High School Counselor Caseload Assignment Models: Counselors Voices about What Works and Why

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1 High School Counselor Caseload Assignment Models: Counselors Voices about What Works and Why By NELDA LYNN MACKEY B.A. (California State University, Sacramento) 1986 M.S. (California State University, Sacramento) 1994 DISSERTATION Submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF EDUCATION in Educational Leadership in the OFFICE OF GRADUATE STUDIES of the UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA DAVIS Approved: Dr. Paul Porter, Chair Dr. Janet Gong Dr. Paula Lane Committee in Charge 2013 i

2 Copyright 2013 by Nelda Lynn Mackey All rights reserved.

3 Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to the memory of my father, a self-taught Renaissance man. I am forever grateful to him for passing on his curiosity and passion for learning. ii

4 Acknowledgements I owe much gratitude to my chair, Dr. Paul Porter, whose patience and humor gently guided me on this adventure. When the task at hand seemed long and arduous, Dr. Porter was always available with the support needed. At times, he provided me with direction when I couldn t see the forest through the trees; while, at other times, he provided me with encouragement and space to grow. He was mentor, collaborator, quipster, critic, and above all, the inspiration I needed to write this dissertation. Kudos to you Dr. Porter! I also am grateful to my committee members Dr. Janet Gong and Dr. Paula Lane. I very much appreciated their perspectives on qualitative research, student services, and leadership, and their great willingness to provide valuable feedback and guidance. I would also like to thank the CANDEL (Capitol Area North Doctorate in Educational Leadership) program faculty for providing me with the opportunity to earn a doctorate while working full-time. Because of the uniqueness of this program, I had the ability to focus research, writing and experiential learning on my profession school counseling. My cohort colleagues, all fellow educators, also greatly enhanced my learning experiences. A special thanks to cohort colleague LeAnn Fong, who provided me with a great deal of support through the dissertation process, and made it known that she was available to help whenever and wherever. This dissertation could not have been written without the willingness of high school counselors in the Sacramento region to give their most valuable time and contribute their stories. I was emotionally moved by their interviews, and touched by iii

5 their dedication and devotion to their profession and their students. I feel honored to share their voices. Finally to my work colleagues, Diane Davis, Anthony Derum, Maria Stevens and Tina Gould, thank you for your unwavering support through this journey. Much thanks also goes to my former colleague Nancy Fowler, who initially gave me the idea to study counselor caseload assignment models. Without her spark of curiosity, this research would not have been completed. iv

6 Table of Contents Dedication... ii Acknowledgements... iii Table of Contents...v List of Tables... ix Abstract...x Chapter 1: Introduction... 1 Statement of the Problem... 2 Purpose of the Study... 5 Research Questions... 8 Chapter 2: Literature Review Effective School Counseling Programs Equity in School Counseling Programs Caseload Assignment Models Caseload Assignment by Grade Level Caseload Assignment by Surname...52 Caseload Assignment by Teacher...52 Akos, Schuldt and Walendin s (2009) Study...53 Looping...58 Human Development Theory...69 v

7 Chapter 3: Methodology...83 Study Overview...83 Research Questions...83 Positionality Statement...84 Qualitative Analysis...87 Sample...90 Data Collection, Piloting, Storage and Analysis...94 Limitations...97 Chapter 4: Data Analysis and Findings Description of Participants Alpha (Surname) Caseload Assignment Model Grade Level Caseload Assignment Model Career Academy Caseload Assignment Model Other Caseload Assignment Models Research Questions and Emerging Themes Research Question #1: What Methods Do High School Counselors Use Now to Determine Caseload Assignment Models? Team Approach (School Counselors and Principal) Counselor Driven Principal Driven vi

8 Research Question #2: What Is the Rationale Utilized by High School Counseling Departments to Determine Caseload Assignment Models? Ease of Counselor Identification Desire for Generalists Rapport with Families Equity of Counselor Workload Equity in Meeting Student Needs Desire for Specialists Create a Family Environment Research Question #3: What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Existing Caseload Assignment Models as Perceived by School Counselors? Equity Issues Relationships Collaboration and Teaming View of the Counselor Role Summary of Advantages/Disadvantages across Caseload Assignment Models Research Question #4: How Do School Counselors Perceive Their Chosen Caseload Assignment Model Impacts the Components of the ASCA (2005) National Model Delivery System (School Guidance Curriculum, Individual Student Planning, Responsive Services, and System Support)? School Guidance Curriculum vii

9 Individual Student Planning Responsive Services System Support Research Question #5: How Do These Caseload Assignment Models Align with the Goals and Mission of the School? Chapter 5: Summary of Major Themes, Conclusions, and Recommendations Summary of Major Themes Alpha (Surname) Caseload Assignment Model Grade Level/Program Specialist Caseload Assignment Models Career Academy Caseload Assignment Model Conclusions Recommendations for School Counseling Practice Recommendations for Further Study Resources Appendix A: The ASCA National Model Appendix B: The ASCA National Standards for School Counseling Programs Appendix C: Study Sample Appendix D: Letter Appendix E: Interview Questions Appendix F: Secondary School Counseling Management Agreement viii

10 List of Tables Table 1: Study Sample...92 Table 2: Summary of Participants and Sites Table 3: Methods Utilized at Sites to Determine Caseload Assignment Models Table 4: Major Themes for Caseload Assignment Models: Advantages and Disadvantages Table 5: Summary of Time Spent (in percentages): ASCA National Model (2005) Delivery System Table 6: Caseload Assignment Models, Participants, and Stated Responses of Goals..182 ix

11 Abstract This qualitative study analyzes high school counselor caseload assignment models. It provides information on the impact of these assignments on the services provided to students, and the goals and mission of a school s counseling program and its site. It also examines the methods and rationales sites utilize to determine caseload assignment models, and counselors perceptions of advantages and disadvantages of differing models. The study reviews relevant literature on effective and equitable school counseling programs, caseload assignment models, looping and developmental theories. The sample for this study is drawn from high school counselors in Sacramento County and its outlying areas. s were sent to potential participants in the fall Nineteen in-person, semi-structured interviews were completed with 21 participants at 13 different school sites. Counselors interviewed came from schools representing the three major caseload assignment models utilized in the Sacramento area (alpha, grade level, and career academy) and five counselors whose schools did not fit into the above categories were also interviewed (alpha plus specialist counselor(s); alpha plus specialized program counselor; and counselor assigned by teacher advocacy group). Purposive, criterion and convenience sampling are utilized. School counselors in this study are clearly able to note distinct advantages and disadvantages for each major caseload assignment model utilized, and state that these distinctions affect major areas of the counselors working relationships with students, families, teachers and the counseling team, as well as the specific function or role of the counselors at their sites. The study also shows that caseload assignment models impact the ways in which school counselors deliver guidance curriculum, individual planning x

12 services, and responsive services to students as outlined by the ASCA National Model. Descriptions for each major caseload assignment model are presented, and can be utilized for program planning and goal setting activities. xi

13 Chapter 1 Introduction All across the country prior to the start of each school year, high school counselors return to their offices amongst a flurry of student and parent s and phone calls. Calendars of events must be prepared, and duties and activities coordinated and assigned. Increasingly budget cuts and political issues weigh on the minds of school administrators and school counselors often arrive in the fall to departments that change in their size and configuration from year to year. Amongst the hustle and bustle of all this, counselors optimistically work towards creating quality programs that address the needs of their students, families, and the school site. Counselors are long since accustomed to working within a framework of time, monetary, and human resource constraints; because of this, they are always trying to figure out ways to more effectively and efficiently organize their school counseling programs. Throughout my lengthy tenure as a school counselor, I have attended countless conferences, and talked to scores of my colleagues about best practices and tricks of the trade. Throughout this time one question has continuously been raised, Has any research been conducted on counselor caseload assignment models? and the answer has always been a resounding No. Counselor caseload assignment models, or how students are assigned to counselors, have not been on the radar of researchers; however, as practitioners, school counselors shared experiences have lead them to believe that the choice of a particular caseload assignment model does impact the organization of their school counseling programs, how they meet the needs of students, and how they contribute to the functioning of their school sites. 1

14 Statement of the Problem Although many large scale studies have been conducted that have provided valuable information on how to organize effective school counseling programs (Borders & Drury, 1992; Carey & Harrington, 2010a; Carey & Harrington, 2010b; Lapan, Gysbers & Sun, 1997) the subject of counselor caseload assignment models has rarely been mentioned in the literature (Gysbers & Henderson, 2006), and only one research study has examined this organizational aspect of a school counseling program (Akos, Schuldt & Walendin, 2009). This blind spot in the literature has forced high school counselors to resort to anecdotal evidence at best when making the decision on which counselor caseload assignment model to choose, and in many cases counselors and administrators have simply relied on past practice due to the lack of research. Counselors, educators, and researchers have often instead focused much of their attention on student-to-counselor ratios as being the most influential organizational component affecting the delivery of services to students (Carrell & Carrell, 2006; Carey & Dimmitt, 2012; CDE, 2003; Hatch & Chen-Hayes, 2008). Certainly this is an important factor, as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends student-to-counselor ratios of 250:1, but nationwide ratios are 457:1, and California ratios are 814:1 (U.S. Dept. of Educ., 2011); however, in light of the fact that high ratios may stay a reality, it is even more imperative that the organizational structure of the school counseling program, including caseload assignment models, be examined more thoroughly to determine if there are smarter ways to work with fewer human resources. In part, ASCA developed a National Model (ASCA, 2005) to address this human resource issue, as well as address an increasing push to make school counseling programs 2

15 more goal oriented and outcome focused (Hatch, 2010). The ASCA (2005) National Model outlines a framework in which all school counselors can focus on goal setting and measurable student outcomes regardless of human resources available at the site (See Appendix A). At its primary core, the ASCA (2005) National Model calls on counselors and administrators to determine the philosophy of the school counseling program, to define goals for the program, and to tie those goals to the goals and mission of the school site. This element is called the foundation of the ASCA (2005) National Model. Answering these important questions should then lead the team to determine management practices, or the management system of the National Model, and how the delivery of services to students is to be implemented, or the delivery system of the National Model. These two systems are intertwined, and should be developed based on the decisions made regarding the foundation of the program. Gysbers and Henderson (2006) state that caseload assignment models should match the foundation underlying the school counseling program, and should be supported by rationale relevant to the school counseling program design. For counselors and administrators to be able to accomplish this task, however, they need some understanding of how differing caseload assignment models may support their abilities to do this, and admittedly, Gysbers and Henderson (2006) state that research is scant to help address this question. Personal communications with the authors ( correspondence with R. Gysbers, 11/29/2010; P. Henderson, 12/10/2010), and a review of the literature revealed only one such study addressing caseload assignment models (Akos, Schuldt & Walendin, 2009); thus, the lack of research on caseload assignment models hinders the team s ability to build the foundation of the program. 3

16 Upon the foundation of the counseling program, the management and delivery systems of the ASCA (2005) National Model are next developed. The management system directly addresses the need for counselors and administrators to determine together the choice of a caseload assignment model, and states that one should be chosen that enables every student to have access to the program. They offer that students may be assigned to school counselors based on grade level, alphabet breakdown, National Standards domain (See Appendix B), academy/pathway or other configurations; however, they provide no supportive rationale for making this important decision or determining how the choice of a caseload assignment model may impact the ability for every student to have access to the program. Even more concerning, ASCA (2005) states that management decisions are intertwined with the components of the delivery system, which means that it is entirely possible that the choice of a caseload assignment model may impact how counselors implement the components of the National Model delivery system. The delivery system is extremely important as it outlines the very heart of the work completed by school counselors, as ASCA (2005) states that all activities conducted by school counselors should fit into the following areas of the delivery system (a) school guidance curriculum, which consists of structured developmental lessons, (b) individual planning, which consists of activities to help students establish personal goals and develop future plans, (c) responsive services, which consists of providing crisis and personal counseling, and (d) system support, which consists of consultation, collaboration, and teaming with other educators to support the school counseling program. 4

17 Research into the role caseload assignment models play in counseling programs is greatly needed. It is an organizational aspect that has been overlooked, and as such, researchers, counselor educators, school counselors and administrators have missed an opportunity to utilize it when making decisions about how best to serve the needs of students at school sites. School counselors and administrators have not had the tools to help them determine how to utilize a caseload assignment model to address department or site goals, nor to determine how caseload assignment models may impact school counselors working relationships with students, families, teachers, and each other. As the choice of a caseload assignment model impacts not only decisions to be made about the foundation and management system of the National Model, but the delivery system as well, caseload assignment models likely impact the role the counselor plays in delivering guidance curriculum, individual planning services, responsive services, and system support for the program. The choice of a caseload assignment model plays too valuable a role in the overall functioning of a school counseling program to be left un-researched. Purpose of the Study A very limited amount of literature and research is available to help counselors, administrators, and school personnel make decisions regarding the choice of a caseload assignment model. Caseload assignment models are mentioned in the ASCA (2005) National Model, by Gysbers and Henderson (2006) in relations to developing and managing a school counseling program, and by Akos, Schuldt and Walendin (2009) in a preliminary study exploring the phenomenon. The ASCA (2005) National Model states that a caseload assignment model should be determined by the counseling staff, and administrators and that the model utilized 5

18 should be tied to the beliefs, philosophy, mission statement and goals of the school site. ASCA (2005) states that students may be assigned to school counselors based on grade level, alphabet breakdown, National Standards domain (See Appendix B), academy/pathway or other configurations; however, they offer no definition, explanation, data or research on how to determine the most appropriate caseload assignment model for a school. Gysbers and Henderson (2006) do provide limited explanations for utilizing the differing configurations outlined by ASCA (2005). Gysbers and Henderson (2006) state that a grade level caseload assignment model is consistent with a developmental philosophy, with thinking of the school counseling program in terms of how to best help students of different ages, and that it emphasizes the counselor s role in providing guidance curriculum and individual planning services to students. An alphabetical caseload assignment model reflects an emphasis on responding to students needs and issues within knowledge of the family context, enhances the quality of a counselor s responsive services, and supports a counseling team approach to program delivery. An academy/pathway caseload assignment model emphasizes the counselor s role in helping teachers improve their work with individuals, groups of students, and within their classrooms (For a more detailed description, see Literature Review, Caseload Assignment Models). According to Gysbers and Henderson (2006), high schools must also consider if the caseload assignment model chosen will be static or looping. Static is defined as the counselor remaining with a specific grade level, while looping is the practice of staying with one group of students as they move through grade levels (Akos, Schuldt & 6

19 Walendin, 2009). Akos, Schuldt and Walendin (2009) state that static assignments allow counselors to design, continually evaluate, and refine a variety of developmentally appropriate programs over time, including groups and classroom guidance lessons. With expertise in the particular developmental level of the students and the grade level curriculum and requirements, counselors can increase their effectiveness and efficiency in programming tasks. Gysbers and Henderson (2006) state that consistency of services for students suggest that students benefit most from having the same counselor during their tenure in school, making it clear that counselors should move up a school s grade level as their students move, commonly referred to as looping. Pedante (2006) in a quasi-experimental study investigated the impact of looping a group of students with their school counselor from middle school to high school on the academic failure rate, attendance, and discipline referral rates. Comparing these outcomes with those of another group of students that were assigned to a new counselor at the high school level, the author found more favorable outcomes for those students looping with their counselor. In addition to the explanations provided by Gysbers and Henderson (2006) for utilizing a specific caseload assignment model, Akos, Schuldt and Walendin (2009) conducted the only research study to date which explores and describes school counselor caseload assignment models. Secondary school counselors from one large southeastern school district were asked to complete a questionnaire created for the purpose of the study (146 counselors participated, a return rate of 74%). Based on Likert scale questions, no statistical significance between assignment types for perceived differences in effectiveness, efficiency or equity were found; however, open ended prompts allowing 7

20 school counselors to elaborate on the perceived advantages and disadvantages revealed perceptions of very distinct differences for each caseload assignment model utilized (For results, see Literature Review, Caseload Assignment Models). Since the research on caseload assignment models is currently limited to one exploratory study (Akos, Schuldt & Walendin, 2009) that examined one school district, and the authors qualitative response findings revealed that differing caseload assignment models have distinct advantages and disadvantages that may critically impact counseling services to students, the purpose of this study is to provide additional qualitative research into this phenomenon. Patton (2002, p. 193) states, In new fields of study where little work has been done, few definitive hypotheses exist, and little is known about the nature of the phenomenon, qualitative inquiry is a reasonable beginning point of research; therefore, this study will utilize qualitative inquiry, by interviewing high school counselors, in order to understand their perceptions of rationales utilized to choose a caseload assignment model, advantages and disadvantages of various models, and how differing models may impact the ASCA (2005) National Model delivery system. Since ASCA (2005) and Gysbers and Henderson (2006) state that the goals and mission of the site should be tied to the choice of a caseload assignment model, and that this decision should be made jointly by counselors and administrators, this study will also examine those critical issues. Research Questions As counseling teams develop and manage their school counseling programs various factors should be considered in regards to determining a caseload assignment model. The ASCA (2005) National Model states that a caseload assignment model 8

21 should be determined by the counseling staff and administrators and that the model utilized should be tied to the beliefs, philosophy, mission statement and goals of the program; therefore, this qualitative study will analyze the methods and rationales utilized by high school counseling departments to determine caseload assignment models, and how caseload assignment models align with the goals and mission of the school. For counselors to choose a caseload assignment model that aligns with the goals and mission of their site, it is first necessary to have an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of differing caseload assignment models, and how differing caseload assignment models impact the ASCA (2005) National Model delivery system (school guidance curriculum, individual planning services, responsive services, and system support). Therefore the following research questions will be addressed: 1. What methods do selected high school counselors use now to determine caseload assignment models? 2. What is the rationale utilized by high school counseling departments to determine caseload assignment models? 3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of existing caseload assignment models as perceived by school counselors? 4. How do school counselors perceive their chosen caseload assignment model impacts the components of the ASCA (2005) National Model delivery system (school guidance curriculum, individual student planning, responsive services, and system support)? 5. How do these caseload assignment models align with the goals and mission of the school? 9

22 Chapter 2 Literature Review Caseload assignment models are an important organizational component of a school counseling program. To fully understand the role they play in planning, it is first necessary for the reader to have an understanding of the structure and organization of what constitutes an effective school counseling program, and the role school counselors play as drivers of the program. As well, school counselors in the 21 st Century have a responsibility to create programs that ensure equity and access to a rigorous education for all students; thus, it is also important to have an understanding of the characteristics of an equitable school counseling program. Therefore, this literature review will first address what are recognized as effective and equitable school counseling practices in the field. After this discussion, the review of literature will turn to a thorough examination of caseload assignment models, followed by a review of literature on looping. Looping is the practice of a counselor staying with one group of students as they move through grade levels (Akos, Schuldt & Walendin, 2009), and is considered beneficial in creating sustained relationships between students, their families and the counselor (Gysbers & Henderson, 2006). Another organizational option for caseload assignment models is a static assignment. Static is defined as the counselor remaining with a specific grade level (Akos, Schuldt & Walendin, 2009). A static or sustained caseload assignment model allows counselors to develop an expertise at a particular developmental level; therefore, the final review of literature will address the important role human developmental theory plays in relation to a static caseload assignment model, as well as the role it plays as the 10

23 primary theory upon which all school counseling programs are based (Borders & Drury; 1992), and the ASCA (2004) National Standards were developed (See Appendix B). Effective School Counseling Programs While desirable characteristics of effective school counseling programs are not absolute entities and are likely to be related to both the student population and the outcomes being measured, many similarities in programs exist that contribute to the academic success, personal, social and career development of high school students (Mitello, Carey, Dimmitt, Lee & Schweid, 2006). To examine such effectiveness, it is first necessary to describe the structure and organization of school counseling programs, the models employed to deliver services, and the role school counselors play as the drivers of the program. In the early 1970s a national effort was begun to assist the states in developing and implementing state models or guides for career guidance, counseling and placement. The University of Missouri-Columbia was awarded a U.S. Office of Education grant to assist each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in developing models or guides for implementing career guidance, counseling, and placement programs in local schools. This project served as a springboard through the 1970s and 1980s for the development and implementation of a K-12 comprehensive developmental guidance program (CDGP) model. The 1980s and early 1990s witnessed the adoption and adaptation by Missouri and approximately 25 to 30 other states of a CDGP model patterned after the organizational framework of Gysbers and Henderson (Gysbers & Henderson, 1988; Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997). 11

24 This model emphasized school counseling as a core educational program rather than a set of ancillary support services. CDGPs were designed to promote student competence, and seen as an efficient and effective way to deliver services. Counselors implementing these programs were responsible for delivering guidance curriculum based on student learning objectives and outcomes in the academic, career and personal/social domains. The programs were designed to serve all students versus responding only to students with immediate needs (McGannon, Carey & Dimmitt, 2005). Expanding upon the CDGP, the ASCA National Standards (Campbell & Dahir, 1997) were later developed to standardize learning objectives and outcomes (See Appendix B). These standards are statements of what all students should know and be able to do as a result of participating in a school counseling program. They help school counseling programs across the nation to establish similar goals, expectations, support systems and experiences for all students. They also serve as an organizational tool to identify and prioritize the elements of an effective school counseling program to help enhance student learning (McGannon, Carey & Dimmitt, 2005). In addition to the student competencies, the Gysbers and Henderson (1988) CDGP model also detailed the overall organizational plan, and guidance and counseling delivery system. The structural components identified the need for a written definition and philosophy of the program, appropriate facilities, an advisory council, resources, staffing patterns, and an adequate budget. The program components allocated counselors time and work duties across four interrelated delivery systems (a) individual planning, (b) guidance curriculum, (c) responsive services and (d) system support (Lapan, Gysbers, & 12

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