Research shows there is a decrease in the academic performance of 9th grade students. Furthermore, Hispanic students, African American students and students from low-income families tend to have higher drop-out rates (Pharris-Ciurej, Hirschman and Willhoft, 2012). The gap was defined by identifying retained 9th grade students who all met state-defined criteria classifying them as at-risk for dropping out of school. Of the group, 61.5% were Hispanic, African American or qualified for the free and reduced lunch program. BNHS school improvement goals include increasing the academic performance of students meeting criteria for the Texas At-Risk Indicator Code. Counselors selected the program goal of increasing the number of classes retained 9th grade students passed to assist with this campus goal and close the gap for this at-risk population.
Counselors created a lesson on goal-setting, study skills, and time management for all 9th grade students but with the retained 9th grade students in mind. Numerous studies show goal-setting increases students’ success rate. For example, one study found goal-setting is especially important for students with low achievement motivation (Horn and Murphy, 1985). Moreover, research also supports study skills are important for positive academic outcomes (Seibert, 2002). Therefore, counselors used the lesson on goal-setting and study skills for the retained 9th grade students to influence their motivation and ability to achieve. Counselors also held individual personal graduation plan (PGP) meetings with all 9th graders, including the retained 9th grade students, and parents were encouraged to attend. Counselors reviewed and discussed graduation requirements, students’ goals, post-secondary education and career plans. Holding PGP meetings is a requirement in Texas for students at-risk of dropping out of school. The PGP meeting is supported by research on the benefits of goal-setting.
Counselors developed the small-group plan focused on the retained 9th grade students and increasing their achievement. Counselors covered goal-setting again based on its researched benefits but also used assessments through Hobsons Naviance to help students identify strengths, personal learning styles and possible careers based on their interests and personalities. The StrengthsExplorer assessment was developed and researched by Gallup. The research shows individuals flourish when they focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. The Learning Style Inventory and Do What You Are instruments are also backed by research according to Hobsons Naviance. Completing these assessments and reviewing the results with the students emphasizes the importance of planning for the future and their academic achievement.
The data reflects the activities were successful based on perception and outcome data. Students reported they benefited from the small group and goal-setting lesson. Outcome data shows the retained 9th graders passed 86% of their classes, exceeding the counseling program goal. There was also a slight decrease in the retention rate comparing retained 9th graders in 2016 – 2017 to 2015 – 2016. Therefore, the data is evidence the activities and interventions were effective, and counselors should continue to deliver them. The data also reflects counselors targeted appropriate ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors with the lesson, small group and PGP meetings. Counselors will continue to use ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors to create and update lessons and interventions. Counselors would like to collect data measuring students’ perceptions showing what impedes their achievement for the next group and will use this information to add activities involving time management, study skills, and other areas to help ensure success with Mindsets and Behaviors guiding the data collection and creation of activities. Counselors will continue to ensure survey questions are consistent with ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors and perception and outcome data are carefully collected and measured.
While counselors are pleased with the results, the data shows there is room for improvement. Counselors theorize there would be a stronger outcome if a follow-up goal-setting lesson was given in the spring semester to encourage students’ motivation, reinforce study skills, and check on the progress of goals students set in the fall. Additionally, counselors believe holding the small group in the fall as opposed to the spring would be more beneficial, giving students more time to utilize strengths and learning styles and work toward goals. Counselors could work with 9th grade teachers to determine needs they see to help improve achievement, and counselors could help them incorporate study skills, organization, and time management activities into their classes. Finally, not all parents could attend PGP meetings for the retained 9th grade students, and counselors believe working to ensure all parents can attend would further students’ achievement. Counselors will look at offering more early morning or evening meetings to accommodate parents’ schedules this school year.