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Data Has Power, So Why Do We Fear It?

By Cindy Povall | September 2018

While thinking about this edition of the NJSCA newsletter, which is focused on success measures and features articles that about needs assessments, action plans, collecting data and presenting results, my mind raced in two directions. First, why does it seem that school counselors are afraid of data? And second, how does data make an impact on our programs and positions?
I knew what interfered with my data collection and caused my fear: I really did not know how to use data efficiently. Several colleagues shared their thoughts on why they thought school counselors were afraid of data. In these conversations, I found some similarities and some very specific reasons for the fear. A few shared that they were not taught how to use data, while others said that they did not have time to collect data and interpret it. Some felt it was a struggle to do and argued that school counselors work is hard to measure and subjective, so full of emotions and feelings. Some wondered who would look at it. One colleague shared that they had a fear of data because they did not want to know what the baseline would show and surely school districts would not want to publicly share what would look like negative data points.
Even though I understood the importance of proving that what my colleagues and I do every day matters, collecting data can be tough work. On a daily basis we are stretched thin, with all of our school counseling tasks and, for some, extra duties that take away from direct services with students and our school counseling tasks. But doing this tough work of collecting school counseling data – process, perception and outcome data – can surely help secure our positions and support programs. Can we not use data, for example, from attendance, grades and college-going rates to show how our work is necessary and improves our students' outcomes? We are charged with the academic and social/emotional wellbeing of our students – so much that falls into the category of students' mental health. The data would surely show the gains our students have made because of our work.
What other specific gains can a school counseling program find when using data successfully? One gain would be in an increase in staff. Just one additional counselor can lower the caseload for each counselor and therefore provide each student with more time with their school counselor. With an increase in staff, more physical space is allocated to school counseling staff. Administrators are willing to provide the resources necessary for school counseling programs to provide quality services for the success of our students when there is proof positive in our work. Even more important, using data helps us create programs that will help close the achievement gaps our students may face. We are able to provide equitable opportunities for our students when using and interpreting data. This data supports the success of our students and that is truly our goal: to ensure we do our best work to support positive outcomes for our students.
School counselors have many opportunities to learn how to use data. First and foremost, this newsletter is packed with great information. Second, at the NJSCA fall conference, you can choose to register for the “DATA, DATA Everywhere!” or “RAMP Up Your School Counseling Program” breakout sessions. And ASCA offers a School Counseling Data Specialist course through ASCA U. All of these are excellent resources for changing fears about data and learning how best to use data to secure positions for school counselors, essential leaders who ensure every students' success.
Contact Cindy Povall, school counselor at Hillsborough High School, at