Introduction to special issue: a call for practitioner research.
Authors: Kaffenberger, Carol
Davis, Tamara
Pub Date: 08/01/2009
Publication: Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409
Issue: Date: August, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 6
Accession Number: 206850815
Full Text: Professional school counselors have been called to action. They understand the urgency of using data to reduce barriers to student achievement, to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and curricula, and, ultimately, to demonstrate their effectiveness as a school counselor (House & Martin, 1998; Isaacs, 2003; Rowell, 2005; Sexton, Schofield, & Whiston, 1997). This special issue of Professional School Counseling is dedicated to practitioner research--practicing school counselors using data to reduce barriers to student achievement and increase their use of evidence-based practices.

The role of the school counseling profession has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and the call for using data has transformed school counseling programs and practices (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2005; House & Martin, 1998). The transformation of school counselors has been driven by the recognition that the achievement gap, identified as the impetus for education reform, has not been reduced and that school counselors play a critical role in reducing barriers to student success (Education Trust, 1997; Haycock, 2001; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; House & Martin, 1998). The ASCA National Model[R] (2005) has provided the framework that guides current practices and program development and calls for increased school counselor accountability.

One of the key factors in the transformation of school counseling movement is the recognition that school counselors are key members of the school counseling leadership team and can be central to the school's mission to identify and reduce barriers to achievement. In order for school counselors to effectively play this role, they need to understand why there is an urgency to collect and use data (Dahir & Stone, 2009; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007) and they need to know how to collect and use data. Counseling leadership--counselor educators and researchers--has responded by creating useful frameworks for understanding the purposes of collecting data, and how to make sense of the data one collects (Brigman, 2006; Carey & Dimmitt, 2006; Dimmitt, Carey, & Hatch, 2007; Gilchrist, 2007; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Kaffenberger & Young, 2007; Poynton & Carey, 2006; Rowell, 2005, 2006; Stone & Dahir, 2007). School counselor education programs have responded by incorporating the use of data and accountability strategies into current training, however, not all practicing school counselors have had access to this training or access to available resources (Paisley & Hayes, 2003; Rowell, 2005).

While Professional School Counseling is the flagship publication showcasing school counselor research and best practices, the reality is that most of the contributions to the journal have come from university-based researchers and counselor educators who are helping to craft what it means to be a transformed school counselor delivering a comprehensive evidence-based school counseling program that uses data to drive decision making and program development. At the same time, there has been a call for more rigorous research that clearly demonstrates school counselors' contribution to closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement (Brigman, Webb, & Campbell, 2007; Dahir, 2009; Dahir & Stone, 2009; Dimmitt, Carey, & Hatch, 2007; Poynton & Carey, 2006; Rowell, 2006). Another reality is that until recently, school counselors have not been trained to use accountability strategies and have not taken the time to collect data that will help them understand how students are being served by their programs and what role they can play in reducing the achievement gap. Given the requirements of No Child Left Behind (U.S. Department of Education, 2002), it is no longer a choice--school counselors must demonstrate that they not only know how to collect data but are regularly using data to make decisions about best practices and connecting their programs to student achievement (Dahir & Stone, 2009; Dollarhide & Lemberger, 2006).

The purpose of this special issue is to spotlight school counselor research. In each of the articles in this issue, a practicing school counselor or a director of school counseling programs is the lead author. What is also apparent in this selection of articles is that the school counselor authors have worked in collaboration with counselor educators and researchers (Paisley & Hayes, 2003).

The articles can be categorized in several ways based on the way that school counselors used data in their school counseling programs. Some articles are contributions that highlight the power of evidence-based programming while others include specific types of interventions that result in successful changes for students. Further, several articles include how data have been used in advocacy efforts for transforming the role of school counselors.

Three articles focus on evidence-based programming that resulted in positive change for students. Rose, Miller, and Martinez evaluate the impact of the "FRIENDS for Life" program on the anxiety levels of elementary students, including a parental component to elicit parent feedback on program efficacy. Luck and Webb evaluate the impact of implementing Student Success Skills, a program that focuses on improving academic achievement. Their data also assisted the school counselor in successfully advocating for fewer noncounseling responsibilities. In addition, Young and the school counselors from an urban middle school addressed bullying and harassment behaviors in their school and describe how data were used to develop school counseling programs to address such issues.

More specific to the delivery of the school counseling program, several authors use small-group counseling to address academic and personal/social barriers to student success. Sherrod, Getch, and Ziomek-Daigle describe an effective school-wide and small-group intervention that decreased discipline referrals with elementary students. Bostick and Anderson offer a small-group intervention that reduced student loneliness and social anxiety while also improving the academic achievement of third graders. Evidence of effective school counseling programs is also indicated by Kayler and Sherman who implemented a small-group counseling program to improve the studying behaviors of ninth-grade students.

Several articles address the use of data to close the achievement gap. Schellenberg and Grothaus as well as Bruce, Getch, and Ziomek-Daigle describe interventions implemented to address the unique issues of diverse populations and address the achievement gap of students. Working with diverse groups of students and collaborating with other school personnel is also the topic of the article by Marsico and Getch, who developed an intervention to help Hispanic students transition from high school to college. Further, Wyatt describes a mentoring program to improve the graduation rate of African-American males in an urban school district in Chicago. Effective collaboration between school counselors, school district personnel, and counselor educators to increase postsecondary options is the focus of the article by Camizzi, Clark, Yacco, and Goodman, who improved academic and funding opportunities for college-bound, low-income high school students.

The use of data as an advocacy tool is demonstrated in the article by Dodson, who indicates how perception data can be used to promote change in a school counseling program and to support achieving the Recognized ASCA Model Program status. This article discusses how the priorities of a high school counseling department shifted as a result of data collected regarding administrator perspectives of the school counselor's role. On a larger scale, data also can be used in a systemic approach, such as in the article by Bitner and colleagues that describes how Utah has worked to include data and accountability as a critical part of demonstrating effectiveness in K12 school counseling programs. The statewide project has resulted in legislative change and greater support at the state level.

In conclusion, the variety of articles received from school counseling practitioners is encouraging. Professional school counselors across the country and beyond are starting to understand that helping students feel better about themselves is not enough; effective school counseling programs and practices need to be shared. The width and breadth of the research collected for this issue indicates that while school counselors are starting to understand the power and impact of data, we are still in the beginning stages of helping practitioners collect, analyze, and use data in a meaningful way. It is our hope that this is the first in a series of issues that highlight how students are different because of the school counseling program.


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Brigman, G. (2006). Research methods in school counseling: A summary for the practitioner. Professional School Counseling, 9, 421-425.

Brigman, G., Webb, L., & Campbell, C. (2007). Building skills for school success: Improving the academic and social competence of students. Professional School Counseling, 10, 279-288.

Carey, J., & Dimmitt, C. (2006). Resources for school counselors and counselor educators: Center for School Counseling Outcome Research. Professional School Counseling, 9, 416-420.

Dahir, C. A. (2009). School counseling in the 21st century: Where lies the future? Journal of Counseling & Development, 87, 3-5.

Dahir, C. A., & Stone, C. B. (2009). School counselor accountability: The pathway to social justice and systemic change. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87, 6-20.

Dimmitt, C., Carey, J., & Hatch, T. (2007). Evidence-based school counseling: Making a difference with data-driven practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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Rowell, L. L. (2006). Action research and school counseling: Closing the gap between research and practice. Professional School Counseling, 9, 376-384.

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Stone, C. B., & Dahir, C. A. (2007). School counselor accountability: A MEASURE of student success (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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Carol Kaffenberger, Ph.D., is an associate professor and counselor educator at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. E-mail:

Tamara Davis, Ed.D., Ed.S., is an associate professor and counselor educator at Marymount University, Arlington, VA.
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