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Other Questions on the Survey

On the timesheets, counselors were basing their time allocation for one week only. To balance responses for variations in activities throughout the year, the survey also asked counselors to answer other questions related to their activities throughout the school year. The survey asked counselors to estimate the amount of time they spent on non-guidance activities. The question allowed counselors to select a percentage range that best captured the time they spend on non-counseling activities (Exhibit 19).

Exhibit 19
Estimated Time Spent on Non-Guidance Activities
How much of
your time is
spent on non-
guidance activities?
Percent
10 Percent or less 0.0%
11-15 Percent 28.1%
16-20 Percent 22.7%
21-25 Percent 19.6%
26-30 Percent 13.8%
31-35 Percent 15.8%
More than 35 Percent 0.0%
Total 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002.

The counselors who responded to this question selected 11-15 percent most frequently, followed by 16-20 percent, indicating that many counselors believe that they spend less time on non-guidance activities than their one-week timesheet indicates. About 50 percent stated that they spend more than 20 percent of their time on non-guidance activities.

To measure counselor opinions on how much time should be spent on non-guidance activities, the survey also asked, "What is a reasonable amount of time that should be expected of counselors in carrying out non-guidance activities in general?" Counselors were asked to select from several choices (Exhibit 20).

Exhibit 20
Recommended Time To Spend on Non-Guidance Activities
How much time
should be spent
on non-guidance
duties?
Percent
10 Percent or less 0.0%
11-15 Percent 45.9%
16-20 Percent 28.8%
21-25 Percent 17.4%
26-30 Percent 4.8%
31-35 Percent 3.1%
More than 35% 0.0%
TOTAL 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002.

About 75 percent of the respondents indicated that counselors should spend no more than 20 percent of their time on non-guidance duties.

The survey also asked whether timesheets reflected a counselor's regular duties during the school year (Exhibit 21). Those who responded, "No" to this question were given the opportunity to explain what was different.

Exhibit 21
Timesheet Reflects Regular Duties - Yes or No
Does the timesheet
capture or reflect
your regular duties
during the school year?
Percent
Yes 52.5%
No 47.5%
Total 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002.

More than half of the counselors said the week was reflective of their duties throughout the year.

The explanations of counselors who said the week in the survey was not representative of their school year were assigned to a list of common themes (Exhibit 22).

Exhibit 22
Why the Timesheet Week is Not Typical
Response Percent
Does not reflect impact of testing duties 32.3%
There is no representative time period 16.9%
One week sample is not enough 5.7%
This week was not typical; Other weeks may be more typical 20.3%
I was out of the office for part of the time 7.9%
Other 16.9%
Total 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002.

The most common response to this open-ended question was that the survey time period did not reflect the impact of testing duties on counselor time. Some respondents argued that test administration some times took close to all of the counselor's time during certain times of the year. The second highest category was the response that another week might be more typical of how counselors used their time. However, in many of these, counselors again referred to times when testing might tend to dominate their time.

Comments on Making Counselors More Effective

Counselors were also asked the open-ended question, "What could be done to ensure that your time and skills are directed towards students' educational career and personal needs?" To compile the diverse comments, the Comptroller's office created 10 categories reflecting common themes suggested by the counselors. The categories of responses are presented in Exhibit 23.

Exhibit 23
Suggestions for Ensuring Counselor Effectiveness
Response Total
Provide more staff assistance/clerical help 21.0%
Reduce non-counseling activities 15.9%
Hire a testing coordinator/assign state testing duties to another school official 14.4%
Eliminate/reduce state testing duties 11.3%
Increase counselor time with students 7.7%
Reduce the counselor/student ratio 7.5%
Eliminate/reduce paperwork 7.4%
Other 6.3%
Reduce/eliminate scheduling duties 4.0%
Assign scheduling to another staff person 3.1%
More professional development/training 1.4%
Total 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002.

The most common response from counselors was a request for more general staff aid or clerical assistance. More than a fifth of all counselors made this suggestion. Many counselors explained that the volume of primarily clerical activities demanding their attention often interfered with their ability to provide guidance and counseling services. Counselors also mentioned that many of the clerical duties surrounding their role as test administrators for state testing were time-consuming. Many mentioned that not only were they responsible for scheduling students for state tests, but also for any practice tests. Many counselors said that if scheduling and managing the clerical aspects of state testing were to remain a counselor duty, they would need administrative help carrying out the tasks.

The second most common response was a request for a reduction of non-counseling duties (15.9 percent). Many counselors noted that any district duties that detracted from their ability to provide guidance and counseling services should be either eliminated or reduced significantly. Many said that school districts should observe state recommended tasks such as those outlined in guidance and counseling responsibilities. Several noted that their assignment to other duties may reflect a lack of understanding among district and campus administration of the counselor's role. To solve this problem, counselors suggested that training for other school staff might help illuminate the best use of counselor time and talents in schools. Some noted that even though administrators knew how best to use counselors, the problem might be due to the lack of other staff to handle other responsibilities on campus. Several noted that the duties of a school counselor enumerated in a job description should not conclude with the standard generic phrase, "And other duties as assigned," but instead should read, "And other counseling duties as assigned."

Examples of duties that counselors suggested should not be their responsibility included: state test administration, bus and lunch duty, discipline administration, scheduling and other registrar responsibilities and other district clerical duties. Several counselors noted that they had been assigned the role of campus disciplinarians. In such cases, counselors argued that serving as the campus disciplinarian compromised their effectiveness as counselors, especially when they are expected to gain student trust and serve as a student advocate.

Finally, many counselors noted that they did not expect a change in their role on campus without a mandate from the Texas Legislature.

The next most common response for improving counselor effectiveness asked that districts hire testing coordinator to handle the administration of state tests (14.4 percent of respondents). Some argued for a new position exclusively assigned this responsibility, while others suggested the assistant principal or another administrative staff member for this role. Several counselors noted that their schools already had testing coordinators, and counselors thought the arrangement would work well in other schools.

The next most frequent response was that the schools eliminate or reduce testing duties (11.3 percent). While many counselors were less specific as to who should assume these duties, many indicated that the duties take away time for student contact and that the issue could be decided by someone else as long as counselors no longer played such a hands-on role in test administration.

Counselors also noted that counselor effectiveness could be improved by increasing the amount of time that counselors spend with students (7.7 percent). Non-counseling duties effectively reduce student contact time, and survey respondents suggested the state make whatever changes necessary to relieve them of any duties that detracted from counseling.

While counselors suggested that their effectiveness would be improved through lower counselor-to-student ratios, this response was not one of the more frequent concerns (7.5 percent). Neither was the suggestion to eliminate or reduce paperwork (7.4 percent).

The responses recorded as "other" contained a mix of replies not fitting in the original list used to categorize responses. Many counselors used this space to note that they felt their counseling role was well-appreciated and that they had the campus support necessary to do their job effectively. Below are some responses categorized as "other." Each appeared at least 10 times.

  • Have at least one full-time counselor at each campus.
  • Better coordination with teachers and parents is needed.
  • Legislative changes on counselor dutiesare needed.
  • My principal understands the value of letting counselors counsel.
  • Ensure that guidance curriculum is followed.
  • Improve understanding of the counselor role among all school staff.
  • As a special education counselor, I am allowed to work exclusively as a counselor with no administrative duties.
  • Better technology resources (hardware, software) or a better office environment are needed.
  • I am a grant counselor, and all of my time is devoted to counseling.
  • District officials need to recommend, not mandate, guidance objectives.
  • Counselors should report to a head counselor, not the principal.
Sample comments appear in Appendix G. While the appendix contains only a sample of the responses, the comments provide some context to the responses.

Responses by Enrollment and District Wealth

To see how responses for improvement varied by counselor setting, Comptroller staff broke down the suggestions for ensuring counselor effectiveness by enrollment (Exhibit 24).

In many cases, responses by reason did not vary substantially from statewide responses. However, there were some differences. For instance, in school districts of fewer than 500 students, almost a quarter of the responses asked that state testing duties be eliminated or reduced. A request for more staff assistance and clerical help was the second-most common response in this enrollment category. By contrast, in districts with enrollment exceeding 50,000, the category with the most responses was practically a tie between the recommendation that districts hire a testing coordinator and the recommendation that non-counseling duties be reduced.

Responses were also analyzed by district wealth (Exhibit 25). Again, as with the timesheets, there were no clear differences or trends in responses between districts with low property wealth per student and those with high property wealth per student.

Exhibit 24
Suggestions for Ensuring Counselor Effectiveness - By Enrollment
  Enrollment
Response Fewer than 500 500- 999 1,000- 1,599 1,600- 2,999 3,000- 4,999 5,000- 9,999 10,000- 24,999 25,000- 49,999 50,000 or More
A.
Eliminate/reduce paperwork
4.3% 5.7% 4.8% 8.4% 8.1% 7.3% 7.3% 8.6% 7.0%
B.
Reduce non-counseling activities
13.8% 14.6% 13.8% 13.2% 14.9% 12.5% 18.8% 15.2% 18.4%
C.
Eliminate/reduce state testing duties
24.1% 14.6% 15.2% 10.9% 11.8% 10.2% 9.3% 10.3% 11.5%
D.
Hire a testing coordinator/assign state testing duties to another school official
11.2% 14.6% 13.8% 15.9% 15.3% 17.4% 10.5% 10.3% 18.3%
E.
Reduce/eliminate scheduling duties
2.6% 2.7% 2.9% 3.9% 4.8% 4.8% 4.7% 4.1% 3.1%
F.
Provide more staff assistance/clerical help
17.2% 21.5% 26.2% 24.3% 19.7% 22.6% 22.0% 22.0% 17.7%
G.
More professional development/training
2.6% 1.1% 0.5% 2.0% 1.0% 0.9% 1.9% 1.5% 1.1%
H.
Reduce counselor-to-student ratio
1.7% 4.2% 4.3% 5.7% 7.9% 6.6% 8.9% 9.3% 7.9%
I.
Increase counselor time with students
7.8% 11.9% 6.7% 7.0% 7.9% 7.8% 6.0% 7.9% 8.0%
J.
Assign scheduling to another staff person
1.7% 2.7% 4.3% 3.4% 3.5% 3.9% 3.7% 2.5% 2.7%
K.
Other
12.9% 6.5% 7.6% 5.4% 5.0% 5.9% 6.9% 8.5% 4.3%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002. (Totals may not add due to rounding.)

Exhibit 25
Suggestions for Ensuring Counselor Effectiveness - By District Wealth
  District by Property Wealth per Student
Response $18,768- $88,427 $88,546-$132,459 $132,509-$152,475 $152,610-$171,136 $171,197-$199,960 $200,987-$234,111 $234,195-$272,271 $272,275-$333,264 $334,217-$354,054 $354,267 or More
A.
Eliminate/reduce paperwork
7.9% 8.3% 8.5% 8.0% 9.0% 7.8% 5.8% 6.7% 4.5% 6.3%
B.
Reduce non- counseling activities
24.4% 14.4% 17.3% 14.9% 14.2% 14.0% 14.7% 13.6% 20.6% 14.3%
C.
Eliminate/reduce state testing duties
8.1% 10.7% 8.5% 11.0% 11.5% 11.6% 13.4% 13.1% 11.8% 16.6%
D.
Hire a testing coordinator/assign state testing duties to another school official
7.9% 13.0% 14.6% 10.7% 13.4% 13.8% 18.7% 15.9% 17.2% 16.3%
E.
Reduce/eliminate scheduling duties
5.1% 3.8% 3.3% 3.9% 4.2% 4.3% 2.3% 4.7% 4.5% 3.7%
F.
Provide more staff assistance/clerical help
21.4% 24.7% 22.5% 23.1% 20.1% 21.3% 17.7% 21.6% 20.3% 17.6%
G.
More professional development/ training
3.1% 0.6% 1.5% 1.5% 0.7% 1.5% 1.2% 1.2% 1.7% 1.3%
H.
Reduce student-to- counselor ratio
5.9% 6.6% 7.9% 7.0% 9.9% 8.4% 8.8% 9.5% 5.4% 5.1%
I.
Increase counselor time with students
5.5% 8.3% 7.7% 8.5% 7.3% 8.0% 8.6% 6.6% 7.0% 7.9%
J.
Assign scheduling to another staff person
3.7% 4.5% 1.5% 3.1% 2.2% 4.1% 3.2% 2.6% 3.4% 3.0%
K.
Other
6.8% 5.0% 6.7% 8.2% 7.6% 5.2% 5.5% 4.5% 3.7% 7.8%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002. (Totals may not add due to rounding.)

The final open-ended question in the survey allowed respondents to add further comments (Exhibit 26).

Exhibit 26
Closing Comments
Response Percent
Reduce student-to-counselor ratio. 8.5%
Reduce non-counseling activities. 21.8%
Eliminate/reduce testing duties. 14.7%
Reduce/eliminate scheduling duties. 5.9%
Capture how counselors spend their time year-round. 0.5%
Improve counselor pay. 3.8%
Improve public perception of counselors. 5.0%
My situation is good. 13.3%
Other 26.5%
Total 100.0%
Source: Comptroller School Counselor Survey, January/February 2002.

The respondents used this opportunity to reiterate ideas for improvement. The most popular response was reducing non-counseling activities. Counselors also urged a reduction or elimination of testing duties. Many counselors (13.3 percent) also used this question as an opportunity to state that their counseling position was well-supported in their schools. Most attributed the positive comments to the leadership at the school and district level.

School Performance Reviews and Counselors

In addition to conducting the counselor survey, the Comptroller's office reviewed results of other research related to public school counselors. The Texas School Performance Review (TSPR), which has been in existence since 1991, has conducted more than 75 comprehensive reviews of school district operations in the last nine years. Several of those reports have contained findings and recommendations affecting counselors. Electronic versions of these reports are available at <http://www.window.state.tx.us/ m26edu.html>.

In Port Arthur, Fort Bend, Del Valle, Mount Pleasant and Brownsville ISDs, the Comptroller's office recommended adding more counselors to address deficiencies. While this strategy adds costs to district operations, TSPR reports are structured to recommend cost-saving strategies in some areas to allow spending in other areas. None of the recommendations to add counselors were made without cost-saving recommendations in other areas to offset the increased costs.

In Fort Bend, Fort Worth, Dallas and Eagle Pass ISDs, TSPR reports recommended the assigning the non-counseling duties handled by counselors to other school personnel. In Fort Bend, Fort Worth and Eagle Pass ISDs, TSPR stated that the reassignment of duties could be made without additional costs to the district. In Dallas ISD, however, where the recommendation was made to reassign test coordination duties, TSPR recommended hiring 34 additional personnel at a cost of $1.4 million a year. Here again, the TSPR report made cost-cutting recommendations in other areas to keep this recommendation within the district's budget.

These TSPR examples illustrate that the fiscal impact of re-assigning non-counseling tasks performed by counselors to other staff can vary from district to district. In some cases, a district would be able to make this shift in duties without adding staff. In other districts, the costs could be considerable. Every case would need to be evaluated individually.