Small groups are one way we respond to student needs in a more specific and intentional way. The main focus for our small groups this year was the Best on the Test initiative. This was important because all of our school improvement goals were written towards improving our proficiency ratings on standardized tests. We knew we could teach skills and behaviors aligned with the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors that would help students be more successful and reach our school goals. We had 93 students we felt would benefit from this group as indicated by their 7th grade ELA partially proficient rating on the M-STEP Reading. We hoped by working on the ASCA mindsets of improving their attitude towards the test, developing confidence in themselves, and improving test-taking skills that they would find more success as indicated by proficiency. Eighty-seven students were interested and received parent permission to participate. We grouped this large number of students into four smaller groups.
We created other groups based on our needs assessment survey. We saw that a large number of students indicated that self-esteem was something they would like more information about. Since we did not plan to teach a lesson on that topic until later in the school year, we did a small group with girls before the lesson. We selected the students for this lesson based on relational aggression incidents, parent request, and counselor observation. The final group was the Why Try group. This is a curriculum that focuses on motivation, academic achievement, and truancy reduction. We selected students who were at risk of credit deficiency for this group. This was a part of our Closing the Gap goal.
We have included the outcome and perception data from the Best on the Test group, since that impacted the greatest number of students. While the results show that we did not meet our goal, we still felt it was a valuable group for students, as indicated by perception data. We also analyzed students' growth proficiency percentiles. From our group 33 out of the 87 students became proficient or advanced after participating in the group. One factor that influenced the success of this group was attendance. Many students missed one or more sessions. While we can’t guarantee each group member will be in attendance each session, moving forward we could hold make-up sessions for students who were absent. This would help to ensure students developed all the skills and met all the learning outcomes, based on the selected mindsets and behaviors, we projected. We would like to note that we chose ELA as the area we would assess; however, our MSTEP math proficiency improved from 21% of students in 7th grade to 25% of students proficient in 8th grade.
When choosing the lessons for our small group, we looked at the Mindsets and Behaviors we planned to teach. For example, B:LS 3 speaks of time management, organization, and study skills, which is a behavior closely tied to test-taking success. We used this to create lessons on strategies for success on tests, organizing how to answer questions, and staying focused on the test. Then, we were able to evaluate our success on this by asking questions on our perception survey about how much students agree that they gained test-taking strategies as a result of our group. Our pretest average score was a 3.2 (neutral) and our post test average score was a 3.3. On our final survey, students reported wanting more information on test-taking strategies. We plan to provide more sessions on this topic in the future. Another question we asked was if students understood the importance of taking standardized tests. During our group sessions, we realized students didn’t necessarily understand this term; possibly resulting in a lower post-test score.
A final thought on small groups is the number we were able to deliver. We were not able to run as many groups as we would have liked. This is an area in which we are still working to find balance among our various responsibilities and tasks and a high student to counselor ratio. While the number of topics was limited, the number of students impacted by a small group was larger than in previous year. In the future we hope to diversify in topics.