Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Transforming School Counseling Practice through Collaboration and the Use of Data: A Study of Academic Failure in High School

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Transforming School Counseling Practice through Collaboration and the Use of Data: A Study of Academic Failure in High School

Article excerpt

With the advent of standards-based educational reform, educators and counselors are increasingly being held accountable for creating school contexts where all students can be academically successful. Cutting edge models of school counseling practice emphasize the importance of using both collaboration and data to efficiently and effectively create such educational contexts (Bowers & Hatch, 2002; Fields & Hines, 2000; House & Hayes, 2002).

Identifying the factors that interfere with academic success is a crucial first step in the process of choosing interventions to address this issue, and the best way to gain an accurate picture of interfering factors is the use of data. Concrete information about which students are failing which classes gives counselors valuable knowledge to advocate for programs and policies which will be effective (Hayes, Nelson, Tabin, Pearson, & Worthy, 2002; House & Hayes, 2002). Utilizing university-public school partnerships to get needed research knowledge and skills can make data collection much easier and more efficient (Hayes, Paisley, Phelps, Pearson, & Salter, 1997). Once information is obtained, systemic shifts in school counseling practice require additional collaboration among counselors, administrators, teachers, and researchers.

The University of Massachusetts is in partnership with a local school district as part of the Education Trust's Transforming School Counseling Initiative. The partnership meets monthly and consists of K-12 school counselors in the district, school counseling program faculty, and graduate students. This study evolved from a conversation among some partnership members and the high school administrators about the greater-than-expected number of high school students who were failing classes despite a school system with qualified teachers and ample resources. All involved thought that more information would be valuable, and administrators requested a research study to identify the specific factors affecting student academic failure.

The partnership as a group decided to use this situation as a chance to integrate current theory with practice. We would have the opportunity to survey the existing research to find out what is known about academic achievement and to develop a research approach and instrument related to local needs. We would be able to collaborate on research, to utilize data to change counseling practice, and to advocate on students' behalf about academic success. As the process evolved it also became an opportunity to provide social justice advocacy and to make recommendations for systemic change.

The following section summarizes the broad research base the group used as a foundation for our approach to the data collection process in our local context.


Academic failure-receiving a grade of F in a class-is like any educational outcome, a result of complex, interconnected factors. Psychological, educational, and sociological research about this phenomenon has identified multiple student, classroom, teacher, school, family, community, and cultural factors which are all related to academic achievement and failure (Deschenes, Cuban, & Tyack, 2001; Marchant, Paulson, & Rothlisberg, 2001). The variable most directly related to academic failure is obviously poor academic performance, but there are many reasons why students don't do well in a class.

Student Factors

Academic difficulties have been linked to several factors intrinsic to students such as low IQ (Chen, Lee & Stevenson, 1996), the lack of prosocial behavior at the elementary level (Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997), learning disabilities, mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression, and behavioral difficulties such as hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders (Deschenes et al., 2001). Consideration of these factors allows for identification of some of the possible student difficulties that may be interfering with academic achievement and creates the opportunity to choose the special education, mental health, and educational interventions that would allow for greater success. …

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