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High School Guidance Counseling
NCES: 2003015
August 2003


Recent literature on school counseling has focused on the need for new directions for school counseling and redefined roles for school counselors. Some educators (Baker 1996; Beale and McCay 2001; Campbell and Dahir 1997; Schmidt 1999) contend that school counseling programs need to become more closely aligned with state and national standards for school counselors. Some argue that school counselors often undertake inappropriate activities (e.g., scheduling of classes, student discipline, and clerical duties). These activities tend to compromise the counselors' ability to deal with key dimensions of school counseling - such as individual and group counseling, consultation, case management, program evaluation, and the development of schoolwide guidance programs (Baker 1996; Fitch, Newby, and Ballestero 2001; Perusse, Goodnough, and Noel 2001; Schmidt 1999).1

Federal support for improving or expanding guidance counseling programs in elementary and secondary schools is reflected in several pieces of legislation under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 2001.2 For example, the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Programs, under Title IV, Part D, of the ESEA, is a grant program that provides local agencies with federal funds to establish or expand elementary and secondary school counseling programs.3 Legislation on career guidance and counseling programs, embodied in the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-332), offers federal grants to help provide vocational-technical education programs and services to youths and adults. Thus, schools may use Perkins funds to support career counseling and guidance activities for students who participate in vocational programs.4

To address problems that may interfere with students' learning, guidance counselors may take on a range of responsibilities, such as individual or group counseling on academic, career, and personal issues, and student discipline. However, no national data exist that provide a current picture of high school guidance counseling programs and activities. The most recent national data on high school guidance counseling were collected in 1984, as part of the Administrator and Teacher Survey, a supplement to the High School and Beyond Longitudinal Study (HS&B).5 To help address the lack of current information on high school guidance counseling, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a survey in spring 2002 for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education. The survey on high school guidance counseling was designed to provide a description of guidance programs, guidance activities for high school students, and guidance staff in 2002.6 Specifically, the 2002 survey examined the following dimensions of high school guidance counseling:

  • goals, plans, and features of guidance programs;
  • guidance activities engaged in by 11th- and 12th-grade students;
  • professional characteristics of guidance staff, including employment status, certification, and time spent delivering guidance services; and
  • professional development offered to guidance staff in the past year.

In addition to presenting current data from the 2002 survey, this report compares survey findings with data from the 1984 supplement to HS&B concerning program goals, written plans, and guidance activities.7

NCES conducted the 2002 survey using the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). The FRSS is designed to collect small amounts of issue-oriented data with minimal burden on the respondents and to disseminate findings within a relatively short time period. Questionnaires were mailed to a nationally representative sample of 1,001 public high schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in January 2002. Principals were instructed to have the questionnaire completed by a lead guidance counselor or another staff member who was responsible for providing guidance services at the school. Most respondents (90 percent) were guidance counselors. Data have been weighted to yield national estimates. The weighted response rate is 94 percent. Detailed information about the survey methodology is provided in appendix A, and the questionnaire can be found in appendix B.

The summary tables report national estimates by the following school characteristics:8

  • enrollment size (less than 500; 500 to 1,199; 1,200 or more);
  • locale (city, urban fringe, town, rural);
  • percent college bound (less than 50 percent, 50 to 74 percent, 75 percent or more);
  • number of vocational courses offered per 100 students (fewer than 3 courses, 3 to 6 courses, more than 6 courses);
  • region (Northeast, Southeast, Central, West);
  • percent minority enrollment in the school (less than 6 percent, 6 to 20 percent, 21 to 49 percent, 50 percent or more); and
  • access to area/regional vocational school (has access, does not have access).9

The section on selected findings discusses survey findings by four of the school characteristics listed above - enrollment size, locale, percent college bound, and number of vocational courses offered per 100 students. In general, comparisons by these school characteristics are discussed only where significant differences were detected and follow meaningful patterns.10 All specific statements of comparisons made in this report have been tested for statistical significance using trend tests or t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment.11 Comparison statements are significant at the 95 percent confidence level. The reader is referred to the methodology section (appendix A) for further details on the statistical methods used and on the school characteristics variables listed here.

It is important to note that many of these school characteristics may be related to each other. For example, school size and locale are related, with city schools typically being larger than rural schools. Other relationships between these analysis variables may exist. However, this E.D. Tab report focuses on bivariate relationships between the analysis and questionnaire variables rather than more complex analyses.12

1Sources of role statements for school counselors come from the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), state education departments, and the professional literature on school counseling. Based on the ASCA National Standards for School Counseling Programs, school counselors are expected to engage in activities that would support the academic, career, and personal development of students.

2Also referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

3Counseling is also an allowable use of funds under other ESEA programs, such as Part A of the Title I program, Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged.

4Perkins funds are made available mainly through state education agencies. According to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), other frequent uses of Perkins funds include vocational curriculum materials, occupationally relevant equipment, materials for learning laboratories, curriculum development or modification, staff development, efforts for academic-vocational integration, supplemental services for special populations, remedial classes, and expansion of - tech prep programs. The most frequent use of Perkins funds falls under accounting codes of salaries and equipment for programmatic purposes such as professional development, tech prep, career guidance and counseling, and integration of academic and vocational education (see description of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998, Available:

5The High School and Beyond (HS&B) survey was first conducted in 1980. The 1984 supplement to HS&B is a component of the Administrator and School Survey (ATS) of the second HS&B followup study in 1984 (see appendix A, methodology, for details).

6 The survey was developed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in fall 2001, but it was mailed to schools in January 2002. For the remainder of this report, the survey will be referred to as the 2002 survey. To retain comparability with the HS&B data, this study uses 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 sample and definitions).

7Comparisons between the 1984 and 2002 data are based on three survey questions asked in the 2002 survey that were comparable to questions asked in the 1984 supplement to HS&B (see appendix C for the HS&B questions).

8For a full description of these variables, see appendix A, methodology. When referring to the categories for school enrollment size, schools with fewer than 500 students are referred to as small schools, those with 500 to 1,199 students are referred to as medium schools, and those with 1,200 or more students are referred to as large schools. When referring to the categories for the percent college bound, less than 50 percent students is considered a low proportion, 50 to 74 percent is considered a moderate proportion, and 75 percent or more is considered a high proportion. When referring to the categories for number of vocational courses offered per 100 students, fewer than 3 courses is considered a low number, 3 to 6 courses is considered a moderate number, and more than 6 courses is considered a high number of courses.

9One issue that was of interest to the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, was whether the delivery system used for vocational-technical education was related to the types of career guidance activities and programs available to students. To help address this issue, this report includes an examination of the extent to which guidance counseling differed by whether students at the school had access to an area/regional vocational school.

10Differences by these school characteristics are reported when clear patterns are detected. For example, differences in the proportion of schools with written guidance plans by enrollment size are reported where those differences follow an increasing or decreasing pattern or where differences are detected between small and large schools (i.e., the highest and lowest categories of the ordinal school characteristic variable). Some nonsignificant findings are reported in cases where significant differences were expected or where no differences were detected across a key variable or group of variables.

11The Bonferroni adjustment is appropriate to test for statistical significance when the analyses are mainly exploratory (as in this report) because it results in a more conservative critical value for judging statistical significance (see appendix A, methodology, for a more detailed discussion of the Bonferroni adjustment).

12E.D. Tab reports focus on the presentation of selected descriptive data in tabular format.