Comprehensive School Counseling in Rhode Island: Access to Services and Student Outcomes

By Dimmitt, Carey; Wilkerson, Belinda | Professional School Counseling, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Comprehensive School Counseling in Rhode Island: Access to Services and Student Outcomes


Dimmitt, Carey, Wilkerson, Belinda, Professional School Counseling


This study explored relationships among school counseling practices, secondary school demographics, and student outcomes in the state of Rhode Island during a 2-year period. The results showed strong and consistent correlations between increased amounts of school counseling services and positive student outcomes. Schools with higher percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch status and with higher percentages of minority students provided fewer comprehensive counseling services for their students.

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School counseling interventions have the capacity to improve a wide range of student outcomes (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2012; Campbell & Dahir, 1997; Gysbers & Henderson, 2000; Whiston, Tai, & Rahardja, 2011), but several obstacles make measuring this impact difficult. Any educational outcome has multiple determinants and is the result of complex interconnected variables; thus, identifying the role of school counseling efforts indeed, the efforts of any specific educational component--is problematic (Brown & Trusty, 2005; Dimmitt, 2003). Another challenge is deciding which outcomes to measure, since school counseling interventions are designed to affect everything from mental health functioning to attendance to college-going rates. Gaining access to relevant and accurate data is an ongoing difficulty in many schools (Dimmitt, Carey, & Hatch, 2007). Yet another challenge is that practices vary widely by school and by state (Martin, Carey, & DeCoster, 2009), so that any summative statement about outcomes is necessarily reductionistic or a significantly incomplete picture of what is happening in any given school.

Over the last decades, the literature has called for good outcome research about school counseling (Borders & Drury, 1992; House & Hayes, 2002), with particular emphasis on the need for information about how school counseling impacts student outcomes (Dimmitt, Carey, McGannon, & Henningson, 2005). Previous studies of school counseling program outcomes at the statewide level have indicated that more fully implemented programs are correlated with better student academic outcomes (Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001; Sink & Stroh, 2003), student perceptions of greater access to career and college information (Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997), improved school climate (Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001), better relationships with teachers, and greater satisfaction with school (Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997). Economic and policy research has demonstrated that providing mental health services (Baskin et al., 2009; Reback, 2010), supporting social and emotional learning (Durlack et al., 2011), and school counseling in general (Carrell & Hoekstra, in press) have a positive impact on student academic, behavioral, and social outcomes. Although these studies help school counselors identify where to focus effort and resources, more research specific to school counselor models and practices is also needed.

To determine the impact of school counseling programs, a useful approach is to first identify what kinds of services students are receiving (Johnson, Rochkind, Ott, & DuPont, 2010) and whether all students in a school and district are receiving equitable distribution of counseling resources (Cox & Lee, 2007; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007). Economically disadvantaged students and African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to be in schools where their academic advising and future career needs are not being met, often due to larger school counselor caseloads or a prioritization of crisis intervention over other services (Education Trust, 2000; Johnson et al., 2010; Pagani, Boulerice, Vitaro, & Tremblay, 1999).

Next, identifying the relationship between school counseling programming and student outcomes provides crucial information about what practices are most efficacious and where efforts are most likely to succeed in supporting student success. …

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