Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Four Critical Domains of Accountability for School Counselors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Four Critical Domains of Accountability for School Counselors

Article excerpt

In today's challenging fiscal climate, school districts nationwide face difficult choices about what programs to cut, which school personnel to keep, and what resources schools and students need to meet high education standards (Oliff, Mai, & Leachman, 2012). These decisions are thought to be influenced by federal mandates such as the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which emphasizes assessment and accountability and requires schools, districts, and states to show Annual Measureable Objectives (AMOs) in raising student achievement and closing gaps (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). As school board members, administrators, and other stakeholders face major fiscal decisions about budgets, they are scrutinizing school personnel, including school counselors, to decide which positions are retained and which positions are eliminated. In addition to budgetary and personnel decisions, school counselors face even more pressure to provide evidence that demonstrates how their programs and services contribute to academic success, including closing achievement gaps for underserved, underrepresented, and underperforming students (Astramovich & Coker, 2007; Stone & Dahir, 2011; Hartline & Cobia, 2012). In response to these concerns, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) revised the ASCA National Model to offer guidance to school counselors on how to collect, analyze, and report appropriate data needed to demonstrate impact (ASCA, 2012). However, due to barriers such as time constraints, lack of training in research and evaluation methods, elusiveness of measuring school counseling outcomes, lack of financial and human resources, and lack of clarity about what criteria to measure, school counselors are not always clearly demonstrating how their contributions positively impact student achievement and success (Butler & Bunch, 2005; Loesch & Ritchie, 2005; Myrick, 2003; Perera-Diltz & Mason, 2010). Without such demonstration, school counselors may be regularly assigned to "clerk-work" activities such as testing, supervising, and class scheduling (Bemak, 2000; Bemak & Chung, 2005; Windle, 2010). Consequently, school districts nationwide have either made significant cuts to school counseling programs and positions (seen as an ancillary service), opted not to fill vacant positions, or shortened annual contracts by a month or two to keep within budget (Dorgan, 2008; Oliff, Mai, & Leachman, 2012).

Unfortunately, funding projections in the majority of states suggest that reduced school budgets and staffing levels may become standard practice (Oliff et al., 2012). If school counselors hope to receive continued support and funding in today's challenging fiscal climate, demonstrating their value and documenting their contributions to student achievement and closing achievement gaps is essential to reduce the likelihood that their programs or positions face budget cuts (Bemak, 2000; Bemak & Chung, 2005, 2008; Dorgan, 2008). Although numerous models of counseling accountability have been proffered or recommended (e.g., Gysbers & Henderson, 2012; Johnson, Johnson, & Downs, 2006; Loesch & Ritchie, 2005; Stone & Dahir, 2011), few provide details about the specific type of accountability data that has merit to critical stakeholders (i.e., school boards, legislators, policy makers, parents, students, educators, and other community members) and to the future of students. Consequently, many professional school counselors feel at a loss about what to measure (Loesch & Ritchie, 2005).

Based on a concern for the profession and to ensure that school counselor positions are highly valued as contributors to academic success, this article describes four critical domains of accountability that provide a foundation for all school counselors' work: grades, attendance, suspension rates, and disciplinary referrals. Although the four domains may not be new ideas since they have been mentioned in the literature (e. …

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