• by Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • May 2019 •
“We’re asking kids to make big life decisions in eighth grade?” A middle school counselor recently expressed her strong frustration about having to ask eighth graders to commit to their future career paths. She stated this to IDRA researchers studying effects of Texas’ weakened graduation requirements and new endorsement system. Her feelings illustrate the growing concern among counselors that new policies may adversely affect students’ college readiness.
IDRA is conducting a qualitative study about how counselors see their roles. The study asks them to provide information about how underrepresented students fare, the role of parent engagement and effects of the endorsement system on the school counseling profession itself.
The Greater Texas Foundation is funding this study as part of its mission for all Texans to have equal opportunity to access and succeed in post-secondary education. The study follows IDRA’s 2018 report, also funded by the foundation, that provided critical and timely information about the implications of the curricular changes in Texas on college readiness of graduates (Bojorquez, 2018). This article highlights preliminary findings at this half-way point in the current study.
Endorsements Prompt Career Decisions in Eighth Grade
In 2013, in addition to requiring fewer rigorous courses for graduation, Texas lawmakers created a system of “endorsements” to serve as college or career pathways for students. Each student’s endorsement makes up four of the required 26 credits, including their fourth math, fourth science and two additional elective credits.
See Infographic from IDRA’s initial Ready Texas study – IDRA study points to the troubling effects of the state’s new graduation requirements
Counselors repeatedly stated that requiring students to choose a college and career pathway in eighth grade can cause students to miss opportunities in high school. For example, students who have difficulties with math in middle school may choose endorsements that do not require higher level math. These students may very well rise to the academic challenges of high school. Yet, because of a decision made in eighth grade, their opportunities will be limited. The law allows for students to change endorsements. But students who make a change after their freshmen year will miss out on STEM opportunities that call for a full four or five years of mathematics.
Other counselors stated that requiring such young students to make long-term decisions about their educational careers is simply inappropriate. Their reasons range from personal observations concerning teenagers to their own career journeys. Several counselors stated that they themselves changed majors in college and/or careers several times throughout their own lives.
Room for Career Exploration for Some
A few counselors added that, while the endorsements system is problematic, it can present an opportunity for students to explore different career paths. The counselors who made such comments, however, are in school districts where students are required to take classes, at school or online, that introduce them to a variety of careers. Some of these districts created opportunities for students to experience what it is like to be in the medical field, engineering, etc., through field trips, guest speakers and other career exploration.
However, not all counselors and students have such tools available to them. Also, counselors in our first study stated that endorsements themselves should not be seen as “majors.” They know that graduating with a particular endorsement is essentially not academically meaningful outside of K-12 schools in Texas, and certainly not among colleges.
Time Diverted from Actual Counseling
Overwhelmingly, counselors do not see themselves as having enough time to counsel in any sense of the word. The majority of counselors reported that they spend at least 75% of their time performing tasks that have nothing to do with college and career counseling. They reported dealing with testing and administrative issues for most of their workday.
Also, the majority interviewed felt overwhelmed. Only one reported having more than one professional counselor on campus. The American School Counselor Association (2017) recommends a maximum of one counselor for every 250 students. The average in Texas is almost twice that with one counselor for every 442 students.
Limited Resources, Limited Ability to Counsel Students
Almost all counselors interviewed expressed a lack of resources in the counseling field itself. Counselors interviewed stated that there is a severe lack of funding for counselors and counseling resources. Tied with the complexity of the new graduation requirements, this presents an untenable situation.
One counselor expressed that, even under the best of circumstances, it is very difficult to explain what endorsements mean, which careers align with which endorsements, and which classes to take for students’ career interest. She added that she and others were trying their best to do this without the necessary resources.
A group of counselors from a rural area expressed a troublesome list of concerns: (1) Over 75% of their time is spent with non-counseling issues; (2) In eighth grade, many students choose an endorsement because they are interested in a subject area at that particular moment without a solid understanding of what they may or may not need for future success; and (3) Counselors are trying to do this with little to no resources.
As IDRA continues to gather data, we present the following preliminary recommendations, drawing from our first study and our current work.
- Schools must prepare all students to graduate with a rigorous curriculum that enables them to make informed choices about college rather than prompting eighth-grade students to make choices that will affect their entire educational careers.
- Education stakeholders should revise the endorsement structure to comprise career exploration electives rather than isolating career pathways. Too many questions remain surrounding the equity consequences of the current practice. For example, our earlier study found that Algebra II course enrollments dropped by 24 percent in rural districts (Bojorquez, 2018).
- Policy leaders and district officials need to improve the counselor-to-student ratio so that more counselors can help students explore college options, serve as mentors to smaller groups of students, and communicate with parents.
Depending on funding, school districts can adopt these recommendations themselves. But our findings also show there is a need for all stakeholders – families, educators, community members and policymakers – to have regular dialogue, for example:
- Regional conferences on college access and success;
- Hearings on how parents and students navigate graduation requirements and pathways; and
- Online surveys where families and students can report successes and challenges of the system.
By the end of the project, IDRA’s research will show how counselors help students navigate graduation requirements and how they provide college and career counseling to underrepresented students. The study also will highlight best practices across the state among school districts that excel at providing opportunities for underrepresented students. We have scheduled completion of the study for the summer of 2020 and will continue to publish preliminary findings.
American School Counselor Association. (2017). Student-to-School-Counselor Ratio 2016-2017. Factsheet. Alexandria, Va.: ASCA.
Bojorquez, H. (2018). Ready Texas – A Study of the Implementation of HB5 in Texas and Implications for College Readiness. IDRA.
Hector Bojorquez is IDRA’s Director of Operations. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2019, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2019 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]