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Upgrading Your Needs Assessment

By April J. Megginson and R. Paul Maddox II | October 2018

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The student-level data from a needs assessment assists you in determining why students aren’t succeeding, some of the barriers they face, and their strengths. This specific data is one of two types that school counselors should be collecting. The other is global data, or the schoolwide data found on school report cards that helps you to determine equity gaps, identify patterns, and perceive what problems may exist.
A needs assessment is a survey completed by students, parents, teachers and/or administrators that offers a data-informed direction for a comprehensive school counseling program. It can assist counselors in identifying student needs, informing curriculum development to address those needs, and pinpoint the high-need areas for small groups. Members of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) can find examples of needs assessments on ASCA Scene Document Library under Forms for Needs Assessments-Referrals-Permissions. You can also check with your state’s department of education to see if they have developed one for school counselors to utilize. Another source is school counselors throughout your district – contact them to ask what they use or collaborate on developing an assessment that can be delivered district-wide.
One of the most powerful ways that you can upgrade your needs assessment is by being intentional in asking a variety of demographic questions. Questions about a students’ grade level, gender, ethnicity, free and reduced lunch status, gifted status or English language learner status may assist you in shining a light on the barriers that exist specifically for each of these groups of students and begin closing the equity gap in a more impactful way. Adding demographic data allows you to look at how different groups within your school answer the needs assessment. You may find the needs of one group of students to be very different from those of another group. This can assist you in developing groups and targeting students with specific demographics to participate.
Adding demographic data can also help you look at intersectionality through the needs assessment. A singular demographic category does not define our identity.  We – and our students – are not just our race, but a combination of our race, gender, socio-economic status and more. So, one powerful approach to the data collected from a needs assessment is looking at the intersections of the different demographic categories you have added to it.
For many school counselors, figuring out how to analyze the data can be just as overwhelming as collecting it. A few free online tools are available for this purpose. For example, Google Forms is a free, online platform that allows for the quick and easy creation and disbursement of surveys. As more and more schools move to a 1:1 technology ratio and the sheer number of students with access to smartphones grows, collecting data from them online is easier than ever.
A Google add-on through Awesome Table called Advanced Summary can also assist in breaking up the data and identifying needs among different demographic groups within a school. It also allows multiple demographic areas to be examined in a combined way, thereby helping to facilitate an intersectional framework for data analysis. For example, instead of broadly identifying potential needs of female students and then separately identifying different needs for African American students, a more meaningful and specific analysis can occur that considers how students who identify as both African American and female responded to the needs assessment to determine their unique needs. Similarly, applying an intersectional framework to data analyses involving other intersecting demographic areas can also help to facilitate a deeper understanding of the experiences and needs of students in the school with intersecting identities, such as those who may identify as Latinx, LGBTQA+ and gifted. Expanding the data collection and analysis in this way can help to upgrade the usefulness and utility of a needs assessment.
Once you have collected and analyzed data from such a needs assessment, you can use it in developing a comprehensive school counseling plan for the year. Areas of need that are apparent across race, gender and SES status may be identified as potential school-wide issues that could be covered in school counseling core curriculum lessons. You can address specific needs of students with intersecting identities in small groups or individual interventions. In this way, the data collected from an upgraded needs assessment may allow for the prioritizing and development of specific interventions that can make a school more effective in addressing the unique needs of all students.
April J. Megginson, Ph. D., is an assistant professor of counselor education, a licensed school counselor, and school counseling program director at Bridgewater State University. Contact her at R. Paul Maddox II, Ph.D., is an assistant professor with the Department of Counseling, Leadership, and Special Education at Missouri State University. Contact him at