Missouri Professional School Counselors: Ratios Matter, Especially in High-Poverty Schools

Professional School Counseling, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Missouri Professional School Counselors: Ratios Matter, Especially in High-Poverty Schools


Results link lower student-to-school-counselor ratios to better graduation rates and lower disciplinary incidents across Missouri high schools. An interaction favorable for promoting student success in school was found between increasing percentages of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch and smaller student-to-school-counselor ratios. In high-poverty schools, those schools that met the ASCA criteria of baying at least one professional school counselor for every 250 students had better graduation and school attendance rates, and lower disciplinary incidents.

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In the 21st century, the United States and the state of Missouri continue to undergo changes industrially, occupationally, socially, and economically. These changes are creating challenges for students in Missouri. A rapidly changing workplace and labor force; violence in homes, schools, and communities; divorce; and teenage suicide, substance abuse, and sexual experimentation are just a few examples. These challenges are real, and they are having substantial impact on the personal/social, career, and academic development of students in Missouri.

One of the ways in which the state of Missouri is attempting to address these challenges is by developing and implementing effective comprehensive school guidance and counseling programs (www.missouricareereducation.org). These programs are designed to be integral parts of school districts' total educational programs. They are developmental and include sequential activities organized and implemented by professional school counselors in collaboration with parents/guardians, teachers, administrators, and the community. As developmental programs, they address the needs of all students by facilitating their academic, career, and personal/social development, while helping to create positive and safe learning environments in schools. At the same time, these programs assist students as they face issues and resolve problems that may prevent their healthy development.

Empirical research conducted in the state of Missouri since the 1990s has shown that certified, professional school counselors, when allowed the time, resources, and structure of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs, contribute to positive student academic success, entry into college and postsecondary training, and career development. They also support the creation and maintenance of positive and safe climates in schools. For example, Lapan, Gysbers, and Sun (1997) found that Missouri students in small, medium, and large high schools with more fully implemented guidance and counseling programs (as judged by school counselors) reported that they earned higher grades, their education better prepared them for the future, and their schools had a more positive climate than schools without such programs. Similarly, Lapan, Gysbers, and Petroski (2001) found that, when classroom teachers in small, medium, and large middle schools in Missouri rated guidance and counseling programs as more fully implemented, seventh graders reported they felt safer in their schools, earned higher grades, understood school to be more relevant for them, had more positive relationships with teachers, and were more satisfied with their education. Finally, according to Lapan, Gysbers, and Kayson (2006), when Missouri school counselors worked in schools that had more fully implemented guidance and counseling programs, they made significant contributions to overall student success including student academic achievement. Specifically, students in these schools students had higher scores on 10th-grade standardized achievement tests, in 10th-grade mathematics, and in 11th-grade language arts and communication. They also had better attendance and fewer discipline problems and out-of-school-suspensions. Supporting these research findings are similar positive results from several independent evaluations of the impact of comprehensive guidance programs for Utah students that began in the 1990s and continue in the present (e. …

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