December 2017

Data: Your Personal Cheerleader

By Jentae C. Scott-Mayo
As a former high school cheerleading captain, I now cheer on my students to meet their potential. With teachers and administrators, data serves as a way to gain mutual respect, accountability and shared investment in students’ success.

Data is becoming common language in the field of education. Being able to provide proof of one’s impact is vital to protecting school counselors’ unique role. Throughout the profession, we rely on the ASCA National Model while also using state standards and mandates for information on best practices.

Ready, OK!

As a student, anything math-related made me extremely anxious and I was diagnosed in my early 20s with generalized anxiety disorder, with math being one of my triggers. After I learned in college that statistics was the only kind of math I could understand, data in school counseling has become one of my passions. I enjoy helping stakeholders understand school counselors, like teachers and administrators, are held accountable for student success. In essence, data takes subjectivity and objectifies it. I work diligently to be sure I’m using the most efficient and effective practices to service my students’ diverse needs. How does that happen? You got it: data.

Become a Skilled Athlete

Many school counselors think, “I am a relationship person, not a data person” and are intimidated by working with data. Try setting small goals to slowly incorporate data into your day-to-day practice. A great way to begin the school year is to conduct a needs assessment, from which you can establish program and curriculum goals. Other simple data collection tools are the use of pre-/post-tests and conducting a school counseling program survey at the close of the school year.

Before starting your data journey, set goals for how you will use and incorporate data into your existing programs. For example:
  • Are you currently collecting data to monitor student achievement, evaluate programs or demonstrate program effectiveness?
  • Do you conduct pre-/post-tests of classroom lesson units, groups and workshops?
  • Do you use data-driven decision making to make program decisions?
  • Do you share results with stakeholders?
Performance/outcome tools: There are so many models and tools to effectively display and highlight data. For example, my state (Virginia) and district widely use the GRIP model, which highlights: goals (standards), results, impact statements (evaluation means and details) and program implications (improvements). I use the GRIP model to share evidence for classroom lessons, groups and innovative programs with administrators.  

Pre-/post-tests: In terms of pre- and post-test assessments, simple is always better, regardless of students’ ages. Keep in mind:
  1. No more than 10 questions, especially for younger students.
  2. Use the same questions for pre- and post-tests.
  3. If appropriate and time permits, read questions aloud.
  4. Try to use multiple types of questions (short answer, true/false, multiple choice, etc.) to appeal to different types of learning and assessment styles.
This year, I collected pre-/post-test data on teaching yoga/mindfulness/stress management techniques before state testing began. I wanted data to: 1) show an evidence of need for the lesson topic and time of the year and 2) show that students were different after the lesson. I used a flipchart with three labeled sections. I asked each student to put sticky notes on the appropriate portion of the board to show if they were “cool as a cucumber” (not nervous), had “butterflies in their stomach” (a little nervous) or were “a nervous wreck” (very nervous). To show outcome/impact, students used the same method to identify if they felt “the same,” “a little better” or “a lot better” after the lesson.

Professional growth: You can also use data to display your growth as a professional . At the end of the school year, I meet with administrators and share data for the year with them. Because I know time is of the essence, I point out highlights and trends, especially if the data support specific advocacy goals. 

Data collection tools: Free data collection tools abound on the Internet, some with more advanced features for a fee. Examples include Google Forms, Survey Monkey, Kahoot and Padlet. You can use these to create fun and engaging activities, guide instruction and teach concepts while also assessing knowledge and concept acquisition. 

School counseling program surveys:  I ask teachers to complete this at the close of each school year. Requesting feedback requires some risk taking; you must be prepared to accept criticism from colleagues, but a survey offers valuable data for improvements or adjustments.

Win the Game

Far more than numbers on a sheet, data is tied to the outstanding work school counselors do. In my first year at my current position, administration and school counselors brainstormed ways to regain our school’s accreditation. We felt it was imperative to support and motivate students who, statistically speaking, showed the most promise of passing upcoming assessments. Each team member was assigned a group of students to meet with individually for motivation, encouragement and goal setting. We met with a total of 62 students over a one-week period. To help make the meetings consistent and an optimal experience for all students, I developed a survey with checklists to ensure the same content and data collection points were met. For example, I wanted to be sure each team member touched on helping the student understand the purpose of the meeting, building a relationship with the student and establishing a connection.

When I analyzed the data for a report to share with the team, I made a discovery. In our student meetings, we asked students how we adults could help motivate them to work to their full potential. We expected to hear about elaborate prizes and privileges. Instead, 42 percent said they needed extra/more help. These students wanted and needed the gift of our time and attention. This finding has been eye-opening and has truly reignited my diligence to protect my time and role with students. I am constantly thinking of how I can provide more support and be more efficient and effective about meeting students’ needs. I am not sure if it can be completely attributed to our student meetings, but our school gained accreditation last year.

Data is critical to identify, evaluate and pinpoint the quality and effectiveness of our efforts. Every superhero needs a strong support system, sidekick and cheerleader, and I hope school counselors will let data-informed practices become that cheerleader.

Jentae C. Scott-Mayo is a school counselor for Dumbarton Elementary School in Henrico, Va., and middle level vice president for the Virginia School Counselor Association. She can be reached at jcsmayo@henrico.k12.va.us.