School Counselors and Student Assessment
Blacher, Joan H., Murray-Ward, Mildred, Uellendahl, Gail E., Professional School Counseling
School counselors in California were surveyed about their student assessment practices and their perceptions about the adequacy of their training. Results indicated that school counselors utilized some aspects of assessment more than others and rated their training in those areas as adequate or good. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research are presented.
Graduate programs in school counseling routinely include at least one course in assessment (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs [CACREP], 1994; Elmore, Ekstrom, & Diamond, 1993; Goldman, 1992). National school counselor certification examinations and state credentialing standards require knowledge of and skill development in assessment (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing [CCTC], 2001; National Board for Certified Counselors, 1998). And, professional associations have specified assessment competencies (American School Counselor Association [ASCA] & Association for Assessment in Counseling [AAC], 1998; Drummond, 1992). Tymofievich and Leroux (2000) described good assessment practices as including test selection, administration, and interpretation. The ASCA National Model (2003) outlines for school counselors the ethical standards to be used in selecting, administering, and interpreting assessment measures. Additionally, the emergence of the counseling and guidance profession has closely paralleled the educational measurement movement, starting in the early 1900s (Zunker, 1998), suggesting that from the early days, assessment has played an integral role in the profession.
Yet, despite the training that school counselors receive in their preparation programs and the links between educational testing and counseling, it is not certain whether counselors in the schools use the assessment skills they were required to learn, know which types of assessment to utilize, and feel adequately trained to use them.
Schmidt (1995) pointed out that the purpose of counseling in the schools is to assist students with their educational, career, and personal and social development. The ACSA National Model (2003) states that "school counselors' chief mission is still supporting the academic achievement of all students." In carrying out this goal, school counselors serve students directly and also indirectly through consulting on their behalf with parents, teachers, and other educators. Because assisting students to make effective decisions about their educational plans and future careers requires a foundation of accurate data, school counselors need to be skilled at both information gathering and information dissemination. It is even more important when providing support and direction for those students whose behavior may create barriers to academic achievement. The National Association of College Admissions Counselors believes that elementary through postsecondary counselors must be competent in developing, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data (Drummond, 1992). Although it is true that student information may be gathered through individual and/or group counseling, observations, and a review of school records, standardized and structured assessment procedures are also important data collection tools.
School counselors may administer, score, and interpret standardized tests themselves, or they might be asked to manage a school's testing program (Anastasi, 1992). Additional assessment tools at school counselors' disposal are qualitative techniques such as observation protocols and openended rating scales, student behavior rating self-reports, anecdotal reports, questionnaires, structured interviews, and sociometric techniques (Gibson & Mitchell, 1995). Qualitative assessments have been identified as having particular advantages for counselor use in that they meet with less client resistance (Miller & Wells, 1995), have less involvement with statistical concepts, and are more person centered (Goldman, 1992). The primary assessment domains with which school counselors might become engaged would he those of academic, career, and personal/social development (Dahir, Sheldon, & Valiga, 1998).
In addition to gathering information, school counselors have an important role to play in disseminating to students, parents, teachers, and administrators assessment data that have been collected by others. There is evidence (Impara & Plake, 1995; Stiggins, 1995) that educational professionals, including secondary teachers, rely on school counselors to provide them with assessment information and to answer their questions about testing.
Given the importance of assessment, school counselors should be expected to make extensive use of it. However, as Goldman (1992) has suggested, few school counselors other than career counselors make use of tests. Further, although there is considerable research about the assessment competencies school counselors need (Anastasi, 1992; Impara & Plake, 1995), there is less evidence to suggest that school counselors actually are using those skills and that the training they receive is sufficient. One study (Elmore, Ekstrom, & Diamond, 1993) surveyed test use patterns among school counselors, but the investigation seemed limited to standardized tests. In that study, Elmore et al. found that nearly all of the 296 school counselors surveyed had responsibility for test interpretation and that two-thirds felt highly confident about their test interpretation skills. However, it also was found that their interpretation practices might not have adhered to expected standards, casting some doubt on the quality of their training.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
If school counselors are not utilizing assessment tools, plausible explanations might be that they feel inadequately trained, they do not have the time or opportunity, they believe that their role should not include assessment, or they are told by other educational professionals that school counselors should not be engaged in assessment activities. The purpose of this study was to explore school counselors' utilization of standardized and nonstandardized assessment techniques and their perceived level of training.
Guiding this research were the following questions: How frequently are school counselors using assessment techniques? To what extent are school counselors gathering and disseminating information through the use of assessment? How adequate do school counselors perceive their training to be in (a) assessment techniques, (b) assessment program logistics, and (c) utilizing assessment information? And, is there a relationship between using assessment in their work with students and the adequacy of their assessment training?
Participants in the study included all who were listed on the current roster of California School Counselors Association members employed throughout the state in urban, suburban, and rural school districts of varying size. A total of 995 questionnaires were mailed to each current member of this group; the questionnaire, about the use of assessment by school counselors, was accompanied by a cover letter explaining the nature of the study and the assurance of confidentiality. A follow-up postcard was mailed approximately 6 weeks later to encourage members to respond. A total of 203 members responded, for a 20.5% return. Of that group, 193 (95.1% of the respondents and 19.4% of the population) completed the survey. Those who did not respond included members who are retired or are no longer in school counseling practice. Forty-nine surveys (4.9% of the population) were undeliverable due to incorrect/nonforwarding addresses. Only those surveys that were fully completed were analyzed.
Respondents included 96 (49.7%) high school counselors, 57 (29.5%) middle school counselors, and 27 (14.0%) elementary school counselors. A total of 13 (6.7%) did not indicate a grade level. The median year of experience was 12.88, with a range of 1 to 37. One hundred and forty-five (75.1%) respondents listed their gender as female, 41 (21.4%) as male, and 7 (3.6%) did not specify gender. Nine (4.7%) participants reported their ethnicity as African American, 10 (5.2%) as Asian/Pacific Islander, 15 (7.8%) as Latino, 148 (76.7%) as Caucasian, and 9 (3.6%) did not mark an ethnic category.
The authors developed a 23-item questionnaire for this investigation, including a variety of Likert and fill-in-the-blank items and covering a number of dimensions related to assessment. The instrument required respondents to rate the frequency of their use of assessment techniques in a given week (from "not at all" to "four or more times") and their involvement in the logistics of their school's assessment program. They also were asked to specify the number (from "none" to "many") of assessment sources they utilized in identifying students' achievement, career aptitudes, and social skills and when interpreting assessment information to others. Further, the respondents were asked to rate the perceived adequacy of their training in each of these dimensions. Training, as respondents indicated on the instrument, often indicated more than one setting, with 170 (88.1%) receiving assessment training through graduate study, 69 (35.8%) through a conference session, 89 (46.1%) through staff development, and 54 (28.0%) through continuing education. Item content validity was determined through a review of the literature (Hood & Johnson, 1997; Schafer, 1995; Smith, 1995); examination of the national Competencies in Assessment and Evaluation for School Counselors (ASCA & AAC, 1998); and consultation with practicing school counselors. The initial questionnaire was sent to three practicing school counselors for review, after which minor revisions in format were made. The revised instrument then was piloted with school counselors in 1999 at a local school counselors association meeting. The authors (Blacher, Murray-Ward, & Uellendahl, 2000) reported results of this pilot study. After the pilot, final changes in format were made to the instrument, including wording changes in two items, the addition of one item, and the deletion of one item. Strong internal consistency across the items was found (α = .9263).
Data were analyzed using a three-step procedure. First, the frequencies and medians of all responses were determined. Second, the relationship between use and satisfaction with level of training was explored utilizing Spearman's rho using two-tailed tests of significance (Thorndike & Dinnel, 2001). Third, to determine any differences among respondents, chi-squares were run between the responses and the respondents' years of experience, gender, and ethnicity.
The present study investigated the frequency with which school counselors used various standardized or nonstandardized assessment techniques, their involvement in their school's testing program logistics, and the number of assessment sources they utilized. The study further investigated school counselors' perception of the adequacy of their training in the above dimensions and possible relationships between use and training. Results are shown in Table 1.
The two most frequently used assessment techniques reported by school counselors were observations of students in groups or individually and structured student interviews, with a median rating of 4 or more per week. Less utilized were teacher- or school counselor-completed student behavior rating scales (twice a week); and standardized tests, student-completed ratings, and career inventories (once a week). School counselors perceived their training to be good for conducting observations, structured student interviews, and career inventories; and adequate for standardized testing, student-completed rating scales, and teacher- or school counselor-completed rating scales.
Overall, correlations between frequency of use and training were in the low to low-moderate range. Statistically significant correlations were found for four of the six assessment techniques: observation, student-completed ratings, structured student interviews, and teacher- or school counselor-completed rating scales. School counselors' use of and satisfaction with their training in standardized achievement tests and career inventories produced small, non-statistically significant correlations. In all four domains of the assessment program logistics, school counselors reported only once-a-week involvement and specified their training to be adequate. Use and training were most strongly related in the areas of coordinating a school achievement-testing program and coordinating a school career-testing program, with statistically significant correlations at p < .05. Small, non-statistically significant correlations were found for selecting school achievement tests and selecting school career tests and training.
Results further indicated that in the area of utilizing assessment information, school counselors in this study reported using "some sources" for interpreting assessments to students, parents, and other educators and using "few sources" for identifying career aptitudes and interests, academic achievement levels, and levels of social skills. Their use of sources was strongly related to their perceptions of their training in all areas. Two of the domains-identifying students' career aptitudes and interests and identifying students' academic achievement levels-were statistically significant at p <. 01. Correlations between counselor training and identifying social skills levels and interpreting assessments to students, parents, and other educators also were statistically significant, but at p < .05.
Outcomes of this study suggest that school counselors used nonstandardized assessment techniques most frequently, with those of student observations and structured student interviews being used the most. This is not surprising, because training in these techniques, both of which call for interpersonal and observation skills, typically occurs throughout counseling preparation programs in a multiplicity of counseling courses (CCTC, 2001). Less frequent use was indicated for teacher- or school counselor-completed rating scales, which is somewhat puzzling because these formats are likely to provide school counselors with a rich source of information. For example, teachers' day-to-day observations of students in their classrooms coupled with school counselors' ratings could provide important cross-validation between two measures of behavior.
However, it is not surprising that student-completed ratings and standardized tests are seldom used, because these techniques are more likely to be taught in only the one or two test and measurement courses that are typical of school counselor preparation programs (CCTC, 2001). Further, it is possible that these two assessment techniques are more typically used by school psychologists when conducting eligibility testing for special education.
It is unfortunate that the school counselors are making so little use of career inventories and identifying students' career aptitudes and interests, particularly when they perceive their training to be good in both areas. Because a major part of school counselors' role is assisting students to acquire the necessary academic skills, knowledge, and strategies required for future career planning (Dahir, Sheldon, & Valiga, 1998), it is unclear why participants in this study were not more engaged in that activity or utilizing more sources. A possible reason for this outcome might be that academic achievement is more highly valued than career development at these counselors' schools, with little funding earmarked for career materials or counselor time. However, more evidence is needed before this can be stated conclusively.
Curiously, these school counselors were rarely involved in their school assessment program logistics despite their perception that they had received adequate training in these areas. It may be that this assessment activity is seen as an administrative responsibility. A plausible explanation for this outcome might stem from the California Department of Education Standards and Assessment Division Certificate of Compliance statement governing the Standard Testing and Reporting Program (STAR; California Department of Education, 2004) for all schools. This document states that the school district superintendent and its STAR coordinator "must certify compliance with the requirements of the law pertaining to the administration of the standards-based achievement tests and the designated achievement tests." School principals may well interpret this mandate to mean that an administrator is to be in charge of all aspects of the school testing program. If further investigation provides evidence that this is so, it could have implications for the assessment courses in counselor preparation programs.
A disappointing outcome in the area of identifying academic achievement is that school counselors used few sources and perceived their training to be only adequate. Because assisting students with their educational planning is an important responsibility, it is essential that school counselors are knowledgeable about assessment in this area. Without proper training, it might be that school counselors are reluctant to make use of necessary techniques and sources. Further study is warranted about how school counselor preparation programs are addressing this issue.
It is not surprising that school counselors perceived their training to be good in the area of interpreting assessment data to students, parents, and other educators, because communication and consulting skills are a major part of coursework in school counselor preparation programs (CCTC, 2001). This finding could suggest that school counselors feel competent in conferring with and relaying information to others.
An outcome of some concern is that when identifying social skills levels, school counselors used few sources and reported only adequate training. A reason for the strong correlation between use and training may be that they do not feel competent in this area. This is surprising because school counselor preparation programs are expected to include social development and qualitative assessment in course work (ASCA & ACA, 1998; CACREP, 1994; Goldman, 1992). Because assessing social development, including anger management, is an important factor in school violence prevention programs (Furlong, Chung, Bates, & Morrison, 1995; Morrison, Furlong, & Morrison, 1994; Stein & Karno, 1994), and school counselors should be receiving specific training in this area, they would seem to be among the most qualified educational professionals to conduct this assessment. Although school psychologists are also well qualified, they often are expected to devote the majority of their time to special education eligibility testing (Smith, Clifford, Hesley, & Leifgren, 1992). It may be that assessing students' social skills is being overlooked.
If, as the results of the study have indicated, school counselors are not assessing student social skills, it raises the question that they may not be adhering to recent state and national mandates about the role of school counselors in preventing school violence (CCTC, 2001; Towner-Larsen, Granello, & Sears, 2000). This also might mean that they are not involved in the upsurge in school violence prevention and intervention programs (Smith, Furlong, Bates, & Laughlin, 1998). More investigation in this area is needed.
One heartening result of this study is that none of the dimensions received inadequate ratings of perceived training. Although this might suggest that assessment courses were included in the school counselor preparation programs (or this group or that the school counselors received training during continuing education experiences, it is troubling that no training received an excellent rating. Of great concern would be that these school counselors are engaging in assessment practices without the necessary training. More investigation is clearly needed about the content of assessment courses and their provision for skills application. As Herr (2001) asked, "Are we preparing counselors to use assessments in the most effective way and to understand how assessments are integral to counseling, and do we provide enough opportunities for practicing counselors to upgrade their assessment skills and understandings?"
In summary, the school counselors in this study were making make frequent use of nonstandard assessment techniques such as observation and student interviews. However, questions were raised about why these school counselors were so infrequently engaged in career assessment, made little use of teacher- or counselor-completed rating scales, were rarely involved in their school's assessment program logistics, and utilized few career, academic achievement, and social skill resources. Questions also were raised about their preparation for utilizing assessment in that these school counselors reported only adequate training in most areas, good in some, and no rating of excellent in any area.
Based on this study, one implication for practice centers on school counselor preparation programs and the way in which students are being trained to utilize assessment in the schools. Although state credential standards (CCTC, 2001) clearly specify the assessment knowledge and skills to be included in the curriculum, there may not be consistency among those institutions of higher learning that provide school counselor training. A second implication, because school counselors in this study didn't seem to be involved, would be to investigate a school district's assessment practices concerning who, if anyone, is conducting career and social skills assessment and who is coordinating the school's testing program.
LIMITATIONS OF THIS STUDY
The first limitation of this study concerns the way in which measurement items were presented to participants. Although, following the pilot study, items were modified in an attempt to improve clarity, some remaining ambiguity might have led to participants having difficulty understanding item content. second, because the instrument required self-report, validity and reliability might have been threatened due to factors such as faulty recall and social desirability bias. Third, the self-selected rather than random sample methodology might call into question the generalizability of the results. Lastly, the study was limited to the state of California. In other states, school counselors' roles and responsibilities might differ and thus their responses also might differ. Despite these limitations, some light has been shed on school counselors' use of assessment and their perceptions about the quality of the training they received in preparation for this aspect of their job responsibilities.
Findings suggest that these school counselors were using nonstandard assessment techniques such as observing and interviewing students most frequently, teacher/counselor-completed rating scales less so, and career inventories, student-completed rating scales, and standardized testing least of all. In the area of program logistics, they were rarely involved in selecting their school's achievement tests or career inventories, nor coordinating either of those testing programs. They used few sources to gather information about students' career aptitudes and interests, academic achievement levels, or levels of social skills and only some sources when interpreting assessments to students, parents, and other educators. Their perception of their training in the above areas was reported to be either adequate or good but not excellent.
Although the specifications of professional organizations and accrediting bodies such as ASCA, CACREP, and CCTC mandate that school counselors be well trained to utilize assessment in their work with students, it may be that changes are needed in preparation programs. Further study is needed.
Recommendations for future research in addition to those indicated in the Discussion section would include replicating this study using a greater number of randomly selected participants from a broader geographical area. Further, it would be valuable to analyze middle school and high school counselor data separately to gain more specificity about assessment practices in each setting. Follow-up qualitative studies in which school counselors are interviewed also should be considered to acquire richer data.
Despite the training that school counselors receive in their preparation programs and the links between educational testing and counseling, it is not certain whether counselors in the schools use the assessment skills they were required to learn.
The National Association of College Admissions Counselors believes that elementary through postsecondary counselors must be competent in developing, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data.
Outcomes of this study suggest that school counselors used nonstandardized assessment techniques most frequently, with those of student observations and structured student interviews being used the most.
It would be valuable to analyze middle school and high school counselor data separately to gain more specificity about assessment practices in each setting.
American School Counselor Association. (2003). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: Author.
American School Counselor Association & Association for Assessment in Counseling. (1998). Competencies in assessment and evaluation for school counselors. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Anastasi, A. (1992). What counselors should know about the use and interpretation of psychological tests Journal of Counseling & Development, 70, 610-615.
Blacher, J., Murray-Ward, M., & Uellendahl, G. (2000). School counselors' use of assessment and its relationship to their training. CACD Journal, 20, 21-26.
California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. (2001). Standards of quality and effectiveness for pupil personnel service programs. Sacramento, CA: Author.
California Department of Education. (2004). Certification of compliance, standardized testing and reporting (STAR) program, spring 2004. Sacramento, CA: Author.
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs. (1994). Accreditation and procedures manual and application. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Dahir, C. A., Sheldon, C. B., & Valiga, M. J. (1998). Vision into action: Implementing the national standards for school counseling programs. Alexandria, VA: American School Counselor Association.
Drummond, R. J. (1992). Appraisal procedures for counselors and helping professionals (2nd ed.). New York: Merrill.
Elmore, P. B., Ekstrom, R. B., & Diamond, E. L. (1993). Counselors' test use practices: Indicators of the adequacy of measurement training. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 26, 116-124.
Furlong, M. J., Chung, A., Bates, M., & Morrison, R. M. (1995). Who are the victims of school violence? A comparison of student non-violent victims and multi-victims. Education and Treatment of Children, 18, 182-188.
Gibson, R.L., & Mitchell, M.H. (1995). Inrroducrion to counseling and guidance (4th ed.). Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Goldman, L. (1992). Qualitative assessment: An approach for counselors Journal of Counseling and Development, 70, 616-621.
Herr, E. L. (2001). Assessment: A hotbed of issues and challenges. In G. R. Walz & J. C. Bleuer (Eds.), Assessment issues and challenges for the millennium (pp. 3-27). Greensboro, NC: CAPS Publications.
Hood, A. B., & Johnson, R. W. (1997). Assessment in counseling: A guide to the use of psychological assessment procedures (2nd ed.). Alexandra, VA: American Counselor Association.
Impara, J. C., & Plake, B. S. (1995). Comparing counselors', school administrators', and teachers' knowledge in student assessment. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 28, 78-87.
Miller, M. J., & Wells, D. (1995). Assessment in rather than assessment for mental health counseling: An alternative approach. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 17, 238-242.
Morrison, G. M., Furlong, M. L., & Morrison, R. L. (1994). School violence to school safety: Reframing the issue for school psychologists. School Psychology Review, 23, 236-256.
National Board for Certified Counselors. (1998). National counselor examination (NCE) for licensure and certification. Greensboro, NC: Author.
Schafer, W. D. (1995). Assessment skills for school counselors. Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EDO-CG-95-2)
Schmidt, J. J. (1995). Assessing school counseling programs through external interviews. The School Counselor, 43, 114-123.
Smith, D. C., Furlong, M., Bates, M., & Laughlin, J. D. (1998). Development of the multidimensional school anger inventory for males. Psychology in the Schools, 35(1), 1-15.
Smith, D. K. (1995). Cooperation between school psychologists and counselors in assessment. Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EDO-CG-95-29)
Smith, D. K., Clifford, E. S., Hesley, J., & Leifgren, M. (1992). The school psychologist of 1991: A survey of practitioners. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists, Nashville, TN.
Stein, S., & Karno, M. (1994). Behavioral observations of anger and aggression. In M. J. Furlong & D. C. Smith (Eds.), Anger, hostility and aggression in youth (pp. 245-283). New York: Wiley.
Stiggins, R. J. (1995). Sound performance assessments in the guidance context. Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EDO-CG-95-9)
Thorndike, R. M., & Dinnel, D. L. (2001 ). Basic statistics for the behavioral sciences. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Towner-Larsen, R., Granello, D. H., & Sears, S. J. (2000). Supply and demand for school counselors: Perceptions of public school administrators. Professional School Counseling, 3, 270-276.
Tymofievich, M., & Leroux, J. A. (2000). Assessment in action: Counselors' competencies in using assessments. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 33, 50-59.
Zunker, V. G. (1998). Career counseling: Applied concepts of life planning (5th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Joan H. Blacher is professor emerita,
Mildred Murray-Ward is advanced studies chair and doctoral program director, and
Gail E. Uellendahl is director, Counseling and Guidance, School of Education, California Lutheran University, Somis. E-mail: email@example.com…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: School Counselors and Student Assessment. Contributors: Blacher, Joan H. - Author, Murray-Ward, Mildred - Author, Uellendahl, Gail E. - Author. Journal title: Professional School Counseling. Volume: 8. Issue: 4 Publication date: April 2005. Page number: 337+. © 2009 American School Counselor Association. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.