Training School Counselors in Program Evaluation

Article excerpt

Today's school counselors are faced with demands to demonstrate the impact and effectiveness of their counseling programs. Twenty-eight school counselors from a large Southwestern school district participated in a program evaluation training workshop designed to help them develop evaluation skills necessary for demonstrating program accountability. The majority of participants expressed high levels of interest in evaluating their programs but believed they needed more training in evaluation procedures. The authors discuss implications and make suggestions for future training and research on program evaluation in school counseling.


In recent years, school counselor accountability has received considerable attention in the professional literature (Dahir & Stone, 2003; Fairchild, 1993; Fairchild & Seeley, 1995; Gysbers & Henderson, 2000; Isaacs, 2003; Myrick, 2003; Otwell & Mullis, 1997). Education reform measures, particularly the No Child Left Behind Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2001), have changed the landscape in which today's school counselors practice. Historically, school counselors have been connected with school reform movements (Herr, 2002). Yet, as noted by Dahir and Stone, school counselors have not often been held accountable for their contributions to student success. In the 21st century, however, school counselors are forging a professional identity that emphasizes leadership, collaboration, and fostering the academic achievement of all students (Adelman, 2002; House & Hayes, 2002; House & Scars, 2002). As a result, school counselors are increasingly being called upon to take the lead in implementing results-based programs with an emphasis on systematically evaluating their outcomes and impact on student success.

As the professional identity of school counselors has evolved, perspectives on demonstrating school counseling program accountability have changed as well. Myrick (1990) documented the growing interest in school counselor accountability, especially during the 1980s, and foreshadowed the current focus on accountability in schools. However, historical school counselor accountability activities, such as keeping detailed calendars and logs of services, are no longer considered sufficient measures of program success (Astramovich & Coker, 2003; Fairchild, 1993). Borders and Drury (1992) noted that school counseling accountability has increasingly shifted toward an emphasis on program outcomes rather than on reports of services delivered. In an effort to expand the repertoire of accountability measures, Fairchild and Seeley (1995) incorporated formal evaluation activities into their suggestions for school counseling accountability practices, specifically emphasizing needs assessments, data analysis, and student, teacher, and parent evaluations of the school counseling program. More recently, the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2003) for school counseling programs emphasized the use of data and evaluation for program improvement and professional accountability. In addition, Hosie (1994) highlighted how counseling students can benefit from training in program evaluation. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (2001) also incorporated evaluation methods into its standards for the counselor education curriculum.

Counseling program evaluation refers to the ongoing use of evaluation principles by counselors to assess and improve the effectiveness and impact of their programs and services (Astramovich & Coker, 2003). Rather than merely being a defensive measure against accountability pressures, program evaluations have intrinsic value in helping counselors monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the services they provide to clients. According to Isaacs (2003), program evaluations can help school counselors determine the extent that programs are positively impacting students and can help identify barriers to student success, subsequently guiding counselors in designing effective programs for the students they serve. …