Transformed school counseling: the impact of a graduate course on trainees' perceived readiness to develop comprehensive, data-driven programs.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Educational programs (Research)
Student counselors (Training)
Learning (Models)
Learning (Research)
Authors: Wilkerson, Kevin
Eschbach, LeeAnn
Pub Date: 10/01/2009
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: Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research; 280 Personnel administration
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 210098265
Full Text: Trends indicate that the school counseling profession continues to undergo significant transformation. Training modules developed by the Education Trust and a case study approach were utilized to teach graduate students (n = 39) how to implement the ASCA National Model[R]. Pretests and posttests were administered to evaluate students' perceptions about the effectiveness of the course. Analysis indicates significant improvement in students' perceived competence (p < .003) across all dimensions except one. Results and implications for the profession are discussed.

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Current educational reform provides many examples of the transformation process that is taking place in schools. Transformation also appears to be underway within the school counseling profession (Bemak, 2000; Gysbers & Henderson, 2001; Lambie & Williamson, 2004; Lapan, 2001). From the top down to the bottom up, new ways of thinking about the profession are taking hold. At the professional level, increasing evidence points to changes in the ways many school counselors are conceptualizing and performing their jobs. Programs are becoming data driven and outcome based (Astramovich, Coker, & Hoskins, 2005; Dahir & Stone, 2003; Hayes, Nelson, Tabin, Pearson, & Worthy, 2002; Isaacs, 2003; Rowell, 2005). Practitioners are focusing on advocacy efforts and leadership (Hayes et al.; House & Hayes, 2002; House & Martin, 1998; Schwallie-Giddis, Maat, & Pak, 2003) and teaming and collaboration (Blackman, Hayes, Reeves, & Paisley, 2002; Dimmitt, 2003; Walsh, Barrett, & DePaul, 2007). In addition, conversations about the importance of closing the educational achievement gap are becoming more commonplace (House & Martin; Kaplan & Evans, 1999; Louis, Jones, & Barajas, 2001; Mallory & Jackson, 2007; Stone & Clark, 2001).

Similarly, within the graduate training ranks, many developments reflect the transformed expectations of the school counseling profession. Current training standards put forth by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACRER 2009) reflect the transformed knowledge, skill, and practice competencies that are required in order for school counselors to take central positions in guiding school improvement. These competencies were evident in CACREP's (2001) previous specialty standards for school counselors and are emphasized even more in the newly adopted 2009 standards.

Based on these trends, it would seem important to begin readying preservice school counselors to perform the duties that are increasingly being asked of their professional colleagues. However, little has been done to investigate the extent to which training approaches are successfully preparing school counseling students for these changing roles. Recognizing this, we sought to answer the following question: "What is the impact of a graduate school course on trainees' perceived readiness to implement transformed school counselor roles upon graduation?" It was hypothesized that if course content was delivered that provided students with the requisite knowledge and skills to perform these new tasks, students' perceptions about their ability to meet those expectations upon entering the profession would increase.

TRANSFORMATION TRENDS AT THE PRESERVICE TRAINING LEVEL

Changes at the practitioner level have prompted some school counselor training programs to reevaluate the methods traditionally used to prepare students for entry into the profession. Yet, while much has been written about the importance of undergoing such reevaluation, the literature is sparse on specifics. Furthermore, outcome studies designed to investigate the impact of actual curricula appear largely nonexistent. However, similar to the changes taking place within the professional ranks, it is clear that this process is also in motion within the preparation ranks.

National organizations such as the Education Trust's National Center for Transforming School Counseling (NCTSC) and the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), as well as accrediting bodies like CACREP, are at the forefront of these changes. The NCTSC has been an active partner with school counselor training programs committed to transformation and has identified 10 exemplar components of "transformative work," elements that it believes must be addressed in order to transform the preparation of school counselors. One of those elements, Element 4, describes methods of instruction, emphasizing early and frequent training connection in K-12 schools. "Readings, examples, case studies, projects, discussions and all other class activities should be school based. Practical application of principles and concepts introduced in classes are essential" (NCTSC, n.d.). These practical application training principles were taken into consideration for the development of the current study.

ASCA also has come out in support of transformative training and preparation. Its "School Counselor Competencies" document (ASCA, 2007) was designed to assist school counselor education programs with the development of curricula that provide students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to establish "comprehensive, developmental, results-based school counseling programs" (Introduction). Furthermore, new language in the Preamble of ASCA's most recent ethical guidelines (bolded below to accentuate new additions) reflects much of this contemporary thinking:

Each person has the right to be respected, be treated with dignity, and have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that advocates for and affirms all students from diverse populations. (ASCA, 2004, Preamble)

And,

Each person has the right to receive the information and support needed to move toward self-direction and self-development and affirmation within one's group identities, with special care being given to students who have historically not received adequate educational services: students of color, low socioeconomic students, students with disabilities, and students with nondominant language background. (ASCA, 2004, Preamble)

These phrases emphasize ASCA's transforming vision of school counseling as a profession focused on advocacy efforts, the development of comprehensive school counseling programs, and attention to historically underserved populations. These revised statements provide counselor educators with an ethical imperative to respond and to develop training programs that focus on these key concepts.

Finally, CACREP exists to ensure that the content and quality of counselor education training programs meet standards established for and by the profession. CACREP's school counselor specialty standards identify the knowledge and skills associated with designing, implementing, managing, and evaluating school counseling programs. Specifically, the 2009 school counseling specialty standards bring these transformative roles to the forefront. The newly adopted standards assert that students preparing to work as school counselors will "demonstrate the professional knowledge and skills/practices that are necessary to promote the academic, career and personal/social development of all K-12 students" (Introduction); address barriers (E.2); advocate for policies, programs, and services that are equitable and responsive to the unique needs of each student (F.6); analyze data to make decisions (H.2); and develop measurable outcomes for student development activities (J.2). Currently, 181 school counselor training programs are accredited by CACREP in its Directory of Accredited Programs (CACREP, n.d.). Although this number does not represent all of the school counselor training programs in the country, once again, it indicates that a large number of programs will need to continue aligning themselves with the transformed goals of the school counseling profession if they wish to maintain their accreditation status.

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

To meet emerging transformation challenges, school counselors must develop a number of additional skills and competencies: using data, instituting program assessments and evaluation, promoting schoolwide change, and monitoring student progress in order to close achievement gaps. Deficits in these areas have led to a subsequent need for new skills training among practicing professionals and counselors in training (Astramovich et al., 2005; Carey, 2004). In response, the NCTSC at the Education Trust provides professional development training modules for practicing school counselors. Developed in collaboration with ASCA, the training modules teach school counselors how to use data to link their practice and programs to school missions and education reform goals. NCTSC training modules also equip school counselors with the skills and knowledge necessary to be key players in the mission of schools--educating all students to meet high academic standards. These NCTSC training modules served as the intervention for the current study.

Thus this study asks the question: Do the training modules developed by the Education Trust for currently practicing school counselors have a positive impact on school counselor trainees' perceived readiness to implement the ASCA National Model[R]? This line of questioning is supported by the literature. Dimmitt, Carey, McGannon, and Henningson's (2005) Delphi study identified four principal goals for future school counseling research. Using an expert panel of 21 school counselor educators and practitioners, Dimmitt et al. pinpointed the following focus areas for school counseling research: (a) identifying best practices, (b) documenting effectiveness, (c) understanding how research can effect change in the field, and (d) identifying the most effective educational training and supervisory approaches. The current study addressed the fourth focus area. We sought to determine the extent to which perceived competence changed among graduate trainees as a result of their work in one particular course. It was hypothesized that the results would yield strong, positive outcomes.

METHODOLOGY

Participants

Participants (N = 39) were adult graduate students attending a CACREP-accredited counselor training program at a comprehensive, regional university in Pennsylvania. Participants consisted of a nonprobability convenience sample of all students enrolled in one of two courses: Secondary School Counseling Program Planning (n = 19) or Elementary School Counseling Program Planning (n = 20). The participants consisted of 35 females and 4 males with a mean age of 26.9 (SD = 4.14). Thirty-eight individuals identified themselves as White/European American and 1 as African American. Subjects on average had completed 39 credits toward their 48-credit master's degrees (m = 37.8, SD = 10.7). Fifteen students were full-time graduate students and 24 were part-time. Eleven students reported working part-time jobs while attending graduate school compared to 23 who reported holding fulltime jobs; 4 were not currently employed.

Instrumentation

The primary measure used for this study was a version of a survey instrument developed and used by the Education Trust to assess the effectiveness of its Professional School Counselor training modules. The director of the Education Trust's NCTSC granted permission to modify and use the survey. The instrument (see Table 1) asks respondents to assess their beliefs, knowledge, and skills regarding implementation of the ASCA National Model using a 5-point Likert-type scale. No information on the reliability or validity of this particular instrument was identified in the literature. However, for this particular administration, the calculated reliability coefficient (Cronbach's alpha) for the instrument was quite good ([alpha] pretest = .88; [alpha] posttest = .91). Students also completed a brief, 12-question demographic questionnaire during the pretest administration.

PROCEDURE

Survey Administration Protocol

Students were asked to complete the survey at two different times during the semester. Pretest and demographic data were collected at the beginning of the first class session. The posttest was conducted at the conclusion of the course. Graduate assistants were trained to administer the survey using a detailed administration protocol. Instructors were not present during either survey administration and participants were assured that no data would be viewed or analyzed until all final grades had been submitted for the course.

Graduate assistants administering the survey were directed to read a consent form to all participants prior to distributing the materials. A duplicate of this form also was attached to the front of each survey. Completion of the survey constituted informed consent to participate. Participants were given a precoded survey and a similarly coded note card during the pretest administration. Upon completion of the pretest, participants placed their names on the precoded note cards only. All materials were subsequently collected, secured, and maintained by one of the graduate assistants for the duration of the semester. Note cards with identifying information and pretest codes were returned to each participant at the conclusion of the course along with a posttest. Respondents were directed to enter only their unique pretest codes at the tops of their posttest surveys. All note cards with identifying student information were destroyed upon completion of the posttests. Coding of surveys in this fashion served to protect subject confidentiality and anonymity and to ensure properly matched pretest and posttest responses for accurate data entry and analysis.

Intervention Elements

Course content. The primary intervention for this study was course content in two sections of the same school counseling program planning course (n = 20; n = 19). Each three-credit, semester-long course was taught by a full-time faculty member. Both faculty members are national trainers with the Education Trust. The overall goal and central focus of these courses is teaching school counseling trainees how to develop, plan, and evaluate a comprehensive, data-informed school counseling program. The ASCA National Model (2005) provides the framework for considering the multiple services that contemporary school counselors provide. The course used training resources from the Education Trust's National School Counselor Training Initiative to teach strategies for transformed school counselors to be involved in contemporary education reform initiatives. Content for this course incorporated the four training modules developed by the Education Trust for practicing school counselors.

Module 1, "Working as leaders to promote access and equity for all students," helps participants explore beliefs about students and students' ability to learn; analyzes student demographics; articulates school counseling program mission statements; and examines strategies for collaboration, including working with an advisory council. Module 2, "Using data for change," focuses on using data to identify key focus areas to direct school counselor leadership and intervention. Module 3, "Designing a school counseling program to help all students meet high academic standards," addresses student-focused activities and intervention. Finally, Module 4, "Advocating for systemic change," provides an overview of key advocacy and systemic change principles, as well as the importance of developing "closing the gap" policies and programs.

Case study format. Utilizing a case study/seminar format, students worked as part of a mock school counselor team charged with critically examining their identified case study schools and developing the initial components of a comprehensive school counseling program. Each group worked with one school, using Web resources to gather school information and data to develop a comprehensive school counseling program uniquely tailored to the specific needs of their school.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS

The study utilized a single-group pretest/posttest design. In such a design, each participant serves as his or her own control (Graziano & Raulin, 2004; Norusis, 2002). All data (pre and post) were entered at the conclusion of the study to reduce potential experimenter and subject effects. Paired-samples t tests (pre vs. post) were conducted for each survey question at the conclusion of the study to evaluate changes over the course of the semester. A series of 19 paired-samples t tests were performed for the 19 individual questions on the Education Trust survey. A Bonferroni adjustment (.05/19) was calculated to control for Type I error. Significance was established at .003 in order to maintain the overall experimentwise alpha level at .05.

RESULTS

Pretest to posttest results were analyzed to determine whether the course content had a positive impact on school counselor trainees' perceptions of their readiness to implement the ASCA National Model. Results indicated that participants' scores increased significantly (p < .003) across all dimensions of the survey except for Item 1 (p = .004) when student scores at the beginning of the course were compared to scores at the conclusion of the course (see Table 1).

Standard deviation (SD) scores for each paired sample also are presented in Table 1. Improvements in excess of one standard deviation are indicated in bold and were realized in four principal areas: knowing how to (a) develop school counseling programs that promote access, equity, and achievement for all students (Questions 4a-4d); (b) work toward systemic change in schools (Questions 7 and 10); (c) use teaming and collaboration to promote access and equity and improve student achievement (Questions 11 and 12); and (d) use data to design programs and create change for typically underrepresented groups (Questions 14-16).

DISCUSSION

The purpose of this study was to determine whether the training modules developed by the Education Trust for currently practicing school counselors would have a positive impact on graduate students' perceived readiness to implement the ASCA National Model upon entering the profession. Significant positive changes on 18 out of 19 survey questions from pretest to posttest strongly indicate that students perceived themselves to be more prepared to implement the skills and competencies they learned by the end of the semester. Of particular note, the most dramatic improvements for the participants in this study (SD > 1) were realized in four principal areas: (a) developing school counseling programs that promote access, equity, and achievement for all students; (b) working toward systemic change in schools; (c) using teaming and collaboration to promote access and equity and improve student achievement; and (d) using data to design programs and create change for typically underrepresented groups.

These areas of strongest improvement echo the four themes of the ASCA National Model: leadership, advocacy, collaboration and teaming, and systemic change. They also represent an increased sense of self-efficacy for this sample in the area of using data, a competency that connects directly to three out of the four elements of the ASCA National Model: delivery system, management system, and accountability. If the participants in this study report that they feel more comfortable using data to identify underserved populations and designing programs that are responsive to student needs, it stands to reason that they will be better able to monitor student progress in the future and to determine whether their programs are helping to close achievement gaps.

These results also suggest that the training modules developed by the Education Trust may be used as an effective component of school counselor training training and preparation. This is informative because, despite a call for analysis, little has been done to examine the impact of specific training approaches on either practicing school counselors or students in training. Perusse and Goodnough (2001) conducted a national survey of training programs to determine the extent to which Education Trust concepts were incorporated into existing courses. Yet, while their results indicated that counselor educators viewed the domains of leadership, advocacy, teaming and collaboration, counseling and coordination, and assessment/use of data as very important, they did not examine whether curricula were actually being modified. Likewise, Paisley and Hayes (2002) presented an overview of changes that were made to the University of Georgia school counseling program in an effort to more closely align student training with the Education Trust and the ASCA National Model, but they too focused solely on broad programmatic reform.

Additional training program development articles exist in the literature (Hayes & Paisley, 2002; House & Sears, 2002; Jackson et al., 2002; Perusse, Goodnough, & Noel, 2001), but it is difficult to identify any studies that have evaluated student perceptions, much less actual training outcomes. One study (Brott, 2006) summarized key objectives and learning activities for school counselor trainees enrolled in a specific program. Using qualitative data, the author indicated that recent graduates felt that they possessed the requisite skills and knowledge to perform as effective school counselors, but no quantitative analysis was conducted to support these claims. The current study adds the quantitative dimension to an analysis of student perceptions thus contributing in one very specific, unique way to this fledgling body of research.

STRENGTHS, LIMITATIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE STUDY

The main strength of this study is its unique contribution to the literature on school counselor preparation and training. As previously noted, little has been done to determine the extent to which training approaches have any impact on student preparation. This preliminary study offers something to begin filling that void. It offers preliminary validation for a training approach designed to help students develop the knowledge and competencies to implement the ASCA National Model upon graduation. As transformation in school counseling continues to take root, these skills will be invaluable. That said, it is also important to note that the study was conducted with a small convenience sample and no comparison group under what could be considered low-level experimental control. While that should not invalidate the initial findings, readers are encouraged to consider these results with a degree of caution. As is the case with all preliminary, exploratory studies, additional follow-up work should be conducted.

First, the instrument used in the current study should be evaluated further; factor analysis might help to illuminate the specific dimensions that are being measured on the scale. Second, replication studies utilizing a control group comparison design also are recommended. Furthermore, outcome studies that measure actual competencies instead of student perceptions might be valuable. Of even greater importance, longitudinal studies designed to determine the extent to which comprehensive school counseling programs are actually developed and implemented once training of this nature has been completed are strongly indicated.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND TRAINING

These preliminary results are encouraging. In this instance, they indicate that the modules developed by the Education Trust can effectively lead to increased self-efficacy for graduate students regarding their readiness to develop data-driven school counseling programs and to implement the ASCA National Model. The potential impact this may have on the profession in the future is important to note. As increasing numbers of students graduate from contemporary programs, these new practitioners will begin to shape the profession and directly impact the ways that future school counseling programs are defined, developed, and implemented. Once school counselors begin to make data-informed decisions about their programming efforts and start to illustrate, through accountability and outcome data, how their efforts contribute to positive outcomes for students, work of this sort will increasingly become an expectation, not an option.

With rising outcome expectations, it stands to reason that this may have a profound impact on more experienced, veteran school counselors who do not have the requisite skills and training to move in this direction. Subsequently, conflict may arise between school counselors who embrace the new vision for school counseling and those who continue to work from an older paradigm. These contrasting views can lead to discord and dissonance and distract school counselors from the job at hand. Thus, at the very minimum, all professionals, novices and veterans alike, may need to devote at least some professional development time to learning more about the transformed vision for school counseling.

Although the current analysis points exclusively to the perceived success that graduate students recognized as a result of the training, it is not hard to imagine that similar gains might take place among practicing professionals seeking to update their skills and competencies as well. As such, this training might be considered by both school counselor training programs and practicing professionals who take transformed school counseling approaches seriously. Similarly, administrators interested in supporting their school counselors' efforts to become more data driven and accountable may want to consider the potential value of this focused professional development.

CONCLUSION

Within the past 5 years, the Education Trust, ASCA, CACREP, and other bodies have labored to articulate the emerging role of the school counselor. Thus, regardless of the position that individual states, districts, or even schools take, practicing school counselors have a responsibility to be sure that they are prepared to implement the types of results-based programs endorsed by the profession. Similarly, counselor educators have a responsibility to make sure that they are incorporating curricula that will train students in this fashion. In an environment where administrators and other school leaders are required to document progress and positive outcomes for students, all school personnel, including school counselors, must be able to answer the same question: How have students' outcomes improved as a result of their participation in a specific program? Teachers are held to these standards, and increasingly, so too are school counselors.

If the profession continues to move in the transformative directions indicated, the results of this current investigation suggest that this particular group of soon-to-be school counselors perceived themselves as ready to infuse their knowledge into their programs upon graduation. Given the current educational climate with its focus on accountability and outcomes, these are valuable perceptions. In this study, the results indicate that this group of school counseling students feels more prepared. In the end, their students and school communities stand to benefit. Ultimately, that is what transformed school counseling is all about.

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Kevin Wilkerson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and LeeAnn Eschbach, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services, University of Scranton, Scranton, PA. E-mail: wilkersonk2@scranton.edu
Table 1. Results of Paired-Samples t Tests: Pretest
and Posttest Scores

                                           m          m
Questions                                Pretest   Posttest    SD

1. All children can achieve                3.2     3.7        1.0
   to high levels.
2. If schools have high expectations       3.0     3.5 *      0.9
   and high standards, students will
   meet these expectations and
   standards.
3. I feel prepared to create a school      3.6     4.6 *      1.0
   counseling program that is
   connected to the mission of the
   school.
4. I know how to develop a school
   counseling program that
   promotes the following:
    a. Access for all students.            3.0     4.5 *      1.1#
    b. Equity for all students.            3.1     4.5 *      1.1#
    c. Achievement for all students.       2.9     4.6 *      1.0#
    d. School reform.                      2.7     4.3 *      1.0#
5. I feel prepared to work with all        3.6     4.5 *      1.0
   stakeholders in the school
   to achieve equity and excellence
   for all students.
6. I feel prepared to work with all        3.6     4.5 *      0.9#
   stakeholders in the community to
   achieve equity and excellence for
   all students.
7. I know how to work to make              2.9     4.3 *      0.9
   systemic changes in the school
   that will increase student
   achievement.
8. I can accurately articulate the         3.6     4.6 *      0.8
   role of the school counselor in
   the leadership of schools.
9. I understand the importance of          4.2     4.8 *      0.7
   school counselors working
   systemically to increase access
   and equity for all students.
10. I know how to facilitate               2.8     4.3 *      0.8#
    systemic change, including
    school policy and instructional
    programs.
11. I know how to use teaming and          3.9     4.7 *      0.7#
    collaboration skills to promote
    access and equity for all
    students.
12. I can identify and utilize the         3.4     4.4 *      0.8#
    critical components of successful
    teaming and collaboration in order
    to help schools improve student
    achievement and development.
13. I understand advocacy and what         4.2     4.7 *      0.7
    it means to work systemically
    as an advocate for all students.
14. I know how to use data to create       2.9     4.4 *      1.0#
    systemic change  for the academic
    and social needs of all students,
    especially students from low-
    income families.
15. I know how to use data to create       2.8     4.4 *      1.1#
    systemic change for the academic
    and social nee& of students from
    underrepresented groups (e.g.,
    students with disabilities,
    students of color).
16. I know how to implement data-          2.8     4.3 *      1.1#
    driven school counseling
    programs and design effective
    interventions to improve
    student achievement and
    development.

Note. Bolded SDs = change > 1 SD. Copyright 2005 by NCTSC/
The Education Trust. * p < .003.

Note. Bolded SDs = change > 1 SD is indicated with #.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.