A representative sample of counselor educators at U.S. universities were surveyed to identify the kinds of curricula school counselor preparation programs use for preparing students to work with exceptional students (ES). Program courses in exceptional student education (ESE), competencies, field experiences, state certification requirements for ESE courses, the degree of importance accorded by counselor educators to prepare graduates to serve ES, and the educators' level of satisfaction with current program requirements were investigated. Sixty-two percent of the programs surveyed did not offer a specific ESE course; however, 53% of these programs (N = 146) reported that ESE competencies were incorporated in other program courses.
During the past two decades, federal legislation, such as the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later amended in 1990 and 1997 as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]) and the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), has had an impact on the role of school counselors and their work with children with disabilities (see Thompson & Rudolph, 2000). These laws have influenced how counselors interact with these children within the school setting (Parette & Holder-Brown, 1992). In addition, the school-aged population of students with disabilities has increased rapidly during the past two decades (Office of Special Education Programs, 1997). It is estimated that approximately 18% of school-aged children have special needs (Wood Dunn & Baker, 2002). These students need the services that can be provided by professional school counselors (Parette & Holder-Brown, 1992).
Counseling Needs of Exceptional Students (ES)
Thompson and Rudolph (2000) asserted that not enough research has been conducted on counseling children with special needs, although it is known that children with disabilities confront problems that require individualized attention. For example, many of these children know from an early age that they are somehow different from other children and, because of this, may experience rejection and isolation from their peers (Thompson & Rudolph, 2000). Children who have late onset impairments will need assistance with the adjustment process (Snyder, 2000). Many children with disabilities are mainstreamed into regular classrooms, although some are placed in exceptional student education (ESE) programs and attend special classes so that they can achieve their potential (Snyder, 2000). Students who have been placed recently in ESE classes may also need counseling and guidance to assist them in understanding the academic, personal, and social benefits of these placements (Snyder, 2000). Parents and teachers can also benefit from interventions provided by school counselors (Parette & Holder-Brown, 1992). Many parents may not understand the physical and psychological impact of their children's impairments, they may experience feelings of guilt, or they may deny that the disability exists (Hardman, Drew, & Winston Egan, 1996). In addition, if teachers do not understand the effect of the disability on learning and day-to-day functioning, they may experience frustration, helplessness, and confusion when confronted with special needs children in their classrooms (Snyder, 2000). Counselors can help by providing information, resources, and strategies for teaching these children (Gerler, 1991).
The Role of Counselors With ES
The 1997 IDEA required that school counselors participate in the development of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and in child study placement meetings (Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992; Synder, 2000). In some cases, counselors also have the added responsibility of coordinating and documenting the activities of the IEP placement team (Korinek & Prillaman, 1992). Counselors consult and collaborate with parents, teachers, and other school and agency personnel and may act as advocates for ES in the educational placement process (Snyder, 2000; Trotter, 1993). They provide personal adjustment counseling to individuals and groups and academic and career guidance to middle and secondary students (Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992; Pankaskie, 2000; Trotter, 1993; Wood & Beale, 1991).
Counselors working with ES provide many of the same services and use many of the same interventions they would use with students who have no disabilities (Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992). The core counseling courses found in school counselor preparation programs provide a strong foundation and knowledge base for counseling ES. However, some researchers have suggested that counselors who work with these students may need additional knowledge and skills (Hosie, Patterson, & Hollingsworth, 1989; West, 1992). These include (a) information on the characteristics of disabling conditions; (b) how these conditions affect students' physical, social, psychological, and cognitive development; (c) the implications of federal and state laws on the education and counseling services provided in the schools; (d) diagnostic and placement criteria; and (e) methods of modifying interventions to meet specific individual needs. Hosie et al. (1989) recommended that school counseling curricula include topics in courses on types of disabilities; range of services for individuals with disabilities; ethnic, cultural, and language issues; family issues; assistive devices and technology; ethics; and collaboration.
Other researchers have asserted that counselor preparation programs may not be meeting the training needs of students who will eventually work with children with special needs in schools (Hartman, 1989; Korinek & Prillaman, 1992; Trotter, 1993). Helms and Katsiyannis's (1992) survey of elementary school counselors revealed that 76% felt they needed more preparation in working with ES. In a more recent study, 61% of elementary school counselors surveyed in North Carolina reported that they had acquired some type of formal graduate training on students with disabilities; 37% had taken relevant undergraduate course work (Wood Dunn & Baker, 2002). However, the counselors in Wood Dunn and Baker's study reported that the expertise and skills necessary to work with students with disabilities exceeded their acquired knowledge. More training was needed, particularly in consultation, problem solving, advocacy, and team building to enhance school counselor expertise in working with ES.
Korinek and Prillaman (1992) surveyed 350 randomly selected counselor education programs and found that there was a discrepancy between counselor educators' perceptions of the role of school counselors in serving ES and actual counseling program requirements. The surveyed counselor educators encouraged school counseling trainees to work with these students; however, few counseling programs included specific courses in ESE or in counseling ES.
The lack of such course work may be influenced by state certification and national accreditation requirements. Some state departments of education may not require specific ESE course work in school counseling curricula (Frantz & Prillaman, 1993). Recently revised standards of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) have recognized the importance of studies in social and cultural diversity and those "that provide an understanding of the cultural context of relationships, issues and trends in a multicultural and diverse society related to such factors as culture, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, [and] mental and physical characteristics" (p. 61). The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) does not delineate specific requirements in the area of ESE for school counselors, deferring instead to the professional and state counseling standards (e.g., CACREP, departments of education; NCATE, 2002).
Since the 1980s, there has been a paucity of research regarding school counselor preparation in relation to serving ES in schools (West, 1992). Consequently, the aim of this evaluative survey study was to investigate school counseling preparation programs in relation to (a) types of program curricular experiences (e.g., course work, competencies, and clinical field experiences) in ESE, (b) state certification and national accreditation requirements and inclusion of an ESE course in program curricula, (c) degree of importance accorded by counselor educators to prepare their graduates to serve ES, and (d) counselor educators' perceived level of satisfaction with the school counseling program in relation to serving ES. The study also sought to answer the following questions: (a) Is there a significant relationship between the inclusion of an ESE course in program curricula and state certification and program accreditation? and (b) Is the inclusion of an ESE course related to perceived program satisfaction for preparing graduates to work with ES?
Participants in this study represented universities from 43 states in major geographical regions of the U.S.--the Pacific, Midwest, South, Northeast, and Alaska and Puerto Rico. One hundred fifty-five questionnaires were returned, resulting in a response rate of 39%; of these, 146 were included in the analysis. Respondents identified their position as chairs, directors, or program leaders of the counseling program (73%, n = 107); faculty members (20%, n = 29); administrators; or graduate assistants of faculty (7%, n = 10). Forty-six percent were full professors, 32% associate professors, 14% assistant professors, and 8% were visiting professors or instructors. The nonrespondents were similar to the participants in that they represented programs in the major geographical regions of the nation and shared similar characteristics (e.g., types of degrees conferred, number of faculty members, number of graduates per year, type of program offered, accreditation status; Hollis & Dodson, 1999). In addition, the demographic data reported by the participants in this study were similar to the data reported by Hollis and Dodson (1999) for school counselor preparation programs.
The participating institutions in this study offered master of education, master of arts, master of science, and doctorate degrees in counseling. Several of the universities conferred advanced degrees in guidance and counseling. The average number of full-time faculty members teaching in the school counseling programs was 5.8 (SD = 3.2; range, 0-17). The average number of full-time faculty teaching only in the school counseling program was 3 (SD = 2.8; range, 0-20). The average number of part-time faculty was 5.3 (SD = 5.3; range, 0-36). One respondent reported that his or her program hired only part-time faculty. The average number of graduates per year was 21.2 (SD = 21.9; range, 0-150). Thirty-three percent of the programs reported that they were accredited by CACREP, 41% were accredited by NCATE, 12% were not accredited, and 14% were in the process of seeking accreditation.
The instrument used was the 34-item Counselor Education Questionnaire, which I developed to investigate curricular experiences and certification requirements related to ESE, level of importance assigned to the inclusion of an ESE course and competencies into curricula, and degree of satisfaction with curricula in relation to ESE preparation. The first 7 items on the questionnaire elicited information on program characteristics (e.g., type of degrees offered, number of faculty members in the department, number of faculty teaching in the school counseling program, number of graduates) and the position (e.g., counselor educator, department chair, director, coordinator) and level (e.g., professor, associate professor, assistant professor, instructor) of the respondent. Sixteen ESE items required a forced-choice response ("yes," "no," or "don't know") or a Likert-type response, ranging from 5 (very important) to 1 (not important). These items asked respondents to provide information on the following: (a) curricular content in ESE (courses and competencies), (b) clinical field experiences (i.e., types offered--practicum or internship, exposure to ES during field experiences and amount of time school counseling students spend working with ES), (c) state department of education certification and program approval requirements, and (d) program accreditation. One of the forced-choice items asked about perceived program satisfaction in relation to ESE and required a response of "very satisfied with the program as it is," "will be satisfied with it when some improvements are made," and "not satisfied at all, needs considerable improvement." In 1 item, respondents were provided with a list of ESE competencies and asked to check the ones that were being incorporated in other program courses. To reduce measurement error and the simple checking off of items, the forced-choice and Likert-type items were placed throughout the questionnaire randomly (Salant & Dillman, 1994). The last item on the questionnaire was an open-ended question that asked respondents for additional comments and any critical program changes they believed were necessary to preparing school counseling students for working with ES (see Appendix).
To establish content validity, the questionnaire was administered to a pilot group (N = 10) of experienced counselor educators and school counseling supervisors, all of whom had taught counseling or had supervised counseling students for a minimum of 4 years. The instrument was reviewed for clarity of the items, readability, time for administration, and consistency with the purpose of the study. Modifications to several items were made on the basis of feedback received from the reviewers. A coefficient alpha of. 66, generally viewed as acceptable for rating scales, was computed to assess the internal consistency estimates of reliability of the Likert-type and forced-choice items (Murphy & Davidshofer, 1991). The coefficient alpha was used because of its versatility with instruments with dichotomous items and items that can be scored with three or more possible values (Huck & Cormier, 1996).
A national list of department chairs and program leaders of counseling preparation programs was acquired from profiles of national counseling programs (Hollis, 1997). A mail survey was used because the procedures used in such surveys are efficient, simple, relatively inexpensive, and lend themselves to obtaining information from a small sample of the population being studied (Dillman, 1991). Packets consisting of the questionnaire, a statement identifying the purpose of the study, a statement regarding the confidentiality of the data and participants, and two copies of the consent form were mailed to the randomly selected sample of 400 counselor educators and department chairs. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was included to encourage participants to return the questionnaires. To ensure a higher response rate, a second mailing to nonrespondents was conducted approximately i month later. Due to cost constraints, no further follow-up was conducted.
Of the programs surveyed, 35% required students to enroll in an ESE course, and 62% did not; 3% of the respondents did not know whether their programs had such a requirement. Several programs that did not require an ESE course in program curricula reported that students take such courses at the undergraduate level as prerequisites, or they can take them as electives on the graduate level. ESE courses included in programs are survey/overview of disabilities; emotional and behavioral disorders; visual, hearing, speech, and language impairments; counseling exceptional students; learning disabilities; varying exceptionalities; and giftedness. Of the programs that did not require an ESE course, 53% reported that ESE competencies were being incorporated into other program courses. These competencies included (a) an overview of disabling conditions, (b) development of the IEP, (c) legal and ethical issues related to counseling ES, (d) federal laws related to educating ES, and (e) consulting with ESE teachers and parents of ES. When asked if an ESE course was planned for inclusion in the future, 42% indicated that there was no plan to include such a course, 12% reported that an ESE course was planned for inclusion, and 21% did not know.
Only 29% of the programs required school counseling students to work with ES during clinical experiences, whereas 69% did not require such experiences; 7% were not sure. Participants indicated that, when required, students spent approximately 10%-15% of their time working with ES. Although it is not a program requirement, 78% encouraged their students to work with these groups.
State Certification Requirements
When questioned regarding certification requirements, 26% of the respondents reported that their state required an ESE course for school counseling certification, 69% did not require such a course, and 5% did not know. Twenty-two percent reported that an ESE course was required for state program approval offered through the individual states' department of education; 71% reported that it was not required, and 7% did not know.
Perceived Level of Importance
An ESE course was perceived to be "very important" (30%) or "important" (46%) to the school counseling program by 76% of the respondents, 13% perceived the course to be "somewhat important," 8% were "undecided," and 3% indicated that the course was "not important." The majority of the respondents reported that it was "very important" (49%) or "important" (39%) for school counseling trainees to work with ES during field experiences; 8% were "undecided"; 4% reported it was "somewhat important" or "not important." Although 67% of the programs did not require students to work with ES during their field experiences, they were encouraged (64%) to do so by program faculty.
Overall Program Satisfaction
Of the 140 (96%) respondents who answered the item on program satisfaction regarding preparing graduates to work with ES, 41% expressed being "very satisfied" with their program as it is, 51% "will be satisfied with it when some improvements are made," and 4% report being "not satisfied at all, program needs considerable improvement."
Many of the participants' comments indicated that there was a lack of resources in their programs to meet the students' training needs to effectively work with ES. For example, one respondent said, "We need more faculty to teach specific courses in these [ESE] areas. Until then, these competencies are embedded in more general courses," and "The school counselor educator program, while sound, would not be in a position to add further courses regardless of their relative importance in providing a better product. With four full-time faculty and 120 students, we cannot do more than we are doing without additional staff." Several respondents commented that their programs now included a course on "counseling diverse populations," which incorporates topics and issues dealing with ES and diverse populations. "We recently established a 'counseling diverse populations' course which overviews many of the issues you address--we are excited about this addition to the curriculum." "We have a required course in the program titled, 'Counseling Special Populations' that covers ESE, multicultural, gender, and ADA/IDEA issues."
Certification, Accreditation, Program Satisfaction, and Curricular Experiences
Cross-tabulations were calculated to determine whether state certification requirements and perceived program satisfaction were related to the inclusion of ESE courses in school counselor preparation programs. Level of significance was set at .05. State certification requirement and ESE course were found to be significantly related, [r.sup.2](1, N = 135) = 16.66, p = < .001, Cramer's V= .35. For respondents whose states did not require an ESE course for certification, only 14% had such courses in their curricula. Of the states requiring an ESE course for certification, only 46% of the respondents' school offered such a course. There was no relationship between program satisfaction and inclusion of an ESE course in program curricula.
Cross-tabulations calculated by accreditation status (CACREP and NCATE) and an ESE course revealed no significant differences across accreditation type, [chi square](3, N = 141) = 4.52, p < .210.
Despite the apparent need for school counselors to work closely with ES, the results of this survey were similar to previous research findings (Korinek & Prillaman, 1992), which reported that the majority of school counselor preparation programs did not have specific course requirements in ESE. Despite the lack of ESE course work, the majority of the respondents indicated there were no plans to include such courses in program curricula in the future. Although faculty members may believe that including ESE courses is important to programs, the significant relationship between state certification requirements and the inclusion of such courses suggested that state certification requirements influenced faculty decisions in this area, as in other course content requirements (Perusse, Goodnough, & Noel, 2001). Very few programs in states that did not require ESE courses in program curricula included these courses. Furthermore, in states that did have this requirement, fewer than 50% included at least one course in the program. These competencies seem to be embedded in other program courses. Perceived program satisfaction was found to be nonrelated to the inclusion of ESE courses; therefore, other factors must influence this variable. The identification of these factors is beyond the scope of this study and warrants further research.
Counselor educators seem to agree that school counselor preparation programs should address the need to adequately prepare students to serve ES (Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992; Korinek & Prillaman, 1992). However, despite this need, for many programs, lack of funding and resources precluded the addition of such specialized courses in curricula (Margolis & Rungta, 1986). Many existing programs already contain too many required credits for completion, thus not justifying the additional course work. Furthermore, ESE courses are not being included because most state departments of education do not require them for school counselor certification or for program approval (Frantz & Prillaman, 1993). The expectation in many programs was that school counseling students came prepared with ESE undergraduate courses or that they received this training and knowledge on the job (Korinek & Prillaman, 1992). It seems that programs without specific ESE course work are embedding these competencies in existing courses.
For the aforementioned reasons, students' levels of knowledge and skills in ESE vary (Korinek & Prillaman, 1993). Therefore, counselor educators must assess existing programs to determine whether school counseling students are receiving sufficient exposure in ESE to provide them with the expertise needed to serve ES. Consideration should be given to ensuring that during clinical field experiences, students engage in practical work experiences with ES, teachers, and families (Bradley & Fiorini, 1999). In modifying or creating school counseling program curricula, counselor educators must address the reality that the roles and functions of school counselors are changing and that these professionals are now more involved in the education and placement of ES (Helms & Katsiyannis, 1992; Wood Dunn & Baker, 2002). Learning activities (e.g., visits to special education and rehabilitation centers, films, case analysis, role-played counseling sessions with students with disabilities) that focus on ESE issues and topics can be integrated into existing counseling courses (Margolis & Rungta, 1986). Counselor education departments can sponsor seminars and workshops that focus on disabilities and on counseling interventions for serving these students in schools.
Some counselor education programs have received grants from the U.S. Office of Special Education to support preservice graduate training for preparing related services personnel (school counselors) with special emphasis on special education needs. Project SPECIAL TOPIC (Brandell, 1993) at Central Michigan University trained 22 full-time graduate students by using existing program competencies and adding 14 competencies in special education developed by Hosie et al. (1989). Project ESST (Exceptional Student Specialization Track; McEachern, 2002), at Florida International University, trained 24 school counseling students who completed, along with program requirements, a course in ESE that included topics on the identification of students with disabilities, federal and state regulations, completion of the IEP, the psychological and sociological impact of disabilities, and consulting with families of ES. School counseling students also worked on research projects and papers with program faculty on topics dealing with counseling and educating ES and spent 25% to 50% of their time working with ES during their clinical field experiences. External funding for school counseling programs, such as the ones mentioned earlier in this article, can provide faculty with additional resources to develop curricula that address the needs of ES.
This study represented only a sample of existing school counseling programs. More research is needed on the types of curricular experiences in school counseling preparation programs that focus on the guidance needs of ES. It would be important to know the types of activities in which school counseling interns engage and the amount of time they spend on these activities with ES during clinical field experiences. In addition, further studies might investigate the beliefs of school counseling students regarding their perceived level of competence and preparation to serve the needs of ES in relation to the actual demands of the work environment.
It is important for all students in schools, including those with disabilities, to receive the services provided by professional school counselors. Exposing counselors-in-training to curricular experiences in order to help them learn about the special needs of ES students will increase their comfort and confidence and provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively serve these populations.
The Counselor Education Questionnaire: Sample Items
1. Does the school counseling program contain a specific course or courses in exceptional student education (ESE)?
2. Do your state certification requirements require that students complete at least one course in ESE?
3. Is such a course required by your State Department of Education for state approval of the program?
4. If the school counseling program does not contain any ESE courses, are such requirements being contemplated for inclusion at a later time?
5. If there are no specific ESE course requirements in the school counseling program, are any competencies in ESE infused (included) in other required courses?
6. Whether or not your school counseling program has a course or courses in ESE, how important do you believe such a course is, or would be, to the school counseling training program at your university?
7. Are students required to work with exceptional students during their practica and/or internship experiences?
8. If not required, are students encouraged to work with exceptional students during their practica and/or internship experiences?
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Adriana G. McEachern, Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, Florida International University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Adriana G. McEachern, Florida International University, University Part, ZEB-214, Miami, FL 33199 (e-mail: Adriana.McEachern@fiu.edu).…