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Measuring Success at the Elementary Level

By Jennifer Quintana | September 2018

I don’t know about you, but when I think about how to determine if a counseling program at the elementary level is effective, I get a little nervous. So much of what I do is in the social/emotional domain and our elementary kids have a lot of room to improve in that area for sure. Kids’ behavior is an ever-changing variable and it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint whether kids are truly grasping the guidance curriculum lessons we teach. Elementary-aged children are known to be impulsive and still developing their empathy and communication skills with other students.
As elementary counselors, we work really hard at teaching students coping strategies, bullying prevention lessons, SEL lessons, empathy building, and communication skills, among myriad other counseling activities such as small group and individual counseling. But all we do cannot guarantee that students will “behave” or not bully another student. I have learned that a better measure of success for counseling programming is determining what students have learned as a result of the counseling program. One approach is using pre- and post-assessments (perception data) for my guidance curriculum lessons and for my small group pull-outs.
The second question that comes up for me as an elementary counselor is, “How do we get from ‘knowledge’ to ‘application’ and how do we measure the actual application of what they say they have learned?” This is where we need more of the hard data (results data), which can be trickier and scarier. To measure the application part of knowledge, I have drawn from school-based data such as behavior data and office referral numbers. But even with all of my interventions, sometimes the data can be disappointing. I ask myself over and over, “Why aren’t some kids getting it? Why are there some students, despite classroom guidance lessons, individual counseling and small group pull outs, who still have issues with behavior management?” For these questions, I defer to the school social worker or school psychologist and work together as a team to implement further interventions such as conducting FBA’s or having students on a daily point sheet with frequent check-ins, or having the teacher initiate an MTSS (formerly RTI) process with the student, or referring the parents of the student to an outside agency for support. If students continue to show no growth in behavior management then the student can be referred for testing for special education services. Even when all the interventions I have tried seemed to not work, I remember that the student is receiving additional supports either inside the school or outside because of the up-front work and recommendations I made as a school counselor. And because of this, my work is a success.
Yes, data is an important part of showing success; however, when I see kids befriending a student who doesn’t have friends, when I see kids sharing with one another, when I see kids showing empathy on the playground, when I see kids giving each other hugs in sympathy, when I have a student run up to me and say “Ms. Quintana, today I did belly breathing to calm down!” – these are the things I consider successful. And they cannot be measured on any data point sheet. They show me that school counseling interventions are working and kids are changing their behavior because of the school counseling program. Some things just can’t be measured. That is an unfortunate part of trying to lump school counselors in with teachers and trying to evaluate them as such, because so much of what school counselors does not break out as numbers on a piece of paper. The measure of success for me is to know that I did what I said I was going to do, and that the majority of students responded positively to my interventions either through classroom guidance lessons, individual or small group counseling, or my being that support person for the students who need an adult who really cares about them no matter what.
So, school counselors, go out and know that you are making a difference to kids, even when it may not appear so on paper. Your positive influence in student’s lives is what matters. Some students take a little longer to get it. Be fearless in knowing that your training as a professional school counselor is going to make a difference in the short and long term for the kids we work with on a daily basis. Be proud of the work you have done and will do. The measure of success in your counseling program is in your belief that all students can succeed with a school counseling program.
Contact Jennifer Quintana, CSCA elementary VP, at