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Establishing a School Counseling Needs Assessment

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Needs assessments allow school counselors to determine and understand the nature and cause of student needs. This lesson provides information on the advantages of needs assessments and how to develop and implement a needs assessment.

Advantages of Needs Assessments

A needs assessment is a scientific method school counselors use to determine and understand the nature and cause of student needs. It allows counselors to devise programs that effectively and specifically address those needs. School counselors can best determine when a needs assessment should be performed by asking themselves a series of questions, like what research questions they would like to answer and whom their needs assessment would benefit.

Needs assessments provide many advantages to school counselors, teachers, and administrators. They can address and identify any deficiencies in current school services and programs, and address those areas where school counselors can respond with direct action. A needs assessment could also identify demographics and social groups within a school that may be in need of intervention or nurturing. Needs assessments can also be used as part of larger program evaluations to determine their effectiveness and identify ways in which student populations can be better served.

As school populations change rapidly, school counselors need tools at their disposal to better understand the changing demographics of their campuses. Needs assessments help school counselors find ways to develop school services that not only identify individual student needs, but also the needs of larger groups and subsets within the diaspora of a school.

Developing Needs Assessments

School counselors can follow a four-step method provided by the American Counseling Association's Vista Online publication to develop needs assessments for a wide array of demographics and students. This method provides the opportunity for school counselors to gather data that can be used to better identify the services and programs students require.

Step One of the four-step method is to identify the research questions the assessment will answer (which should result in achieving a goal for the person or persons being studied). These questions will drive the needs assessment throughout the study, especially during the data collection and analysis phase of the assessment. Research questions should be structured around queries of how or why something is occurring.

Step Two is to identify the group the needs assessment will study and determine for whom possible services and programs will be developed. This step can be accomplished in tandem with Step One as some of the research questions should also be specific to the needs assessment demographic. When gathering data in later steps that is usable and actionable in the development of programs and services, it is important to have identified exactly who will benefit from the needs assessment

Step Three of the four-step method is to collect the data for the needs assessment. In this step, the types of instruments (be they quantitative or qualitative) should be chosen with care. When completing interviews or surveys, it is key to keep research questions and the goals of the assessment in mind. It is also important to decide to use either open-ended questions where participants can describe their experiences fully, or close-ended questions where participants usually respond either yes or no to a question before conducting interviews. If data is quantitative, it is important to remember to use data and statistics from reputable and scholarly sources (such as government agencies who compile and publish data quarterly or annually).

Step Four involves analyzing the data collected in Step Three. Information from surveys or polls can be analyzed by transferring data to a chart or a graph to illustrate similarities and differences in participant responses. Data can also be transcribed from participant interviews where questions were open-ended and then placed into a spreadsheet and filtered. This step should display the answers to the research questions developed in Step One, and be specific to the demographic identified in Step Two so that programs and services that address the need of the group assessed in the study can be developed and implemented.

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