Data-Driven School Counseling: The Role of the Research–Practice Partnership

Added January 13, 2019

Many school counselors report that they struggle to make time to integrate data-driven practices into their everyday work despite a genuine interest in doing so. The ASCA National Model places data-driven decision making as a key component of a professional school counseling program. School-wide research–practice partnerships (RRPs) offer school counseling departments a valuable opportunity to strengthen their data-driven decision-making by drawing on the expertise and support of university partners. RRPs are long-term, mutualistic collaborations between researchers and practitioners focused on solving problems most relevant to practice.

School–university, a type of RPP, partnerships are becoming increasingly common. The majority of partnerships over the past two decades have addressed teacher training and development, the development of curriculum and pedagogy, college preparation, and service learning. Rarely, however, do these partnerships focus on school counseling. This is especially surprising given that RPPs have been linked to improvements in students’ academic, social emotional, and postsecondary outcomes, all of which fall under counselors’ purview.

This article describes how one school counseling department utilized an existing Research–Practice Partnership to gather data about students’ experiences with the school counseling department. With input from the school counseling department, the RPP set out to answer three primary questions:

  1. How do 9th – 11th grade students at RHS experience their school counseling department?
  2. What are the differences in student satisfaction and usage of counseling services across grade levels?
  3. What changes can the school counseling program make to better meet the needs of all students?

Based on interviews and focus groups, the school counseling department gained an understanding of students’ experiences with and perceptions of counseling at their school.

They learned that students were generally pleased with their access to and relationships with their counselors and approximately 91% of students met with their counselor at least once during the academic year. However, they also identified areas that needed attention. First, they learned that students in the tenth grade were the least satisfied with the school counseling department and unlikely to seek out support when needed. The counselors also learned that students’ reluctance was driven by busy schedules and resistance from teachers to release them during class time.

With the information gleaned from the RPP, the school counseling department recognized it had overlooked the unique needs of 10th graders. As a result, the department implemented several small, creative ways to connect with 10th graders that accounted for the current barriers. For the counselors at this school, the RPP created the capacity to gather and use data to implement targeted interventions for improving students’ awareness and perceptions of their school counselors. This experience showed what was possible when school-university partnerships are expanded to bring research expertise and partnership to a school counseling program. The article suggests that school counselors and school principals seek out university partners who bring technical support to school-based efforts to use data to examine questions germane to their programming. This article also recommends how school counselors can connect with existing school-wide RRPs to broaden their efforts to include questions and practices associated with the school’s counseling program.


Mandy S. Savitz-Romer, PhD, Tara P. Nicola, Amelia Jensen, Nancy E. Hill, PhD, Belle Liang, PhD, John Perella, EdD