High school counselors who handle scheduling of students in classes have a very important job to do. I cannot stress how crucial this is. Counselors work within the master schedule that has been prepared usually by an administrator who works assigning faculty members to teach numerous courses that are offered for graduation, preparation for college, and courses that educate students for various careers. The master schedule is built off of student requests for classes and students have hopefully been guided by credentialed school counselors. Factors that must be considered by the person(s) building the master schedule are faculty members’ credentials, expertise and experience, logistics of classrooms available, and minutes required in instruction by state law.
The important thing for counselors is to match the students’ needs, abilities and desires to classes requested. This is a tremendous amount of work if done thoroughly, but well worth it. Counselors often begin this task in late winter or early spring and student changes seem to be ongoing from that point through several weeks into the start of school. I have been at schools with strict rules and others who are more relaxed with input from parents, faculty, and administration and consultation when needed from other counselors or the school psychologist.
Over the course of working with 500-600 members of the Class of 2017, I have personally concluded that this is the most important job a high school counselor does. With help from the assistant principal in charge of the master schedule and the school psychologist, I have been focusing since the summer of 2010 each year to place students in classes. We have had student study team meetings for over 10 percent of the class and have offered assessment for some of them. Of that 10%, some students qualified to receive services in special education and accommodations through a 504 plan and others benefited from organization, studying and testing suggestions. A small percentage of the class opted to move to Independent Study either through our district or the county department of education. And many others over the course of time adjusted their honors classes, changed their career focus, or altered their academic classes in some way.
What the administration and counseling team is noticing is that we are having a great year. Discipline is at an all time low for the entire school. We have not had the student conflict or discipline issues we had become used to.
I believe the answer to be as simple as student placement. We all know that it is difficult and/or unpleasant when a student is not a match for a class. Those reasons could be one of many including 1) a class is too difficult for a student, 2) a class has more work than the student is willing to do, 3) a class is taught by a teacher who a student greatly dislikes or clashes with, and 4) the student is not interested in the subject matter which can often be an elective. When students have these problems there are visits or referrals to the counseling office, calls, emails and meetings with parents, teacher/parent conferences, lots of energy supporting students to get through these classes and the resultant remediation course needed.
It is my suggestion that counselors and administrators look closely at student placement as the key to improving student success in high school. I think there are several important components. First of all, students and parents need information about courses, graduation requirements, and college prep and career offerings. This can be done with 4 year plan meetings in freshman classes or even earlier through 8th grade transition. Parents can be informed using parent meetings, student/parent conferences and a list serve. Secondly, screening of students through grades, test scores, and teacher recommendation cannot be beat. These three things are very telling because together they reflect student ability and motivation. Thirdly, it is very helpful if there is flexibility in the master schedule to allow students to change their minds about a class within a reasonable amount of time after the start of the semester. When a student is struggling and the usual interventions have not worked it may be time for a student study team meeting and then follow through to see how things are working and adjust support when needed. Finally, it is imperative to offer alternative ed options for those who find the comprehensive high school does not address their needs.
I can think of nothing more rewarding for educators, students and parents than to have students happy and flourishing in high school. A comprehensive high school should have the personnel and tools to make this happen. The good news is that everyone benefits.