Assessment Skills for School Counselors. ERIC
by Schafer, William D.
Perhaps the most controversial area within counselor education is that
of assessment. Following Shertzer and Linden (1979), assessment is used
here to mean methods or procedures that are employed to obtain information
that describes human behavior. The purpose of this digest is to describe
school counselors' roles in the area of assessment. Following an historical
review of testing in counseling, some findings of a study by Schafer and
Mufson (1993) that described roles employers require school counselors
to perform are discussed. Conclusions are related to improving quantitative
literacy in counselor education.
Knowledge needed by counselors to obtain evidence, evaluate its usefulness,
and interpret its meaning have long been and continue to be debated. According
to Minor and Minor (1981), that debate arose, in part, from the adoption
of a humanistic perspective by many counselors and counselor educators,
leading to a de-emphasis of models of counseling that entail quantitative
assessment. In the 1960's, tests were viewed positively and were used primarily
to identify students of outstanding abilities (Zytowski, 1982). However,
in the early 1970's, Goldman (1972) suggested, using a well-known metaphor,
that the marriage between tests and counseling had failed. At about that
time, courts prohibited some established tests for certain purposes and
legislatures passed bills to regulate aspects of the use of standardized
tests. The validity and practical utility of all testing and appraisal
techniques were questioned and negative consequences of "labeling" were
Yet assessment remained commonplace in schools. Consider these findings
in a survey by Engen, Lamb, and Prediger (1981) and reported by Zytowski
(1982): 93% of secondary schools administered at least one test to all
students; 76% administered achievement test batteries; 66% administered
academic aptitude or intelligent tests; and 16% administered inventories
of school or social adjustment or personality tests. By the 1980's, vocational
guidance, according to Zytowski (1982), had become a unifying force between
counseling and testing.
Zytowski (1982) described several changes that had been made in tests,
themselves, and in their uses in counseling. One of these was an erosion
of reliance on predictive validity and an accompanying emphasis on convergent
and discriminant validity, along with construct validity. He also described
the value of an assessment in terms of its ability to guide and motivate
a professional toward seeking additional information for decision making.
De-formalizing assessment, another change, included increased use of one-item
measures, informed self estimates, and card sorts or inventories in which
quantified outcomes are less important than is the process the client engages
in. Computers had become more instrumental in testing, from primarily scoring
and score reporting to actual test administration and providing immediate
feedback. Availability and interest in computer testing have clearly increased
in the decade since Zytowski's summary appeared.
The counseling community has become more aware of ethical issues in
testing. An American Counseling Association (ACA) statement titled Responsibilities
of Users of Standardized Tests (RUST), published in 1978 and revised in
1989, urges awareness of differing purposes for testing and reminds us
to consider the limitations of tests for any purpose and to evaluate the
costs of not testing or using alternative methods of gathering the information
JOB DESCRIPTIONS OF SCHOOL COUNSELORS
In their study of skills needed by school counselors, Schafer and Mufson
(1993) reviewed job analyses conducted by five school districts in five
different states. They found a natural division of the job role expectations
of school counselors into six areas: counseling (individual and group),
pupil assessment, consultation, information officer, school program facilitator,
and research and evaluation. There are assessment-intensive aspects of
each of these.
The counselor's major function in the school is to counsel students
individually and whenever practical in small or large groups. The counselor
also is responsible for identifying students with special needs. These
activities include interpreting test scores and non-test data.
Pupil assessment includes scheduling and preparing for testing, scoring
them or sending them out for scoring, recording results, and scheduling
for interpretation. Counselors are also responsible for assisting students
in evaluating their aptitudes and abilities through interpreting standardized
tests. They may be expected to advise teachers who need to understand psychological
evaluations and who are interested in improving their content-referenced
The third function is that of a consultant. The counselor consults with
and advises teachers, parents, and administrators in guidance matters and
test score interpretation. In some schools the counselor helps teachers
with psychological evaluations and content-referenced testing and advises
school committees in selection of tests.
The function of information officer includes informing parents, teachers,
and staff about counseling services, informing employers and colleges about
students according to school policy, and ensuring two-way communication
between school and home. Many of these activities involve test interpretation.
The fifth function is administrative, including school administration
and counseling administration. Within school administration, the counselor
is responsible for administering tests. Within counseling administrative
functions, the counselor is expected to analyze guidance services. Also,
the counselor is often asked to participate in decisions about the instructional
The sixth function is research and evaluation. The counselor may be
responsible for evaluating the school guidance program. The counselor is
also expected to read and interpret literature to apply research findings
to everyday counselees' situations and to improve his or her skills continuously
through evaluation of counseling techniques.
The counselor responsibilities identified by Schafer and Mufson (1993)
would likely be found in the large majority of school districts across
the nation. Within the area of assessment, roles include test interpreter,
test developer, evaluator of programs, consultant, and researcher. Several
studies reviewed by Schafer and Mufson (1993) were supportive of these
ASSESSMENT SKILLS REQUIRED BY SCHOOL COUNSELOR ROLES
The roles that have been identified imply that counselors should have
certain skills related to assessment. Schafer and Mufson (1993) organized
these into three areas: doing pupil assessment, doing program evaluation,
and using basic research.
Doing pupil assessment includes: types of assessment; assessment systems
and programs; test administration and scoring; test reporting and interpretation;
test evaluation and selection; design, analysis, and improvement in instrument
development; formal and informal methods of assessment; methods for using
assessment in counseling; administrative uses of assessment; computer-based
applications; and ethics of using assessments.
Doing program evaluation includes: needs assessment; formative and summative
evaluation; sources of evaluation research invalidity (instrumental, internal,
and external); choosing evaluation designs; choices of and computational
methods for descriptive and inferential statistics; writing evaluation
proposals and reports; disseminating information; and research ethics.
Using basic research includes: locating and obtaining relevant research
reports; reading and summarizing research reports; evaluating validity
of instruments and research designs; and purpose and assumptions of common
inferential statistical procedures.
Schafer and Mufson (1993) generated aspects of school counselors' roles
that are related to assessment. They also generated a list of assessment-related
content areas in the CACREP standards that pertain to school counselor
education programs. In order to study the fit of these two lists, for each
job-definition role, they reviewed those CACREP content areas that seemed
supportive of it. They concluded that these CACREP skills, conscientiously
presented in a counselor education program, would in most areas constitute
an adequate preparation for a beginning-level school counselor.
Focusing on the role of test interpreter, however, Goldman (1982) found
little research evidence that tests as they have been used by counselors
have made much of a difference to the people they serve. He felt the reasons
are that counselors have not been prepared adequately to understand psychometric
evidence, and that the predictive validity of test information is inadequate
to support individual interpretation. He suggested that schools and other
institutions should reduce the use of standardized tests and replace them
with less formal and less quantitative methods. However, the implications
for assessment in counselor education programs of such a shift are unclear.
It seems unlikely that formal assessment methods will disappear from schools.
Perhaps, as Daniels and Altekruse (1982) observed, lack of integration
of assessment and counseling rests on counselor educators' failure to provide
integrating guidelines in both assessment and counseling coursework. Among
other recommendations, they concluded that counselor educators should become
more responsible for teaching assessment content as well as for demonstrating
its interrelations with counseling in their other courses. Shertzer and
Linden (1982) have suggested that a more systematic approach to counselor
education at both the preservice and the inservice levels can produce professionals
who are more sophisticated in the practice of assessment and appraisal.
The same seems true in the areas of program evaluation and basic research.
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secondary schools still using standardized tests? Paper presented at the
American Personnel and Guidance Association Convention.
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Goldman, L. (1982). Assessment in counseling: A better way. Measurement
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Minor, B. J. & Minor, J. H. (1981). A theoretical model for humanistic
counseling research. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 59, 502-506.
Schafer, W. D. & Mufson, D. (1993, March). Assessment literacy for
school counselors. Paper presented at the American Counseling Association
Convention. (TM 019 926)
Shertzer, B. & Linden, J. O. (1979). Fundamentals of individual
appraisal: Assessment techniques for counselors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Shertzer, B & Linden, J. D. (1982). Persistent issues in counselor
assessment and appraisal. Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance, 15, 9-14.
Zytowski, D. G. (1982). Assessment in the counseling process for the
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