Added May 13, 2019
Elementary school is a critical time for students to develop academic skills and habits that will be important to their future success. As early as elementary school, indicators of school disengagement, including poor academic achievement and low attendance, can predict future school dropout. Limited research has been conducted on RAMP school counseling programs in relation to student outcomes, and this exploratory study was designed to add to the existing literature on RAMP and student outcomes. The researchers used student-level data to examine the following research questions: (1) Are there significant differences in absences and grades between students in elementary schools that have implemented RAMP and those that have not? (2) After controlling for demographic differences among students, does RAMP status predict elementary student absences and grades?
Data from grade 2-5 students in four elementary schools (two RAMP and two non-RAMP) in the same district were examined in order to identify differences in absences and grades between those schools and to determine to what degree RAMP status predicts percent of days absent and average course grades. Results revealed students at RAMP schools had significantly more absences and significantly lower grades than students in no-RAMP schools. But, after controlling for demographic differences (including race, gender, grade level, LEP status, and special education status), results showed very little difference in absences or grades were accounted for by RAMP. That is, student characteristics were better predictors of absences and grades than was whether or not they attend a school with a RAMP school counseling program. These results were different from previous research, which showed opposite relationships (RAMP was equated with fewer absences and higher grades).
Numerous factors might offer some explanation of these results being different from previous research. Attributing student outcomes to school counseling programs, or specific types of programs (i.e., RAMP), can be challenging for a number of reasons. Aside from difficulties arising from variation in how interventions are implemented and the number of interpersonal and systemic factors that potentially influence student outcomes, the work school counselors do is rarely completed in isolation. Also, school counseling program goals likely vary from year to year, especially if they are generated from a review of data. These program goals would direct not only how much time and effort school counselors spend targeting specific student outcome areas, but also the interventions they choose to implement and the number and type of students they target. Also, factors we were not able to examine or control for in our study (e.g., class size, school resources, grading policies, home characteristics) might have affected the outcomes. Finally, examining student outcomes as a whole might not reflect the subtler impact of school counseling programs and interventions on certain subgroups of students. For example, the RAMP counselors in our study who prepared closing the gap or small group action plans and results reports to document their effectiveness might have found their targeted interventions effective, we were not able to capture the outcomes of those kinds of efforts.
Given the critical role data plays in the RAMP process, and the need for more data revealing the effects of RAMP on student outcomes, school counselors should prioritize developing accountability skills. This kind of training could occur at the pre-service and in-service level. Partnerships between school counseling researchers and school districts could help facilitate the longitudinal research that is needed to continue to illustratethe relationship between RAMP and critical student outcomes.
Amy Milsom, EdD, Melissa Morey
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