School Counselors' Accuracy in Identifying Adolescents at Risk for Dropping Out

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

School counselors were asked to identify, using qualitative judgments alone, adolescents who they believed were at moderate risk for dropping out. These students were then administered a dropout prediction scale. Results indicated that the school counselors accurately identified potential dropouts. The paper concludes with a discussion of the ties between dropout identification and consultation with teachers.

Preventing students from dropping out of school has become a highly important, multidisciplinary issue. Parents, teachers, and school counselors and psychologists must all participate in prevention efforts (Bucci & Reitzammer, 1993). Two essential elements of this effort are the accurate identification of at-risk students and ongoing consultation among school personnel (Miller, 1988).

The 1986 College Board report, Keeping the Options Open, recommended that school counselors take a more active role in assisting teachers to identify students at risk for dropping out. The report also stressed the need to develop and implement distinct methods of guidance and counseling for these students, who traditionally have not been well served by schools. Talley and Short (1995), responding to the Goals 2000-Educate America Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994, stated that, "by working as partners with other concerned professionals and the community-at-large, psychologists can implement and evaluate comprehensive, wrap-around programs designed to motivate students to attend school and participate actively in the learning process" (p. 2).

Given the enormous impact that dropping out has at the societal and personal levels, the identification of those at risk is crucial. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the need for, and efficacy of, identifying potential dropouts prior to high school and implementing appropriate interventions when the first indicators appear (e.g., Ekstrom et al., 1986; Mann, 1987; Lloyd, 1978).

A variety of quantitative resources are available for assessing the risk status of young adolescents. However, these formal assessment instruments tend to reflect educational factors related to socioeconomics, and therefore merely reinforce what the counselor or teacher already strongly suspects (Denton, 1987; Miller & Wells, 1995). Additionally, with many of these questionnaires, the accuracy of student responses, and thus the reliability of results, must be considered. According to Cohen (1987), informal measures can be as useful and valid as standardized instruments in the identification process, and may more appropriately match the teacher's or counselor's objectives.

The present study examined the accuracy of school counselors' informal assessments of young adolescents. Specifically, school counselors were asked to identify a subpopulation of potential dropouts--those who would most benefit from a dropout-prevention intervention, not those at highest risk for dropping out. In other words, this research investigated how accurately school counselors could pinpoint, using qualitative judgments, those who were neither (1) at such high risk (i.e., greater than 70% chance of dropping out) that the intervention would be minimally successful, nor (2) at such minimal risk (i.e., less than 30% chance of dropping out) that others would be more likely to benefit from the intervention.

METHOD

School counselors from nine parishes in northern Louisiana were asked to identify ninth-grade students from disadvantaged families who were "at moderate risk for dropping out of school and would most benefit from a summer residential program designed to prevent dropping out." Counselors were allowed to use a selection process that took advantage of their individual perspective and expertise. Selection criteria could include school grades, personal and professional knowledge of students' experiences, and any other criteria the counselors deemed appropriate, other than the use of formal quantitative measures. …