990. The division structure was abandoned in favor of a departmental focus. School psychology merged with education psychology and special education to form the Department of Educational and School Psychology and Special Education. This administrative structure continues today. Program accreditation for the doctoral program in school psychology was obtained from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in 1991. Re-accreditation was periodically obtained from the American Psychological Association, most recently in 1996.

Over the past 20 years the total full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty has varied from 3.0 to 4.0, with two professors being considered full time in School Psychology during the early years and three in later years with the remainder of the total FTE coming in 10%-15% units from the secondary faculty. An historical summary of faculty appointments are presented in Table 1.

The Penn State program in school psychology retains its accreditation by APA and NASP. Additionally, it continues to be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and, as a component of the College of Education, by NCATE.

Chronology of School Psychology Faculty at Penn State

Directors of Training

Robert G. Bernreuter - 1931-1948

Ila H. Gehman - 1948-1954

Ellen V. Piers - 1956-1964

Joseph L. French - 1964-1996

Marley W. Watkins - 1996-2005

Barbara A. Schaefer - 2005-2007

James C. DiPerna - 2007-Present

Professors With Primary Appointments

Bartell W. Cardon - 1966-1968


David A. Sabatino - 1969-1974

Albert K. Mastantuono - 1970-1973

James E. Ysseldyke - 1971-1975

Eric J. Hatch - 1976-1978

Stephen J. Bagnato - 1978-1980

Robert L. Hale - 1980-Present

Mary Gail Becker - 1986-1991

Rick J. Short - 1992-1993

Frank C. Worrell - 1994-2003

Marley W. Watkins - 1995-2007

Barbara A. Schaefer - 1997-Present

James C. DiPerna - 2003-Present

Beverly J. Vandiver - 2004-2013

Shirley A. Woika - 2007-Present

Teresa P. Clark - 2010-Present