OEA report says school counselors need more time, more help

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  • The study found that Kentucky schools fall short of the two goals for counselors that are stated in a law passed earlier this year.
  • The report said Kentucky schools would need an additional 1,156 counselors to meet the goal of one counselor for every 250 students per school.

By Mike Marsee
mike.marsee@education.ky.gov

An examination of school counselors by the Office of Education Accountability (OEA) concluded that school counselors should be able to spend more time working with students and that more counselors are needed in Kentucky schools.

OEA presented the findings of a study on the use of school counselors’ time to the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education in November. The study was mandated by Senate Bill 1 (2019), a bill relating to school safety that became law in March.

The study found that Kentucky schools fall short of the two goals for counselors stated in the law, that school counselors should spend at least 60% of their time on direct services to students and that there should be one counselor for every 250 students per school.

“The report from OEA sheds light on the fact that Kentucky school counselors are asked to do many tasks.  The increase in student mental health concerns nationwide and how they can be addressed is problematic,” said Damien Sweeney, program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). “In order to be proactive and get in front of the mental health concerns counselors have for students, more time must be spent by counselors using counseling techniques to ensure our students’ well-being and safety.

“The hope is that this report, along with our new Kentucky School Counseling Standards of Practice that will be released this school year, will help school counselors be exactly who our students need them to be, school counselors.”

Sabrina Cummins, an OEA staff member who presented the report, said more than half of all school counselors do not spent the recommended time on direct services to students.

“The report estimates that most school counselors – 57% – spend less than the 60%,” Cummins said.

The report also states that “direct services to students” is not precisely defined in statute or regulation.

The law’s stated goal of 1 counselor for every 250 students per school is a lower ratio than the goals, recommendations or requirements for any neighboring state that has them.

“Few districts are meeting this goal. Kentucky would need to increase school counselors by over 80% (to meet the goal),” Cummins said.

The report calculated student-to-counselor ratios at 461-to-1 in elementary schools, 458-to-1 in middle schools and 404-to-1 in high schools. It found only four districts in which the ratio is 250-to-1 or smaller.

The report said Kentucky schools would need an additional 1,156 counselors to meet the goal in all A1 schools at an additional annual cost of about $93 million.

The report also concluded that information sent to KDE by superintendents should include a summary of counselors’ job duties and work performed and said a survey KDE uses to collect that information doesn’t meet the statutory requirement.

In a written response, KDE said the statute does not provide a mechanism for superintendents to complete the required report and that KDE created the survey to collect data that will help superintendents better understand how they are using their school counselors.

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