The average GPA of an Oakton student is 3.43. Our counselors chose to focus on students with below a 2.7 GPA, who are not currently being supported by special programs such as Special Education or ESOL. We believe this is an achievement gap because these students are not being targeted through any special programs, but need academic support. Special education students are provided with a case manager and our ESOL students who are level 4 and below take an ESOL support class. However, there were 197 students who fit into our target group, were not receiving other interventions, and had an average GPA of 2.29.
Because we experienced marginal success during the 2014-2015 school year (a random sample of targeted students indicated that 55.5% raised their cumulative GPA by .1 or more), we wanted to continue the initiative for the 2015-2016 school year. At a department meeting in September, counselors raised the concern that the goal of a 2.5 GPA was too low and it fell between the C+ (2.3) and B- (2.7) grades on the FCPS grading scale. The counseling team decided to focus on students with a GPA under 2.7, which is the equivalent of a B- GPA. We felt that students with a 2.7 GPA or above had more post-secondary options available to them than students with lower grade point averages. When we took our goal to our Director of Student Services (DSS), she was excited to see that our target group included students who are at-risk but not receiving other support services.
Counselors designed core curriculum lessons to support student learning and promote goal-setting amongst all students. For example, all freshman students participated in the Freshman Transition Program lessons on collaboration and study skills. Freshman and sophomores attended a career panel where panelists addressed the skills they needed to be successful in the modern work environment. Upperclassmen attended a variety of counselor-led programs aimed at supporting post-secondary planning. All of these lessons were designed to help all students set high aspirations for themselves.
Interventions varied throughout the year depending on the needs of the individual students within the target group. All students’ grades were monitored at the interim and at report card time. This process was made easier in the spring when counselors gained access to students’ gradebooks in “real time.” Counselors would meet with students who were earning C’s and below in core classes and assess their needs. Preliminary interventions would include making contact with teachers and parents, facilitating parent teacher conferences, moving students from classes that were too challenging and referring students to tutoring services available through The Center for Writing and Learning (a student-run organization that has tutors available during Cougar Time and lunches and study groups available after school on Wednesdays). If students continued to be academically unsuccessful, counselors intervened by referring students to other school resources. For example, if mental health was a barrier to classroom success counselors consulted the school psychologist or social worker. If the student was facing academic barriers counselors would make referrals to tutors, child study, local screening or the AVID program based on the degree of student need. If attendance was an issue the counselor consulted our Systems of Support Advisor (SOSA) or attendance officer. If the student struggled in the rigorous Oakton learning environment the counselor might refer the student to the APEX program or an alternative learning center. One of the school counselors along with a school counseling intern ran a study skills group focusing on ninth grade students who had at least two D’s or F’s at the end of the first semester.
Counselors conducted a survey with a random sample of targeted students and found that 95% of those students could identify at least three ways to help them improve their academics. Despite that only 48% of our targeted group reached the goal of improving their overall GPA by at least 1/10th of a point and an additional 17% increased their GPA by less than 1/10th of a point. This was far short of our goal of 100%.
Upon reflection, the counselors determined that next school year they should conduct a needs assessment to determine if there are other interventions that could help this student population. Counselors will continue to collaborate with teachers to design core curriculum lessons that support student learning. Additionally, based on the success of the small study skills groups, those small groups could be expanded to support more students throughout the year.