Evaluating a Small-Group Counseling Program-A Model for Program Planning and Improvement in the Elementary Setting

Article excerpt

School counselors are under increasing pressure to evaluate their programs in a manner consistent with teachers and other educators. A small-group counseling intervention was used by a school counselor as part of a three-level program planning initiative that illustrated best research practices to evaluate program outcomes. Forty-nine third-grade students with social skills deficits participated in a 10-week social skills intervention. Results indicated that children participating in the intervention experienced reduced loneliness and social anxiety as well as improved academic achievement. Implications for school counselors conducting evaluations in a practical and time-efficient manner are discussed.

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As educational leaders have increased the focus on educational outcomes, groups are looking at the connection between learning and mental health. For example, the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools (Adelman & Taylor, 2002) published a report that identified mental health problems of students as one of the key barriers to learning in our nation's schools. It concluded that remedying the barriers hindering performance and learning is critical to increasing academic performance. Counseling and guidance programs are critical in addressing mental health problems that interfere with a student's ability to learn, to succeed, and to participate in the learning process (Lockhart & Keys, 1998). School counselors provide services to students already identified with mental health problems and routinely engage in activities that prevent the mental health problems (Steen & Kaffenberger, 2007).

Children who experience difficulties in their peer relationships exhibit concurrent behavioral, psychological, and academic problems and are at heightened risk for a wide variety of later maladjustment (Parker, Rubin, Erath, Wojslawowicz, & Buskirk, 2006; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). Social skills intervention not only improves social functioning but also improves future mental health and academic performance (Asher, Parker, & Walker, 1996; Consortium on the School-Based Promotion of Social Competence, 1996). Although school counselors commonly lead social skills groups, little attention has been given to how effective these interventions are in school settings and how school counselors should evaluate them.

SCHOOL-BASED ACCOUNTABILITY

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; U.S. Department of Education, 2001) mandates schoolbased accountability and has impacted school counselors' roles in two ways. First, NCLB's focus on academic outcomes (i.e., standardized test scores) has stimulated professionals' interests in nonacademic factors such as social-emotional learning and its connection to academic outcomes. Second, NCLB's demand for accountability emphasizes that school programs, including school counseling, should document effectiveness (Dahir & Stone, 2003). Paralleling NCLB, the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005) emphasizes that program evaluation is part of a comprehensive school counseling program. This implicitly underscores that documenting the effectiveness of the social-emotional components of a school counseling program is important. The urgency for school counselors to become more accountable is creating a clear set of new expectations for all school counselors. Stone and Dahir (2007) have encouraged school counselors to learn how to build accountability standards into counseling programs. Accountability can be directly incorporated into a comprehensive school counseling program.

Accountable school counseling programs have several key components, as presented in the following:

1. School counseling programs should be developed according to assessed needs at the school (Johnson & Johnson, 2003).

2. School counselors should select interventions that are evidence based (Carey & Dimmitt, 2006). …