Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April Showers Bring—Data?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

There’s something about mid-April that inspires school counselors as nothing else can. For many, it may be that students have an extra spring in their step, now that they have shed their winter coats.  For others, the growth they’ve seen in their students is starting to come forth, and it’s clear they’re ready for the next grade, college, or the next phase of their lives.

Many counselors are also inspired by flipping their calendar two pages and realizing it will soon be June—and that “inspires” them to think about everything they need to get done in the next eight weeks.  Now more than ever, that will include some kind of data-driven assessment of the counselor’s year—how did things go, how could they be better, and how does this year shape what next year needs to look like?

The issue of data-based counseling has been covered completely by the work of Trish Hatch, and if you don’t have her book The Use of Data in School Counseling, use the last of your holiday gift cards to buy it for a fascinating summer read. Until you get to this detailed analysis, let these three questions guide you in your quest to generate thoughtful data over the next eight weeks of your wrapping up the school year:

What do you want to know about your program?  Data is only valuable if it answers a key question, and in this case, that question is “What does a successful counseling program look like?”  This could be the number of students you worked with, and it could be the number of students who are heading to college—but it could be something far more than head count, like change in school climate, a shift in attitudes about bullying behavior, or a change in the way teachers see the counseling office.  Ask yourself what you want to know—chances are, they’ll be a way to generate data to help you get the answer.

What do others need to know about your program?  It’s good to have data help you learn about your program, but it’s just as important to have data help others learn about your program—especially if those “others” are decision makers.  Take a moment to consider what your administrators, parents, and public want to know, and should know, about your program, and consider the role data can play in telling your story.  As you consider these audiences, remember to include any reporting you are required to make, to either your administrators or your state.  Some of this mandatory data may not mean much to you, but delivering it in a thoughtful, timely fashion is a statement of support of your administration, and that can be a powerful message all by itself.

What would you like to know at the start of next year?  More than one counselor gets to the end of the first marking period in the fall and says, “If only I had known more about this year’s incoming students/seniors/new students.”  If that was you, now is the time to think about the data reports that can give you the information you need in the fall to make your program run more smoothly.  From test scores to family income, baseline data can come in handy--  especially if you break it down to specific cohorts.

There’s still a lot to do to help students make the most out of this year, but thinking ahead to your end-of-the-year data needs can help shape your remaining school time in thoughtful, productive ways. 

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