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National survey elevates voices of school counselors in education reform efforts

Heather Rudow December 5, 2011

One of the largest-ever national surveys of school counselors suggests that these counselors are ready to be more proactive in students’ lives, while also helping them to bridge the gap between college and career readiness.

The National Survey of School Counselors, released Nov. 15 at collegeboard.org and civicenterprises.net, was a collaborative effort among the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center’s National Office of School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA), Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research and Associates to elevate the voices of school counselors and help encourage much-needed education reform, said Patricia Martin, NOSCA’s assistant vice president.

“The counseling profession is at a crossroads in terms of its role in education reform, and we need all hands on deck to educate our way out of this economic crisis,” she said. “Our nation must help ensure that one of its greatest resources – our school counselors – become central to our education reform movement to help accelerate progress in all of our schools, boost student success and resume our place in the world as an educational leader. NOSCA and the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center commissioned this survey to more deeply understand the perspectives of school counselors and give them a much-needed public voice.”

The survey, titled “Counseling at a Crossroads: The Perspectives and Promise of School Counselors in American Education,” consisted of 1,327 middle school counselors and 3,981 high school counselors, making it one of the largest national surveys of these education professionals, Martin said. She added that school counselors are critical to the College Board’s mission, which is to ensure that every student in the United States has access to a high-quality education and is prepared to succeed in college.

“School counselors are on the front lines in our schools and are high-value resources for our students,” she said. “They have a unique viewpoint to offer and take a holistic approach to guiding our students toward college and career readiness. School counselors are an underutilized resource.”

And, Martin added, the survey found that counselors want to be utilized even more than they currently are. Although 74 percent of counselors described their unique role as being advocates who create pathways and offer support to ensure that all students have opportunities to achieve postsecondary goals, only 42 percent of counselors said their schools take full advantage of this role.

NOSCA has broken down some of the findings from the survey into four key areas:

 

1) Counselors see a broken system in need of reform.

Of the participants, eight in 10 reported that a top mission in schools should be ensuring that all students completing 12th grade are ready to succeed in college and careers. But only 30 percent of all school counselors surveyed, and only 19 percent of counselors working in schools in areas of high poverty, see this as their school’s mission in reality.

 

2) Counselors provide unique, underutilized contributions to schools

Seventy-five percent of counselors said they would like to spend more time on targeted activities promoting student success, including career counseling and exploration. Sixty-four percent wanted to spend more time on student academic planning, and 56 percent supported building a college-going culture. Even 59 percent of the middle school counselors and 60 percent of the public school counselors said they wanted to spend more time building a college-going culture.

3) Counselors are supportive of certain accountability measures

The survey found that all counselors, even those working in middle schools, want to be held accountable for the future success of their students. The majority of high school counselors said they endorse certain accountability measures as fair and appropriate in assessing counselor effectiveness, including measuring their own success using methods such as transcript audits of graduation readiness (62 percent), completion of college prep sequence (61 percent), students gaining access to advanced classes and tests (60 percent), high school graduation rates (57 percent) and college application rates (57 percent).

4) Counselors contribute to career and college readiness.

Ninety-five percent of the counselors surveyed were in favor of assuming leadership of efforts to provide students what they need to prepare for college. The counselors were also in favor of NOSCA’s eight components of college and career readiness counseling: college aspirations; academic planning for college and career readiness; enrichment and extracurricular engagement; college and career exploration and selection processes; college and career assessments; college affordability planning; college and career admission processes; and transition from high school graduation to college enrollment. When provided with this framework, 72 percent of counselors rated college and career exploration and selection processes as very important. An equal amount rated college and career admission processes as very important, and 71 percent rated academic planning for college and career readiness as very important.

“Personally, for me, the report provides concrete data showing that school counselors are a grossly underutilized and under-recognized resource for school improvement,” said Scott Barstow, director of public policy and legislation for the American Counseling Association.  “The findings also point to a need to strengthen counselor education and training.”

Martin said NOSCA was extremely pleased with the results of the survey.

“While there were some expected outcomes, there were a few things that stood out,” she said. “For example, counselors’ willingness to have some measure of accountability was something we hadn’t seen before, but the results of the study show us that more than 6 in 10 counselors support accountability measures and incentives for counselors to meet the 12th-grade college and career-ready goal.”

ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan said ACA is greatly appreciative to have been invited by NOSCA and their collaborating organizations to view the survey and learn of its future impact.

“This is the most comprehensive survey of school counselors ever completed, and the data will shape and advance the important work of school counselors for years to come,” he said.  “Within the next few years, we hope to say that as a result of this survey, action steps were implemented by the counseling profession and others with a vested interest that allow school counselors to be trained in state-of-the-art practices that substantially increased the number of students who have applied to and successfully completed postgraduate education, with a particular focus on under-represented groups.”

NOSCA is looking forward to releasing a National Survey of School Counselors every year, Martin said, and the organization is optimistic that the survey’s findings will lead to some changes regarding education reform and how school counselors are viewed.

“We know that different groups will be interested in different aspects of this study. We plan to break down the results further and share with policymakers, education leaders and other experts in the field who can use this important information as they work to improve education in our country,” Martin said. “We hope that this survey will give counselors a much-deserved public voice and seat at the education reform table. Future results will also give us unique insights on how we might better our schools and ensure our students, in the midst of this challenging economic period, are college and career ready.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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