Every year National School Counseling Week in February reminds us of the importance of school counselors.  They work endlessly behind the scenes to ensure students feel safe and understood and get the help they need in the classroom.

To celebrate National School Counseling Week this year, Jonathon Strout, an Educational Consultant with PASS hosted a webinar with district leaders Jason Faulkner, the Director of Assessment, Accountability, and Elementary Education at Laurel County Public Schools in Kentucky, and Kate Diorio, the Director of Pupil Services at Red Lion Area School District in Pennsylvania. They discussed some of the challenges their school counselors face post-pandemic and how their districts address those challenges using impactful data to support the school counselors’ efforts.

Challenges for School Counselors 

School counselors face various challenges as they seek ways to provide effective targeted support for students. Creating appropriate student groups and identifying those hidden barriers to learning for individual students are just two of the challenges they face. The post-pandemic return to school presented some additional challenges. Jason summed it up simply at the start of the webinar by stating that as students returned to the classroom after months away during Covid, they returned with different learning skills and behaviors. And it became clear that these skills and behaviors likely affected student academic achievement. 

Kate also noticed a change in behaviors in the Red Lion Area school district. Many students in younger grades lacked the practice of a structured school setting, which has led to more extreme behaviors like hitting and kicking. At the secondary level, middle and high school students experienced a decline in mental health, with more students turning to self-medication like drugs, alcohol, and vaping. The district needed to find how to support counselors in making school a better place – after not having consistent normal school situations due to Covid.

In addition to addressing these new behaviors, school counselors face another significant challenge. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) national model recommends that school counselors spend 80 percent or more of their time in services to students. Texas has even passed SB 179, which mandates districts to adhere to this 80 percent. But the reality is that finding that much time to interact with students can be difficult. School counselors’ jobs often include administrative tasks that prevent them from direct or indirect student services. At the same time, they are taking on larger caseloads. 

While ACSA recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250 students to each counselor, an analysis by Education Week found that in 2020-2021, only 14 percent of districts met the recommended ratio of students to school counselors.

How Districts use Data to Support School Counselors

Laurel County Public Schools and Red Lion Area School District addressed the need to find those non-academic hidden barriers to learning by administering the PASS survey. PASS is an attitudinal assessment that identifies how students feel about themselves as learners and their school. Jason and Kate shared how the PASS survey data has helped their school districts this year and in preparation for next year.

Jason described how he took a proactive approach, meeting with the district’s school counselors to analyze the data from the PASS survey. The PASS data provided vital information that helped confirm the direct correlation between post-pandemic behaviors and student achievement data. 

The PASS data was used to identify those students who outwardly appear to be OK but actually have some factors that are prohibiting them from performing in the classroom that are not obvious. School counselors could now provide individual interventions and data-driven counseling sessions for those students to help them overcome their barriers. 

They also were able to identify a district-wide theme that was impacting students, namely “Self-regard as a Learner,” allowing them to create group and individual programs to help build students’ confidence in themselves as learners.

At Kate’s district, the school counselors are looking at what areas older elementary students struggle with to create lessons and training for incoming kindergartners and back-to-school activities next year. Activities were also shared with parents, families, and community groups, so they can proactively support potential barriers to learning, help their children be more successful in school, and ensure kindergarteners start school off on the best foot.

More Ways to Support School Counselors

Kate and Jason stressed how vital school counselors are to the school community. To further support them, both districts have implemented other supports.

Kate’s district tracks how their school counselors spend their time to ensure they can maximize their interaction time with students. By showing how their time is used each week, the school counselors can advocate for the time they need to meet with students in small groups or one-on-one sessions and eliminate time-stealers that prevent them from interacting with students.   

Jason’s districts added more school counselors, allowing for smaller caseloads and more student interaction. 

Learn More About PASS 

During the webinar, the PASS Team shared examples of color-coded reports from the PASS survey to show how to analyze the PASS data to make it actionable.  View PASS sample reports

Watch the webinar recording or schedule a demo with our PASS team to learn more about how PASS can support your school counselors’ efforts. We would love to partner with you to discover how to support your school counselors while helping the students within your district achieve more by overcoming non-academic barriers.