Utah's school counseling data projects: a statewide initiative.The statewide Utah Model for Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance: K-12 Programs (Utah State Office of Education, 2008) began implementation in 1988. Beginning with the 2004-2005 school year, data collection has been required for all schools collecting program funds. This article reviews research data from three Utah schools--one elementary school, one junior high school, and one high school. Each review details the intended behavior, desired results, guidance activity, evaluation method, and study results. A brief history of Utah's comprehensive counseling and guidance program is provided and specific recommendations for districtwide or statewide data collection are provided.
Data collection has been an integral part of the Utah Model for Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance: K-12 Programs (CCGP; Utah State Office of Education, 2008) since its foundation in 1988. Beginning with the 2004-2005 school year, all secondary schools receiving state funding have been required to submit two reports to the Utah State Office of Education (USOE), one requiring a large-group guidance activity report and the other requiring a small-group "Closing the Gap" report. To support the implementation of these data projects, USOE provided training by Trish Hatch, coauthor of the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005), with full-day and half-day training on the use of data in school counseling programs during June 2003, January 2004, and June 2004. In June 2003, school counselors in Utah secondary schools with approved CCGPs (97% of the public schools) submitted 196 data projects on a guidance activity to USOE. In June 2004, secondary CCGPs submitted a guidance activity and a Closing the Gap action plan and results report to USOE for a cumulative total of 547 data projects.
Prior to the 2004-2005 school year, program evaluation was done every 3 years with an on-site review by out-of-district personnel required for CCGP funding. During the 2004-2005 school year, after consultation and collaboration with local school district counseling leaders, CCGPs switched to an every 6-year on-site review with a commitment to devote the saved preparation time to planning, delivering, analyzing and sharing data projects on a district or regional basis to improve results for students and improve CCGPs. The CCGP standards for program approval also require every school counseling program to make at least an annual presentation on data projects to the school faculty and to the local school board. Every year since June 2005, every secondary CCGP has submitted both a guidance activity and a Closing the Gap results report to USOE in order to maintain its CCGP approval status and continue to qualify for its school's share of the $8.785 million in annual CCGP incentive funding. Even though elementary schools do not receive incentive funding, many elementary schools also submit data projects as required by their local district. USOE and the CCGP now receive 450-500 projects annually. In June 2008, data projects from 2004-2005 to the present were posted on the CCGP home page (www.schools.utah.gov/cte/guidance_data.html) for review by the public as part of CCGP and school counselor accountability.
All stakeholders have the ability to see how their individual school's comprehensive counseling and guidance program is serving Utah's students. The following details the work of school counselors at three Utah schools--one elementary, one junior high, and one high school--and provides an example of the kind of data being collected and used for program evaluation and improvement.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EXAMPLE
The elementary school is a rural school located in a Wasatch Mountain valley with an enrollment of approximately 630 students with 54.8% of the students being male and 45.1% female. The ethnicity is 80% Caucasian, 18.8% Hispanic, and 1.2% other, meaning Pacific Islander, American Indian, Asian, or African American, compared to the district's ethnicity percentages that are 85% Caucasian, 14% Hispanic, and 1% other. As a community, the economy is largely based on service industry with many bed-and-breakfast resorts, the Soldier Hollow Ski Resort, and other recreational destinations. The school is a Title One school with approximately 30% of the students on the free and reduced-price lunch program.
The school has one certified, halftime school counselor who implements the Utah state comprehensive guidance program. During the 2007-2008 school year, faculty, students, and parents took a CCGP needs assessment to determine the specific guidance curriculum needs of the school. The top three needs that emerged from all of the groups surveyed were bullying, conflict resolution, and self-esteem issues. Using the survey data, input from the advisory committee, community council, and data from the Utah Behavior Initiative program, it was determined that there was a need for a schoolwide bully prevention program.
The effectiveness of the schoolwide anti-bully program was assessed through the small-group data project submitted to the Utah State Office of Education. Participants included 78 fifth-grade students. A pre-assessment was given to each student to determine the extent of the problem and to assess current knowledge on issues related to bullying. Students were asked several questions relating to bullying including, "How much of a problem is bullying at our school?" "Do you feel safe at school?" and "Have you been bullied this year at school?" To the first question, students responded with big problem, a problem, sometimes a problem, rarely a problem, or never a problem. Fifty-two percent of the students reported that bullying was a "big problem" (see Figure 1). To the second and third questions, students responded yes or no. Nine percent of those surveyed reported "no" when asked, "Do you feel safe at school?" and 43 percent of the students answered that they had been bullied at school that year.
Program delivery methods included guidance curriculum lessons on bullying, conflict resolution, and tattling vs. reporting for grades K-5. A key program component was the development of a common language for students and staff. Posters describing the common language were placed in every classroom and key locations in the school. All staff members were educated about bullying issues and how to intervene when victims reported problems. The program was created using information obtained from bullying workshops at state conferences, ASCA's national conferences, and current literature.
A key factor in reducing bully incidents in school is to reduce the amount of peer support that may be either actively or passively given to perpetrators. Bystanders may actively participate in bullying activities by assisting the bully, taunting, or laughing. Passive participants may simply watch a perpetrator, possibly sending a silent social message of approval. With this in mind, a guidance lesson was created entitled "Bully Blockers" centered around the book The Bully Blockers Club, written by Teresa Bateman (2004). The main goal of the lesson was to teach students that "Bully Blockers" do not support bullies. Students were trained to be "Bully Blockers" by learning about the various types of bullying, how to spot a bully, and to assist victims without becoming a bully themselves. Students, staff, and parents were taught strategies for students to use when being bullied.
Students explored various types of bullying such as name calling, teasing, making others feel uncomfortable, rumors, criticism, physical aggression, and relational aggression. Examples for each category were explored through a multimedia presentation that included video clips skits using puppets, computer animated cartoons, and Bateman's (2004) book. The consequences for bullying were also clearly explained in the presentation as well. Each teacher was given five metal "Bully Blocker" buttons so that students could take turns wearing them throughout the year to remind others of the school expectation.
In addition to the bullying lessons, students also received guidance lessons about conflict resolution and peaceful problem solving. Students learned various strategies to deal with conflict and practiced the strategies through role play. Posters with conflict resolution tips were also placed in every classroom and throughout the school. Finally, students were also taught the difference between tattling and reporting. They were encouraged to determine whether their problem was "kid-sized" or "adult-sized" and were taught to solve "kid-sized" problems using their newly acquired skills and to always report "adult-sized" problems, including bullies.
The effectiveness of the program was assessed using a postsurvey with the original small group sample. Seventy-two percent of the students reported less or much less bullying at the school after learning more about bullying. Six percent reported that bullying was about the same. When asked "Do you feel safe at our school?" the number of students who reported feeling unsafe dropped from 9% to 4%. Other questions on the survey were geared toward assessing how much the students learned about bullying issues, which also yield positive results (see Figure 2).
Initially, the data from the Utah Behavior Initiative program and the number of office referrals for bullying showed an increase in the number of reported bullying incidents. Although this originally caused alarm to many stakeholders, studies suggest that the initial increase in bullying incidents and reporting is due to an increased awareness resulting in more frequent identification and reporting. Administrators reported a decrease in bullying incidents. Administrative referrals to the counselor for intervention related to bullying went from 16 in 2007-2008 to 5 for the current school year (with one student being new to the school).
Issues related to bullying are a pervasive problem at all grade levels nationwide. There are multiple theories, programs, and suggested solutions related to this phenomenon. The elementary school described chose to address school needs by creating a schoolwide program that focused on reducing passive or active peer support for bullying, educating students, staff, and community to increase awareness about bullying, forming common language to be used by students and staff, training staff members to intervene immediately, and establishing administrative support providing clearly defined consequences for perpetrators.
MIDDLE/JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL EXAMPLE
The middle school in this example is located between Wasatch Mountains and Utah Lake near Mount Timpanogos. Located in the north end of Utah County, the school is 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. Currently, there are 1,600 students attending seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. Ninety-two percent of the students are Caucasian, 9% African American, 4% Latino, and 4% other (Asian, Pacific Islander, and native American). Nineteen percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Ten percent of the students qualify for special education. From 2002 to 2008, the school population grew 25.6 percent. There are one and a half full-time school counselors and three intern counselors working at the school.
The school in this example was the first school in it district to implement a completion program for eighth-grade students who successfully complete the 15 credits required by the Utah State Board of Education during their seventh- and eighth-grade years. The completion requirements are aligned with the state requirements and are similar to high school graduation requirements for grades 9-12. Since then, the school district has adopted a similar program for all middle-level schools in the district. The school celebrated its first eighth-grade completion ceremony in May 2008, with 452 out of 500 eighth-grade students successfully completing the required 15 credits during their seventh- and eighth-grade years to receive their completion certificates. The middle school is striving to help all students reach their highest level of success by clarifying the requirements and monitoring student success.
School counselors have an integral role in helping students achieve academic success at the school. During the 2007-2008 school year, the school counselors implemented a systematic approach, using "Counselor Watch" to regularly monitor students who were at risk of failing. The program was created to provide intervention strategies to students in a timely manner. The goal of Counselor Watch was to decrease the total number of failing grades (F's) earned by students from the 2006-2007 school year to the 2007-2008 school year by 10%. All students, grades 7-9, participated in the program.
Every 3 weeks, counselors monitored current grades through electronic reports. If students were failing, counselors met with students to implement needed interventions from the school's "Pyramid of Interventions." These strategies included placement in help classes (guided study, study hall, foundations of learning, reading skills, and math enrichment), tracking with grade-level trackers, participation in counselor-run groups (coping skills, social skills, and friendship themed), parent meetings, teacher meetings, counselor tracking, credit letters to parents, after-school tutoring, counselor-administrator student success team referrals, and use of 504 plans and IEP accommodations.
For seventh- and eighth-grade students, the focus also was concentrated on the new junior high completion program. This was done through presenting clear learning targets during student education occupation plan meetings (SEOPs--individual student planning that has been required in Utah since 1996), grade-level assemblies, and school newsletters. For ninth-grade students, the focus was on earning credit for high school graduation. The counselors did this by teaching graduation requirements in classroom presentations, SEOPs, and grade-level assemblies.
The data project was measured each quarter by tracking failing grades in each level during the 2007-2008 school year and comparing them to the 2006-2007 school year (see Figure 3).
After three quarters of the 2007-2008 school year, there was an overall decrease in the failing grades by 28%, well over the counselors' goal of 10%. At the end of the year, the seventh-grade students had a 20.4% drop in failing and incomplete grades (867 to 690), the eighth-grade students had a 27% drop in flailing and incomplete grades (1,413 to 926) and the ninth-grade students had a 16% drop in failing and incomplete grades.
It is significant to note that the number of failing grades for the first quarter of the following year (2008-2009) for ninth-grade students was down by 60% over the previous year's ninth grade. This is the first group of students that went through the completion requirement program as eighth graders and participated in the counselor watch program. Counselors feel that students are more prepared to take responsibility for their educational success because of the intense interventions and motivational programs associated with the completion program.
Data are being collected on improved end-of-year test scores for eighth-grade students and preliminary findings are showing a positive gain. In addition, counselors are disaggregating the data of those students who did not complete the seventh- and eighth-grade requirements to see if there are barriers impeding student success that need to be addressed.
HIGH SCHOOL EXAMPLE
The high school described in this example is a rural, public high school located in northern Utah. The school draws students from residential neighborhoods (64%) and surrounding farming communities (36%). The school currently serves 1,273 students in grades 10-12 with 92% White (non-Hispanic), 6% Hispanic, 1% native American, and 1% other (including Black, Asian, and Pacific Islander). Four percent of the students are English language learners. Thirty-four percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. Since the year 2000, the community has experienced significant workforce reduction in the supporting industries resulting in decreased family income, increased shift work, and employment instability for many families. The school community is addressing the needs of changing demographics.
The high school has four certified school counselors as members of the CCGP team. All are veteran school counselors with each having 10 or more years in the profession. The newest team member, also a veteran school counselor, joined the counseling team 3 years ago.
The school administered a needs assessment in April 2006 indicated that students needed help in (a) becoming more involved in activities, (b) building interpersonal skills, and (c) cultural awareness and diversity training. The CCGP Advisory Committee for 2006 and 2007 directed the school counselors to find ways to include more students in activities, break down social barriers, and build stronger personal connections for the students. In the spring of 2007, student leaders from student government approached the counselors asking for assistance in addressing the lack of school unity, acceptance, and respect. Using data and feedback from these sources and in collaboration with administrators, the CCGP Advisory Committee, the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and the student government, a schoolwide school climate initiative was created.
This school climate initiative was proposed to our school community council and adopted as part of the 2007-2008 school improvement plan. Utah School Lands Trust financial resources were approved and provided by the school community council. The initiative was titled "Bee One--Be the Change" (the school mascot is the bee). The primary objective was to bring unity and connection to the students and create a school climate that is supportive, caring, and forgiving.
Curriculum standards and objectives included Utah Life Skills (USOE, 2006) and the Utah CCGP-Student Outcomes: Standards and Objectives with specific focus concentrated on the multicultural/global citizen development standard and personal/social development (USOE, 2008).
Five diverse student leaders were appointed to create the Bee One initial student leadership team. Counselors became the Bee One advisors. Collaborating with administrators, Bee One leaders, and student government, a program that would meet school climate goals and support existing school groups and activities was developed.
During a collaborative leadership retreat with Bee One leadership and student government, monthly schoolwide focus themes and the pre/post surveys for data collection were identified. The pre-survey occurred during registration in mid-August 2007 with 536 students completing an online survey.
During the fall of 2007, Bee One implemented 10th-grade transition tours. In addition, Bee One students developed packets, school-spirit gifts, tours, and activities for new students. The Bee One--Be the Change movement was introduced by Bee One student leaders during the school's opening "Hello Assembly," and during an after-school follow-up meeting, 90 students joined the Bee One movement. Other activities included attending the Utah Valley University Leadership Conference in Orem, UT, a schoolwide service project, "Trick or Treat for Cans," a mix-it-up inclusion activity during lunches, and the Weber State University Multicultural Conference in Ogden, UT. Bee One students created ongoing bulletin boards and artwork representing Bee One goals, monthly themes, and activities.
In addition to becoming the primary advisors facilitating the Bee One initiative, counselors also developed welcome/transition curricula for 10th-grade students, collaborated with 10th-grade English teachers, and presented guidance curricula to all sophomore students. Counselors also facilitated a major event, Challenge Day (www.challcngeday.org.), where students and adult facilitators received instruction and practice in supporting others, communication, listening, and expressing emotions.
Collaborating with teachers and administrators, counselors selected 100 diverse students representing all populations and student groups to participate in Challenge Day. Fifty adult facilitators including teachers, administrators, support staff, school district administrators, neighboring school counselors, and community agencies such as Youth Services, Juvenile Court, the PTSA, and other community youth organizations also were invited to participate. Challenge Day occurred on March 6, 2008, with preparatory and follow-up activities provided for participants.
Following Challenge Day, a core of seven teachers volunteered to actively engage in the Bee One movement and to assist counselors as adult advisors. The momentum of Bee One continued to build as a schoolwide program. The collaborative group planned and prepared 2008-2009 activities. During the spring of 2008, continuing funding proposals were written to the school community council. Bee One was adopted as part of the 2008-2009 school improvement plan and is continuing as a schoolwide initiative. On May 20 and 21, 2008, 656 students took the online post-survey.
After Bee One was implemented, students reported a 20% increase in the overall school climate. Specifically, students wanted others to feel accepted and more students to engage in activities. During post-surveying, 17% more students reported a desire to increase school unity and school pride and 16% more students reported a desire to treat more peers with kindness and respect (see Figure 4).
During the post-survey, students identified concrete ways to make a difference in the school climate. These ideas included supporting activities, joining clubs, keeping the school clean, staying drug free, helping others, including others, kindness, and friendliness. These responses were a significant contrast to pre-survey response.
Post-survey results indicated that 16% of the student body (primarily senior students) wanted increased adult supervision and involvements in hallways, the lunchroom, assemblies, and activities. Written comments encouraged teachers to engage with students outside of the classroom. Students reported that teacher presence outside of the class room is essential for school spirit and unity.
Bee One--Be the Change provided direct school climate instruction and activities for the student body and school staff. Through this initial work, counselors believe the school climate is beginning to improve. Results show that Bee One projects are successfully creating a common vocabulary and awareness for issues such as discrimination, positive peer support, unity, pride, and acceptance. Data indicate that Bee One is providing opportunities for students to observe and participate in standards of behaviors conducive to a positive school environment.
Using data and feedback from these sources and through collaboration with administrators and student government, a school climate initiative was developed and implemented. Efforts are continuing for project expansion during the 2009-2010 school year.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL COUNSELORS
In addition to the initial training provided by Hatch to Utah school counselors, staff at the Utah State Office of Education provided 8-hour training sessions on how to use data to effect student achievement and how to connect data and interventions in an effective action plan and results reports each semester during 2004-2005, 2005-2006, and 2007-2008 school years through the Utah Education Network distance education system. The following recommendations are made for the effective use and implementation of data projects, whether at the school or district level or at the state level:
1. Training needs to be early, ongoing, and rigorous.
2. Training for school counselors is essential and is a two-step process. The first step is to help school counselors see the value of data collection (ASCA, 2005). Many counselors feel an additional burden when asked to report data on what they are doing. It takes a great deal of "selling" to achieve counselor buy-in. When school counselors begin to work seriously on the data projects, even the most reluctant participant can see that the data benefits the students, the school counseling program and the school counselors. The second step is to help school counselors understand how to collect data on their programs in a statistically valuable way. Even a cursory review of the most recent data projects will reveal a disparity of quality from "very good" to "not really a data project at all." Most counselors have had research methods and statistics in their graduate studies. Few have had program evaluation. Providing samples of simple data projects to use as examples or resources for data collection and reporting may assist in this task.
3. Preservice counselors must be taught program evaluation. State directors need to work with counselor educators to create a curriculum that is relevant to the work that school counselors will be doing. Preservice training for school counselors must include the effective use of statistics and intervention measures for building level intervention and measurement.
4. State or district counselor directors can make data collection easier by providing online forms that give step by step instructions. District and state leaders need to provide ongoing feedback at the school level for data projects.
5. Feedback on individual data projects must be early, ongoing, and rigorous. CCGP statewide advisory committees are working on a rubric-based feedback form.
6. Data must be shared with local stakeholders at the school building and local district level.
7. It is essential to get the support of district leadership for data projects. Districts with personnel that review data projects before they are submitted to the state have much higher quality.
8. Data projects need to be planned out before interventions take place. Often times, counselors look back over what they have done during the school year and try to come up with a data project at the end of the year. Requiring counselors to plan a data project at the beginning of the year may alleviate this problem.
9. Be supportive of positive and negative results.
Both provide valuable information.
In January 2009, the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) approved changes to the USBE Rule R277-462, Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance. The changes require a counselor-to-student ratio of 1:350 in all 7th- to 12th-grade schools effective July 1, 2009. Additionally, every student will have "four year and beyond plans" completed by the end of eighth grade. The board rule also directs that local school district, charter school and building level policies and practices "shall free licensed school counselors for appropriate identified activities with students. Licensed counselors shall not devote significant time to non-school counseling activities including test coordination and assessment and other activities inconsistent with the program" ("Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance Program, Rule R277-462," 2009). Counselors also are encouraged (and funding is provided for one counselor at each school) to join ASCA "to facilitate accessing research and resources for effective program implementation and effective student interventions and outcomes" (Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance Program).
Changes to R277 were made because USBE supports school counselors, the Utah Model for Comprehensive Counseling and Guidance: K-12 Programs (USOE, 2008), and the difference that school counselors can make. Changes to the USBE rule were strongly influenced by the implementation of a statewide requirement for school-level data projects that must be presented at the school level and with local boards of education. By showing the work that school counselors do, program support is gained.
American School Counselor Association. (2005). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author.
Bateman, T. (2004). The bully blockers club. Morton Grove, I L: Albert Whitman & Co.
Comprehensive counseling and guidance program, rule R277-462. (2009, April 1). Utah State Bulletin, 2009 (7). Retrieved April 20, 2009, from http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/bulletin/2009/20090401/32446.htm
Utah State Office of Education. (2006). Utah life skills. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from http://www.schools.utah.gov/curr/lifeskills/pdf/LifeSkillsHandbook.pdf
Utah State Office of Education. (2008). Utah model for comprehensive counseling and guidance: K-12 programs. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from http://www.schools.utah.gov/cte/guidance_model.html
Kathryn S. Bitner, Ph.D., is a school counselor in the Alpine School District, UT. E-mail: email@example.com
Dawn Kay-Stevenson, M.S., is a school counseling coordinator with the Utah State Office of Education.
Brent Burnham, M.A., is an elementary school counselor in the Wasatch School District, UT
Adele Whitely, M.S., is a school counselor in the Alpine School District.
Annette B. Whitaker, M.S., is a school counselor in the Box Elder School District, UT.
Tom Sachse is a comprehensive guidance specialist with the Utah State Office of Education.
Figure 1. Students' responses to the first question. How much of a problem is bullying at our school? Big problem = 52% A problem = 9% Sometimes a problem = 24% Rarely a problem = 9% Never a problem = 6% Note: Table made from pie chart. Figure 2. Pretest and posttest results. Pretest Results Do You Feel Safe at School? No 8% Yes 91% Posttest Results Do You Feel Safe at School? No 4% Yes 96% Note: Table made from pie chart. Figure 3. Failing grades by quarters. 7th Grade F & I by quarter Q1 Q2 Q3 2006-07 192 241 281 2007-08 104 189 205 8th Grade F & I by quarter Q1 Q2 Q3 2006-07 267 428 459 2007-08 174 229 320 9th Grade F & I by quarter Q1 Q2 Q3 2006-07 279 380 336 2007-08 215 299 322 7th, 8th, and 9th F & I Q1 Q2 Q3 2006-07 738 1049 1076 2007-08 215 717 847 F = Failing I = Incomplete (Failing and Incomplete grades are combined) 2006-07 = first (light) column; 2007-08 = second (dark) column Figure 4. Bee One--Be the Change student results. Bee One--Be the Change Student Results Pretest Posttest General Climate 35% 55% Acceptance 48% 62% Engaged in Activities 52% 67% Unity 44% 61% Pride 40% 57% Respect/Kindness 56% 72% Note: Table made from bar graph.