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High School Guidance Counseling
NCES: 2003015
August 2003

Executive Summary

Introduction

Recent literature on school counseling has focused on the need for new directions for school counseling and redefined roles for school counselors (Baker 1996; Fitch, Newby, and Ballestero 2001; Perusse, Goodnough, and Noel 2001; Schmidt 1999). However, since the 1984 supplement to the High School and Beyond (HS&B) survey,1 no national data have been collected to describe guidance counseling programs and activities. To help address this lack of current information, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a survey on high school guidance counseling in spring 2002 for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education. The survey, conducted through the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), provides a description of public high school guidance programs, activities, and staff in 2002.2

Key Findings

This E.D. Tab report summarizes findings for all public high schools in the 2002 FRSS survey and the 1984 supplement to HS&B. Findings for schools in the FRSS survey are also presented by the following school characteristics: enrollment size, locale, percentage of college-bound students, and number of vocational courses offered per 100 students.3 This executive summary presents highlights of findings for all public high schools and compares results from the FRSS survey and the supplement to HS&B concerning program goals, written plans, and selected guidance activities.

Program Goals and Written Plans

Of the four program goals examined in the 2002 FRSS survey, helping students with their academic achievement in high school was the most emphasized goal of high school guidance programs; 48 percent of all public high schools emphasized this goal the most (Table 1). Fewer schools reported that the most emphasized goal of their guidance programs was helping students plan and prepare for postsecondary schooling (26 percent) or helping students with personal growth and development (17 percent). Schools were least likely to report that the most emphasized goal of their guidance programs was helping students plan and prepare for their work roles after high school (8 percent). Between 1984 and 2002, the proportion of public high schools indicating that helping students with their academic achievement in high school was the most emphasized guidance goal increased from 35 percent to 48 percent.

Fifty-six percent of public high schools in 1984 (not shown in tables) and 61 percent of public high schools in 2002 had written plans for their guidance programs (Table 3). One-half (50 percent) of all public high schools had guidance plans with written standards in 2002.4

School Programs and Features

The FRSS survey gathered information about six school programs and features. Three of the six were found in a majority of public high schools: required state academic assessment for high school graduation (70 percent), school-to-work programs (65 percent), and a team approach to career development (56 percent; Table 4). Fewer schools had a curriculum aligned around career clusters/paths (45 percent) or block scheduling (42 percent). The schools were least likely to have small learning communities such as houses or academies (15 percent). Public high schools also reported their perceptions of the overall effect of the programs or features on their ability to deliver guidance services; for every school program or feature examined, the schools reported mostly positive effects more often than no effects or mostly negative effects (Table 5).

Selected Guidance Activities: Availability and Student Participation

The 2002 FRSS survey asked about 15 of the 16 guidance activities examined in the 1984 supplement to HS&B.5 In both surveys, schools indicated whether each activity was available to students and the percentage of students in grades 11 and 12 who participated in the activity.

Among the guidance activities examined in the survey, the following were the most commonly available at public high schools in 2002: use of college catalogs, individual counseling sessions, use of computerized career information sources, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, and use of noncomputerized career information sources. These activities were offered by 92 to 100 percent of the schools (Table 6). In addition, between 73 percent and 87 percent offered occupational information units in subject-matter courses, exploratory work experience programs, career days/nights, vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class, job-site tours, tours of postsecondary institutions, job shadowing, group guidance/counseling sessions, and training in job seeking skills. School courses in career decisionmaking were the least available activity, although this activity was available in 57 percent of all public high schools. Between 1984 and 2002, the proportion of schools offering a guidance activity declined for 3 of the 15 activities—career days/nights, tours of postsecondary institutions, and training in job seeking skills. During this time period, no differences were detected in the proportion of schools indicating that the remaining guidance activities were available.

Student participation (regardless of whether an activity is offered) provides a second indicator of the prevalence of guidance activities.6 The guidance activity in which public high school students participated most often in 2002 was individual counseling sessions (78 percent of students; Table 8). Fewer students (44 to 61 percent) participated in 8 of the remaining 14 activities—career days/nights, vocationally oriented assemblies and speakers in class, testing and having tests interpreted for career planning purposes, group guidance/counseling sessions, occupational information units in subject-matter courses, the use of noncomputerized career information sources, the use of computerized career information sources, and the use of college catalogs. The activity in which students participated least often was job shadowing (17 percent).

As in 2002, the activity in which students participated most often in 1984 was individual counseling sessions (79 percent), and the activity in which they participated least often was job shadowing (5 percent; Table 8). Between 1984 and 2002, the proportion of students who participated in a guidance activity increased for 5 of the 15 activities: occupational information units in subject-matter courses, exploratory work experience programs, job-site tours, job shadowing, and the use of computerized career information sources. No significant differences were detected between these years in the proportion of students who participated in the remaining guidance activities.

Other School Activities

In the FRSS survey, public high schools were asked about four school activities that had not been included in the 1984 supplement to HS&B: regularly scheduled group guidance sessions led by teachers or other school staff, a written career plan, a senior project based on the student's career of interest, and the selection of a career major or path to guide the student's selection of courses. Schools indicated whether each activity was available and whether it was required of all, some, or no students.

In 2002, 77 percent of public high schools indicated that selection of a career major or path was available, and 50 percent of all public high schools required all students to participate in the activity (Table 10). Sixty-four percent of public high schools indicated that written career plans were available, and 47 percent required all students to participate in the activity. Sixty-three percent of public high schools reported that regularly scheduled group guidance sessions led by teachers or other school staff were available, and 35 percent required all students to participate in the activity. Finally, 31 percent of public high schools reported that senior projects based on the student's career of interest were available, and 14 percent required all students to participate in that activity.

Guidance Staff

In the 2002 FRSS survey, public high schools reported the number of full- and part-time guidance counselors assigned to high school students, the number of counselors who were certified, the number of guidance paraprofessionals, and the percentage of time that the school's guidance counselors spent delivering selected services to high school students during the school year. Schools also indicated whether their state or school district provided in-service training or professional development in selected topics for high school guidance counselors during the 12 months preceding the survey. In addition, the survey respondent (typically a lead guidance counselor) was asked to report the number of hours he/she spent on professional development in each topic.

In 2002, about 49,500 guidance staff (counselors and paraprofessionals) were assigned to public high school students; this represents an average of 249 students for every guidance staff member and 284 students for every guidance counselor, including full- and part-time counselors (Table 12).7 The ratio of high school students to full-time guidance counselors was 315:1 (not shown in tables). Most guidance counselors (90 percent) were employed full time, and most (94 percent) were certified, with full-time counselors being more likely than part-time counselors to be certified (96 vs. 79 percent; Table 13).

Time Spent Delivering Services

The two listed services at which guidance counselors spent the most time in 2002 were the choice and scheduling of high school courses, and postsecondary education admissions and selections; 49 percent of public high schools reported that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on the choice and scheduling of courses, and 43 percent indicated that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on postsecondary education admissions and selections (Table 14). The third activity at which guidance counselors spent the most time was students' attendance, discipline, and other school and personal problems; one-third of public high schools reported that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on this activity. Fewer public high schools (13 to 19 percent) indicated that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on academic testing, occupational choice and career planning, and other guidance activities. Schools were least likely to report that more than 20 percent of their guidance staff's time was spent on job placement and employability skill development (2 percent) and on non-guidance activities such as hall or lunch duty, substitute teaching, and bus duty (5 percent).

Professional Development for Guidance Counselors

About two-thirds (64 percent) of all public high schools indicated that their state or school district provided professional development on academic curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments for guidance counselors during the 12 months preceding the survey (Table 16). Fewer schools (51 to 53 percent) reported the availability of professional development on career guidance standards/frameworks/models, how to interpret test scores and assess student achievement, and how to work with students with special needs. Of the five listed topics, the least available was training on occupational/vocational curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments (43 percent). Thirty-eight to 51 percent of respondents spent 4 or fewer hours, or the equivalent of one-half of a day or less, on professional development for a listed topic over the 12 months preceding the survey (Table 17). The proportion of respondents who spent more than 8 hours on professional development for a listed topic during the preceding 12 months ranged from 18 percent for training on how to interpret test scores and assess student achievement to 30 percent for training on state or local career guidance standards/ frameworks/models and for training on state or local academic curriculum standards/frameworks or assessments.


1The 1984 supplement to the HS&B surveyed staff in about half of the original sample of 1,015 schools that participated in the base year (1980) HS&B. The supplemental survey collected data on high school guidance counseling activities in 1984.

2To retain comparability with the 1984 survey, this study used a working definition of high schools as schools with a highest grade of 11 or 12. Most (90 percent) of the respondents were guidance counselors, 7 percent were principals, and 3 percent were some other staff member (see appendix A, methodology, for details on the sample and definitions).

3The tables in the report also summarize findings for public high schools by region of the country, minority enrollment, and access to an area or regional vocational school.

4Plans for guidance programs include program description, program schedule, staff roles and responsibilities, program resources, budget, and management schedule. Standards are statements that provide a description of what students should know and be able to do at the highest level of expectation.

5"Simulations" was not included in the 2002 FRSS survey because pretesting suggested that this activity is hardly ever used in schools and respondents might have difficulty answering the question.

6For these analyses, schools that did not offer an activity were coded as having zero students participating in that activity.

7It is important to note that the number of counselors and the student-counselor ratios from the FRSS survey are not strictly comparable to estimates from the Common Core of Data (CCD). The CCD estimates are based on a definition of secondary schools as schools comprising any span of grades beginning with the next grade following an elementary or middle school (usually 7, 8, or 9) and ending with or below grade 12 (Snyder 2001). In contrast, the 2001–02 FRSS study defined secondary schools as schools with a highest grade of 11 or 12. Thus, the CCD definition encompasses a broader range of schools than does the FRSS definition. Because the CCD data are reported at the district level rather than the school level (i.e., the counts reflect all guidance counselors in the district assigned to secondary grades regardless of whether the school is a middle school, a senior high school, or a combined school), the CCD data cannot be disaggregated to reflect a definition of secondary schools that is comparable to the definition used by the FRSS study.

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