Importance of the CACREP school counseling standards: school counselors' perceptions.
Although the CACREP standards are assumed to cover the knowledge and skills necessary for effective school counseling, a great deal of attention has been given to the identity, role, and responsibilities of professional school counselors (Menacker, 1976; Moles, 1991; Shertzer & Stone, 1963; Wrenn, 1962). Authors have examined the professional school counselor's role within the components of a comprehensive guidance and counseling program (e.g., Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997; Sink & MacDonald, 1998), the school counselor's responsibilities in relation to other school personnel (e.g., Frame, Tait, & Doll, 1998; Murphy, DeEsch, & Strein, 1998), and effective strategies used by school counselors to work with various student issues and problems (e.g., Hinkle, 1993; Kahn, 1999; Kiselica, 1995). These descriptions of the role, function, and responsibilities of school counselors have helped to identify both the common professional ground and the uniqueness of school counseling among other counseling specialties (e.g., career counselors, rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors) and related student personnel disciplines (e.g., school psychology, school social work). Nevertheless, these descriptions have not included the knowledge and skills necessary for the actual practice of school counseling.
With the tremendous expansion of the responsibilities of school counselors and the lack of data regarding the knowledge base of school counselor preparation, there is need for an examination of the importance of pre-service curricula in CACREP school counseling programs in relation to school counselors' actual practice. Therefore, the following research questions were posed:
1.What are the underlying factors of the CACREP school counseling standards?
2. To what extent do professional school counselors rate the school counseling CACREP standards to be important to their actual work as school counselors?
3.Is there a relationship between selected participant characteristics (i.e., school setting, years of experience, school community) and perceived importance of the CACREP school counseling standards?
With reference to the third question, there is some evidence (e.g., Dougherty, 1986) that work setting (e.g., high school, middle school, elementary school) influences the importance of particular school counselor responsibilities. Likewise, it has been suggested that a school's community (e.g., rural, urban, suburban) influences the work of the school counselor (Worzbty & Zook, 1992). There is no research or literature, however, to suggest that years of experience influences school counselor's' perceptions of school counselor responsibilities or accreditation standards. Nevertheless, the researchers believed that exploring the relationship between length of time a counselor has practiced and his or her perception of the CACREP standards would be advantageous because of the rather recent development of CACREP (i.e., 1981) as an accrediting body of school counseling programs. School counselors, for example, with more experience and who graduated before 1981 may perceive the standards differently than school counselors with less experience and who graduated after 1981.
A random sample of 600 practicing school counselors was drawn from the membership of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). The sample was randomly selected by a computerized system at the ASCA headquarters. Out of the 600 surveys mailed, 187 (31%) usable surveys were obtained. Consistent with the demographics of the school counseling profession, many of the participants in the study were female (80%). A vast majority of the participants identified their ethnic background as European/White (92%). The ethnic background of the remaining participants included the following: African American/Black, 2%; Hispanic/Latino, .5%; Asian, 2%; Native American, .5%; and not reported, 3%. Participants also reported the number of years of experience they had in the school counseling profession. The largest percentage of participants (32%) have been in the profession for more than 15 years, while 27% have been in the field for 5 to 10 years, 26% for 1 to 4 years, and 12% for 11 to 14 years. The school setting that the participants work in was varied with 41% of the participants working in elementary settings, 20% in a middle or junior high school, and 32% in a high school. Approximately half of the participants (48%) reported that they work in a suburban community, while 30% work in a rural setting and 18% in an urban setting. These percentages are based on the participants who completed the demographic information sheet.
The 38-item survey instrument for this study was developed based on the 2001 CACREP standards for school counseling programs. Each CACREP curricular experience was stated as an item on the survey. Validity of the survey items was addressed by soliciting feedback from eight school counselor educators from CACREP-accredited school counseling programs, all of whom teach school counseling courses and are contributors to the school counseling literature. As a result of their recommendations, several format and wording changes were made to the initial survey to better reflect the 2001 CACREP standards.
The survey consisted of a 5-point, Likert-type scale which was used to assess the perceived importance of the standard described in relation to the participant's role and responsibilities as a professional school counselor. Importance was rated using the following scale: 0 = "not important," 1 = "of little importance," 2 = "of moderate importance," 3 = "highly important," 4 = "very highly important." The scale demonstrated an internal consistency reliability (i.e., Cronbach's alpha) of .89. The appendix includes a list of the survey items.
The survey was mailed to 600 prospective participants along with a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study and instructions for completion of the instrument. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was included to encourage return of the surveys. No follow-up letters or surveys were mailed.
Research Question 1: What Are the Underlying Factors of the CACREP School Counseling Standards?
Results were analyzed using the SPSS statistical package. A principle components factor analysis was performed to investigate the underlying factors of the items on the survey. The factor analysis yielded four factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.00, a solution that accounted for 51% of the variance in the 38 items on the survey. An examination of the scree plot suggested that a four factor solution should be considered (Zwick & Velicer, 1986). With the pattern matrix of factor loadings under the four-factor solution, two items (i.e., 1 and 29) that had loadings less than .40 on all of the four factors were eliminated.
Table 1 shows the factor loadings of the four factors as well as their eigenvalues, percent of variance explained by each factor, and alpha coefficients. The factor loadings for Factor 1 ranged from .46 to .70. Based on the 13 items that loaded on Factor 1, this factor may be interpreted as an underlying construct representing Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. Sample items for factor 1 included Ability to integrate the guidance curriculum in the total school curriculum; Ability to plan and present guidance related educational programs for school personnel; and Ability to use surveys, interviews, and needs assessments.
Factor 2 consisted of 11 items with loadings ranging from .40 to .70. Again, considering the items that load on this factor, the factor can be interpreted as representing the underlying construct of Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills. Sample items for Factor 2 included Knowledge of prevention and crisis intervention strategies; Ability to identify student academic, career, and personal/social competencies and to implement activities to assist students in achieving these competencies; and Ability to implement individual and group counseling for children and adolescents.
Factor 3 consisted of eight items with loadings ranging from .46 to .64. The items loading on this factor can be interpreted as a dimension of school counseling that taps into Contextual Dimensions (e.g., the school counselor's role in the context of the school setting and community). Items on Factor 3 included Ability to coordinate activities with resource persons, specialists, businesses, and agencies outside the school; Knowledge of role and function of the school counselor in conjunction with the roles of other professional and support personnel in the school; and Knowledge of ethical standards and guidelines of the American School Counselor Association.
And, items .10, 12, 31, and 34 loaded on Factor 4 with loadings of .61, .49, .74, and .60, respectively. On the basis of these items, we interpreted this factor as a dimension of school counseling that deals with Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance (e.g., use of technology). Items on Factor 4 included Ability to refer children and adolescents for specialized help; Ability to recognize and assist students who may use alcohol or other drugs; and Knowledge and application of current technology to assist students, families, and educators in using resources that promote informed academic, career, and personal/social choices.
In addition to gaining an understanding of the factors underlying the items, internal consistency reliability estimates were calculated for each of the four factors. The reliability estimates for Factors 1 through 4 were .91, .65, .60, and .33, respectively.
Research Question 2: To What Extent Do Professional School Counselors Rate the School Counseling CACREP Standards to be Important to Their Actual Work as School Counselors?
Means of perceived importance and standard deviations are displayed in Table 2 for each of the four factors. Pooled-t values for the mean differences indicated that the participants perceived Factor 1, Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation as significantly lower in importance than Factor 2 (t = 4.64, p < .05), Factor 3 (t = 3.86, p < .05), and Factor 4 (t[372)]= 3.18, p < .05). There were no significant differences between the means of Factors 2, 3, and 4.
Research Question 3: Is There a Relationship Between Selected Participant Characteristics and Perceived Importance of the CACREP School Counseling Standards?
To test for differences in perceived importance of knowledge and skills based on various counselor characteristics, a series of MANOVAs was computed on each factor with the participant characteristics as the independent variable. Participant characteristics used in this study were school setting, (i.e., high school, middle/junior high school, elementary school), type of school community (i.e., urban, suburban, rural), and years of service.
Significant mean differences in perceived importance were found in relation to school setting for the following factors: Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills (F[22,330] = 2.28, p = .001) and Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance (F[8,344] = 4.54, p = .000). The means for participants working in elementary and middle schools (M = 3.58, SD = .62; M = 3.53, SD = .64) on the Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills factor were significantly higher than participants working in high schools (M = 3.44, SD = .94). In addition, the mean for participants working in high schools (M = 3.57, SD = .57) on the Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance factor was significantly higher than participants working in elementary and middle schools (M = 3.33, SD = .83; M = 3.37, SD = .79, respectively). There were no significant differences between urban, rural, and suburban counselors on any of the factors. There were no significant mean differences based on the participants' years of experience.
For exploratory purposes, a final set of analyses was undertaken to determine if there were significant interaction effects between the participant characteristic variables (i.e., school setting, type of school community, years of experience). Results indicated that there were no significant interaction effects between any of the variables and perceived importance.
The results of this study reveal a number of important findings. First, the study revealed that four factors--Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation; Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills; Contextual Dimensions; Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance--may comprise the CACREP school counseling standards. Although the four factors are partly consistent with the CACREP curricular experiences (i.e., Foundations of School Counseling, Contextual Dimensions, and Knowledge and Skills for the Practice of School Counseling), it is premature to make a definite claim that four factors underlie the CACREP standards. Based on the limited range of the activities reflected on the survey, it is possible that the survey did not cover the wide range of activities in which school counselors are engaged. While the four factors explain a large amount of the variance in the items, approximately 49% of the variance was unexplained. This may indicate that there were items of importance that did not co-vary with other items. These uncorrelated items may reflect important aspects of counselor practice but are just not correlated highly with the particular items used on the survey. In addition the fourth factor, Knowledge and Skills for Special Assistance, should be interpreted with caution considering its low alpha coefficient (i.e., .33) and its low number of items. Interestingly, the factor analysis implemented in this study did not result in a factor pertaining to Foundations of School Counseling. Items related to Foundations of School Counseling (i.e., history of school counseling, knowledge of school setting) loaded on Factor 3, Contextual Dimensions. It should also be noted that the Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance factor is not a CACREP curricular experience category.
Secondly, the participants in this study rated the four underlying factors as "highly" to "very highly" important to the practice of school counseling. Nevertheless, Factor 1, Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, was rated significantly lower than the other factors. Although the overall ratings were impressive, the lower mean on Factor 1 should be explored further since a considerable amount of attention (e.g., Gysbers & Henderson, 1994) has been focused on the development and evaluation of comprehensive school guidance programs. One might wonder why school counselors do not perceive program development as important as other aspects of school counseling. Perhaps school counselors are spending more time on tasks unrelated to programmatic issues. Or, it is possible that school counselors have been prepared more extensively in areas unrelated to program development? Clearly, further exploration and dialogue regarding this issue are warranted.
Thirdly, the results of this study revealed that grouping participants according to school setting accounts for significant differences on the Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills and Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance factors. Elementary and middle school counselors rated items on Factor 2, Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills, significantly higher in importance than high school counselors did. Perhaps this result reflects elementary and middle school counselors' tendency to implement classroom guidance, individual and group counseling, parent consultation, and academic counseling on a more frequent basis, whereas high school counselors might be more involved in other activities such as scheduling, college preparation, and preparing students for school-to-work transitions. Also, it is possible that the differences relate to the varying developmental needs of students at each school level. Previous studies have indicated that although all school counselors provide the same essential services--counseling, consulting, coordinating, and appraising--differences in how counselors deliver these services is seen in the specific activities used by school counselors practicing at different school levels. For instance, Morse and Russell (1988) found that elementary school counselors prefer doing more group work with students to help them learn appropriate social skills, enhance their self-concept, and develop problem-solving skills. Whereas in another study, Hutchinson, Barrick, and Groves (1986) found that high school counselors performed more noncounseling activities (e.g., scheduling and testing) than counseling activities (e.g., group or career counseling). Perhaps, these differing means of delivering services accounts for the varying perceptions of importance found in this study.
Several potential limitations are important to consider when interpreting the results of this study. Perhaps the primary limitation of this study concerns the composition of the sample. Although all of the participants were school counseling professionals, the sample only consisted of school counselors who are members of ASCA. Thus, the external validity of this study is limited by the degree that the sample is representative of school counselors who are members of ASCA and the results can only be generalized to ASCA's membership. A second potential limitation of this study is the possible influence of the participants' graduate program accreditation status. Because information regarding the participants' graduate program was not solicited, there is no way of determining whether the participants graduated from CACREP or nonCACREP-accredited programs. It is possible, for instance, that graduates of CACREP-accredited programs rated the items higher because of their exposure to the content of the standards.
Implications for School Counseling and Further Research
The findings from this study have immediate implications for accreditation standards of school counselor education programs. The high ratings of importance support existing content used in the accreditation of school counseling programs, and this data can serve as an estimate of the amount of time and depth each area might receive within the curriculum or within individual courses. Likewise, the results of this study can be used to understand the importance of knowledge and skill areas in relation to the actual practice of school counselors in different school settings (i.e., high school, middle school, elementary school). For instance, it is possible that high school counselor trainees need more instruction on providing specialized assistance and elementary counselor trainees need more practice on counseling and guidance-related skills.
There are several implications for counseling research which are evident from this study. First, a replication of this study should be implemented with a sample including existing school counselors from across the United States who are members and nonmembers of ASCA. Since the sample in this study consists of only ASCA members, the results can only be generalized to school counselors who choose to join ASCA. Second, further studies examining the relationship between the CACREP standards and school counselor effectiveness is needed. Additional research designed to determine if the standards improve the quality of services rendered by school counselors would be advantageous. For instance, comparing students' perceived effectiveness of graduates of CACREP-approved programs with graduates of non-CACREP approved programs might provide useful data regarding the relationship between the CACREP standards and school counselor effectiveness. Third, further research regarding school counselor education and school setting (i.e., elementary, middle, high schools) is warranted. If the results of this study are accurate, then it is possible that the preparation of school counselors should be based on the setting in which the counselor will work. Although this is not a new phenomenon (Morse & Russell, 1988), research should be implemented to further examine this issue. And finally, further exploration of knowledge and skill domains necessary for effective school counseling practice are needed. Although this study's findings suggest that there are four factors or domains underlying the CACREP standards, it is possible that there are more or less than four. More studies should be implemented that investigate the underlying skill and knowledge base necessary for the many activities in which school counselors engage.
The results of this study provide a more clear description of school counseling's professional identity by supporting the knowledge and skill base upon which school counseling programs are accredited. Through examination of the CACREP knowledge and skill areas one can easily see the dual influence of both counseling (e.g., Ability to implement individual and group counseling for children and adolescents) and education (e.g., Knowledge of the school setting and curriculum) in school counseling. This dual orientation has historically placed school counseling in a position to advocate both as a specialty area within counseling and as a related profession among the family of education disciplines (e.g., teacher education, special education). These overlapping relationships have also served to acknowledge both the uniqueness of school counseling and the shared or common bond school counselors have with the larger counseling and education communities.
1. Knowledge of philosophy, history, and trends in school counseling.
2. Ability to relate school counseling training to the academic and student services program in the school.
3. Knowledge of role and function of the school counselor in conjunction with the roles of other professional and support personnel in the school.
4. Knowledge of leadership strategies designed to enhance the learning environment of schools.
5. Knowledge of the school setting and curriculum.
6. Knowledge of ethical standards and guidelines of the American School Counselor Association.
7. Knowledge of policies, laws, and legislation relevant to school counseling.
8. Knowledge of demographic and lifestyle diversity as it relates to students and the school setting.
9. Knowledge and understanding of community, environmental, and institutional opportunities that enhance or impede student academic, career, and personal success, and overall development.
10. Knowledge and application of current technology to assist students, families, and educators in using resources that promote informed academic, career, and personal/social choices.
11. Knowledge and ability to advocate for all students and for effective school counseling programs.
12. Ability to refer children and adolescents for specialized help.
13. Ability to coordinate activities with resource persons, specialists, businesses, and agencies outside the school.
14. Ability to integrate the guidance curriculum in the total school curriculum.
15. Ability to promote the use of counseling and guidance activities by the total school community.
16. Ability to plan and present guidance-related educational programs for school personnel.
17. Knowledge of methods of planning, developing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating comprehensive developmental counseling programs.
18. Knowledge of prevention and crisis intervention strategies.
19. Ability to plan and present guidance-related educational programs for parents.
20. Ability to use surveys, interviews, and needs assessments.
21. Ability to design, implement, and evaluate comprehensive guidance and counseling programs.
22. Ability to implement and evaluate specific strategies and interventions to meet program goals and objectives.
23. Ability to identify student academic, career, and personal/social competencies and to implement activities to assist students in achieving these competencies.
24. Ability to prepare a counseling schedule reflecting appropriate time commitments and priorities in a comprehensive guidance program.
25. Knowledge of strategies for securing alternative funding for program expansion.
26. Ability to use technology to design, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive school counseling program.
27. Ability to implement individual and group counseling for children and adolescents.
28. Ability to implement classroom or group guidance designed to assist children and adolescents with developmental tasks.
29. Ability to design and implement peer helper programs.
30. Knowledge of issues which may affect the development and functioning of children and adolescents (e.g., substance abuse, eating disorders).
31. Knowledge of how to assist students and parents at points of educational transition (e.g., postsecondary education, career options).
32. Ability to construct partnerships with families and communities in order to promote student success.
33. Knowledge of systems theories and how systems interact to influence students.
34. Ability to recognize and assist students who may use alcohol or other drugs.
35. Ability to enhance teamwork within the school community.
36. Ability to consult with parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, and community agency personnel.
37. Ability to empower families and communities to act on behalf of their children.
38. Knowledge and skills in conducting programs that are designed to enhance students' developmental needs.
Note: Based on the 2001 CACREP standards.
Table 1. Factor Loadings of Items and Internal Consistency of Factors Factor Items Variance with Highest Loadings 1. Program Development, Implementation, and 16 Evaluation 17 21 26 14 22 15 25 5 19 20 4 24 2. Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills 28 27 32 38 30 23 37 36 11 18 33 3. Contextual Dimensions 8 7 2 9 13 6 3 35 4. Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance 31 10 34 12 Factor Factor Variance Load- ings 1. Program Development, Implementation, and .70 Evaluation .68 .68 .67 .65 .61 .61 .57 .55 .52 .51 .49 .46 2. Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills .70 .62 .61 .60 .57 .53 .47 .46 .45 .40 .40 3. Contextual Dimensions .64 .58 .56 .54 .52 .49 .46 .46 4. Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance .74 .61 .60 .49 Factor Alpha Variance Coeffi- cients 1. Program Development, Implementation, and .91 Evaluation 2. Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills .65 3. Contextual Dimensions .60 4. Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance .33 Factor Eigenvalue/ Variance Percent 1. Program Development, Implementation, and 13.63/36% Evaluation 2. Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills 2.17/5.7% 3. Contextual Dimensions 2.03/5.34% 4. Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance 1.47/3.87% Table 2. Means and Standard Deviations for Perceived Importance Factors Factor M SD 1. Program Development, Implementation, and Evaluation 3.12 0.84 2. Counseling and Guidance Knowledge and Skills 3.51 0.80 3. Contextual Dimensions 3.46 0.87 4. Knowledge and Skills for Specialized Assistance 3.48 1.32
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Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Ph.D., NCC, is an assistant professor and Julia Bryan is a doctoral candidate. Both are with the Department of Counseling and Personnel Services, University of Maryland at College Park. E-mail: Ch193@umail.umd.edu. Stephanie Rahill, Ph.D., is school psychologist, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, FL.
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|Title Annotation:||Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs|
|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2002|
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