How Important Is Personal/ Social Development to Academic Achievement? the Elementary School Counselor's Perspective

Article excerpt

This study explored elementary school counselors' perceptions of importance and implementation for state standards in support of academic achievement. Results indicate that Academic and Personal/Social standards are important to achievement with no statistical difference between the standards. Further, counselors implement Personal/Social standards at slightly higher levels in their programs compared to Academic standards. Counselors consistently rated principles of character and qualities of effort, hard work, and persistence as most important and of highest implementation. This article also discusses implications for elementary school counseling practice.

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Important trends in educational reform are challenging school counselors to demonstrate a measurable contribution in the area of student academic achievement. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) calls for educators, including school counselors, to be involved in efforts to close the achievement gap through increased accountability (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Leaders in the school counseling profession continue to write extensively on the importance of school counselors utilizing data to clearly demonstrate how their programs promote and enhance academic achievement (Dahir & Stone, 2003; Gysbers, 2004; Isaacs, 2003; Johnson & Johnson, 2003; Lapan, 2001; Paisley & Hayes, 2003).

A full appreciation of the contributions school counseling programs make to student academic achievement proves difficult for several reasons. First, outcome research directly linking school counseling programs to academic achievement is limited. Only one recent program, the Student Success Skills (SSS) model, has been researched repeatedly and has shown promise in improving standardized test scores for elementary and middle school students (Brigman, Webb, & Campbell, 2007; Campbell & Brigman, 2005; Webb, Brigman, & Campbell, 2005). Second, school counseling programs comprise much more than just academic interventions, making it difficult to determine which specific components contribute to student achievement (Brown & Trusty, 2005). Third, the responsibility of shaping student academic achievement is the primary goal of the classroom teacher, leaving school counselors underrepresented in important conversations regarding education reform. Fourth, confusion continues to surround the role of the school counselor, leading to a perception that school counseling programs are not viable resources for supporting academic achievement (Lieberman, 2004; Zalaquett, 2005). Finally, pressure from high-stakes testing has created an overemphasis on interventions that exclusively focus on improving students' academic competence (e.g., test scores, grades, graduation rates), resulting in a failure to appreciate programs and services that strengthen areas of academic success for all students.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that school counselors make contributions to the academic achievement agenda by supporting the development of students. Test scores, grades, and graduation rates as discrete outcome measures do not predict how emotionally well adjusted or successful students will become in the future. Students need to possess motivation, purposefulness, intentionality, and self-efficacy in order to achieve academically (Scheel & Gonzalez, 2007). Likewise, research links problem behaviors such as aggression (Williams & McGee, 1994), anxiety (Stevens & Pihl, 1987), hyperactivity (Saudino & Plomin, 2007), and inattention (Barriga et al., 2002) with decreases in academic achievement.

This growing body of evidence reinforces a positive link between students' academic achievement and personal/social development in such areas as emotional intelligence (EI), social competence, academic enablers, and behavior. Individuals with trait EI have the behavioral dispositions and self-perceptions to recognize, process, and utilize emotion-laden information. …