2017 ASCA Grants Project: The School Counselor Ratio and Student Success

Added July 30, 2018

Executive Summary

With funding from ASCA, we sought to understand more about the relationship between school counselor ratios and student outcomes. We utilized data provided by the Department of Public Instruction in North Carolina and partnered with the Educational Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC - https://publicpolicy.unc.edu/epic-home/) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to conduct our analyses. Overall, we find that the quantity and quality of school counseling resources in elementary and
middle schools in North Carolina matters for student outcomes. The relationship between student outcomes and quantity of school counseling resources reflected by school counselor to student ratios is small in magnitude, but has a positive association for certain students and particular outcomes. Similarly, the relationship between student outcomes and the quality of school counseling resources reflected by RAMP designation also demonstrate some small and specific positive associations. 

Overall, the data on school counselor ratio suggest:

We were not able to examine behavioral outcomes with these data. Schools do not report behavioral data other than suspension, which does not have enough variation to conduct
reasonable or accurate analyses. Suspension data, and most other related behavioral data is not consistent (how behavior referrals are applied or recorded). In addition, the limited variance and highly skewed data on suspensions for elementary and middle school render analyses with little utility. We were also not able to examine the school counselor ratio relationship in high schools with these data. High schools report end of course achievement test data in North Carolina, as compared to end of grade data in elementary and middle schools. The variance in student course taking creates a high level of data alignment that was not possible with the grant resources allocated. However, we were able to extend our research with the dataset on the quality of school counseling resources by focusing on one large school district in North Carolina. This district has
a history of RAMP schools and allowed for some comparison within district. Overall the data on school counselor quality suggest:

In all, school counselor quantity (ratio) and quality (RAMP) matter, albeit the results are mixed and magnitude or practical effect is very small on broad measures of student outcomes. The quantitative analyses depend on the precision of measurement (e.g., school counselor ratio calculations) and chosen methodology (e.g., these are correlational relationships, not experimental/causal data). We believe these data provide an important start to deeper analyses into the impact of the quantity and quality of school counseling resources in elementary and middle schools (school levels with less research as compared to high school). In particular, some of these data reinforce the challenges of helping students when they make the transition from elementary to middle school apparent in most educational research.

More importantly, predictor variables such as ratio and RAMP are blunt data sources for quantity and quality of school counselor intervention. Similarly, test scores and absences may not be the best metrics for understanding the impact of school counseling services. These data do not account for a school counselor actually working individually or in group with a particular student, nor the duration or quality of that individual or group interaction. Unlike teacher or classroom research, direct counseling service remains highlight variable within a school (e.g. some of the students in the sample may have never or rarely interacted with a school counselor).

Valid conclusions about the actual impact of school counseling services would require randomly assigned experimental design that accounts for the actual quantity (how frequent and for how long a student sees a school counselor), modality (individual, group, classroom, programming) and quality (appropriate theory or technique) of the dosage of counseling per student. And even then, the appropriate outcome may not be a test score in mathematics, rather a reduction in anxiety, higher quality relationships or even higher subjective well-being. Certainly conclusions about the impact of school counseling practice require complex research design and careful interpretation.



Patrick Akos, Ph.D., Thurston Domina, Ph.D., Kevin Bastian, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill