In response to public school counselors' expression of concern over how much of their time is spent in non-counseling activities, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (S.B.) 538 in May 2001. This legislation required the State Comptroller to: 1) determine student-to-counselor ratios on Texas elementary, middle and high school campuses; 2) conduct a statewide survey of how school counselors spend their time; and 3) develop recommendations for future improvements.
In January 2002, the Comptroller surveyed public school counselors on how they spend their time. The survey asked counselors to track their time for a one-week period, January 28-February 1, 2002. The agency also asked counselors for suggestions on how their effectiveness could be improved. More than 4,000 grade K-12 counselors from across the state responded to the survey.
The report analyzes school counselor-to-student ratios statewide and by district. The average counselor-to-student ratio statewide was 1:423 in the 2001-02 school year. This figure represents an improvement from previous years. Among grade levels, elementary schools had the highest ratio (1:555).
The agency staff also examined counselor-to-student ratios by district enrollment and district wealth. Ratios tended to increase (more students per counselor) as district enrollment rose. The Houston Independent School District, the district with the state's largest enrollment (210,000 students), had a counselor-to-student ratio of 1:691. Counselor-to-student ratios did not necessarily reflect any relationship to district wealth, as measured by property wealth divided by enrollment.
The survey results revealed that school counselors spend only about 60 percent of their time exclusively on counseling. A good portion of their time is spent on other administrative tasks. Counselors acknowledge they should not be relieved entirely of administrative duties, because all school staff must assume some measure of administrative responsibility. Most claimed, however, that excessive administrative duties hampered their effectiveness and their availability to students.
One particular area of concern among counselors was their role in administering statewide tests. While counselors believe they have a role in test assessment, they argued that the role of coordinator of TAAS testing took too much time away from counseling. Many recommended shifting most or all of those duties to other staff.
The analysis of counselor-to-student ratios indicates that the statewide ratio for the 2001-02 school year of one counselor for every 423 students is above the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals' and the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association's recommended ratio of 1/350. Counselors in general, however, did not cite the counselor-to-student ratios as the most difficult part of their jobs.
- Require each school district to adopt a policy on the appropriate use of counselors' time in the district.
School districts would be expected to develop policies within a year, effective for the 2004-05 school year. The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), to which every school district belongs, could assist in developing standard policies and templates. TASB already plays a role in developing draft policies for school districts. According to TASB, most districts already have local policies for counselors, and these could be amended to address how counselor time is spent in the district.
By permitting local districts to decide how best to use counselor time, the Legislature would encourage local control and would allow all the stakeholders-counselors, campus personnel, teachers and the residents of the district-to participate in devising a policy that would affect their children. A local policy also could outline a counselors' role in administering state tests, a significant area of concern.
- Expand TEA's District Effectiveness and Compliance (DEC) visits to include a review of a district's local guidance and counseling policy.
TEA should request each school district scheduled for a DEC visit to perform a self-assessment on how well it is complying with its local policy on the use of counselor time. TEA personnel conducting the review should analyze how the district is using counselor time through interviews of a sample of counselors to determine if the district is carrying out its own policy.
- Require grant counselors to file their quarterly timesheets with TEA electronically. This information can then be analyzed and reported to the Texas Legislature.
TEA already requires the 240 counselors whose salaries are paid from grant funds to submit timesheets and other information quarterly. The information, however, is not aggregated and analyzed. Instead, it is simply filed in hardcopy format.
TEA continues to require grant-funded counselors to complete timesheets to remain eligible for funding under this program, so the agency should ensure the timesheets can be compiled and analyzed. The Comptroller survey revealed that more than 95 percent counselors have access to computers and to the Internet, so TEA could require counselors to submit their timesheets electronically.
TEA could use the information to evaluate the grant program, and if entered into a database, the results could be used to measure counselor performance and how certain strategies affect student behavior. Since the program targets at-risk students, the results of the analysis of counselor timesheets may be helpful to other school districts.