Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

School Counselor and School Psychologist Perceptions of Accountability Policy: Lessons from Virginia

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

School Counselor and School Psychologist Perceptions of Accountability Policy: Lessons from Virginia

Article excerpt

What happens when schools are the incubators of anxiety, insecurity, and maltreatment? The social contract changes, our relationship with one another changes. School psychologists, school counselors, and other student support personnel are asked to fix individuals who are removed from the system, but the system continues to chum out social casualties. Therefore, successful, sustained, high-quality implementation of innovations related to socio-emotional development of children is a high priority of education and those who work in schools. (Elias, Zins, Graczyk, & Weissberg, 2003, p. 305)

Over the past three decades the nation's schools have been engaged in a massive policy initiative to increase academic standards and improve student achievement. In response to A Nation at Risk, states and the federal government initiated policies focused on standards and accountability. These initiatives have been reflected in Public Law 103-227, commonly referred to as Goals 2000, Public Law 89-10, 79 Stat. 27, 20 U.S.C. ch. 70, known as ESEA Title I, and Public Law 107-110 (NCLB; Public Law 107-110). The collision of policies with divergent values, goals, and intentions is an interesting subset of policy research. This study seeks to understand the impact of national and state accountability policy on the educational context from the perspectives of school counselors and school psychologists. These actors are uniquely placed to serve the social and emotional needs of elementary, middle, and high school students.

Accountability policies and their associated values appear to conflict with research that demonstrates the importance of social and emotional factors in fostering healthy development and academic achievement (Nugent, 2006; Crockett, 2004; Lazarus & Del Valle, 2002). Especially in a world dominated by accountability, the question is begged of how schools, from the eyes of the psychologist and counselor, are faring in the work to balance these conflicting contexts? Are the educational reform efforts over the past ten years only serving to exacerbate the socio-emotional issues of students in American education, or have they had a more positive impact over time? The notion of poor socio-emotional conditioning influencing academic performance is not new, but how are the major school personnel responsible for monitoring such emotional concerns coping with change in the context of major educational reform?

Research that integrates accountability policy study with the job roles of educational professionals outside of the traditional teacher-student relationship, particularly the school counselor and school psychologist, is helpful to see how modern reform policies affect the interactive and experiential capabilities of those professions. Coupling accountability with the continued rise of student mental health issues means that school counselors and psychologists will be continually faced with a battle on two fronts, working towards ensuring both student academic and socio-emotional success.

Framed in the perspective of school support personnel, this study investigates the impacts of modern accountability reform on school counselors and school psychologists and their perceptions of school culture. Counselor and psychologist efficacy in traditional and valued job responsibilities, combined with the ability to interact with students, teachers, and other school staff are important considerations for the socio-emotional health of students. It is a concern that modern accountability reform, even if designed with the best of intentions, results in considerable consequences for the state of student social and emotional well-being. Thus, how reforms have influenced counselor and psychologist professional efficacy and the socio-emotional health of students are central goals of this investigation.

Review of the Literature

Counselors and Psychologist Roles

The American School Counselors Association (ASCA; 2004) officially states that counselor roles are to provide services to educators, students, and the community to create effective schools. …

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