Home-school partnerships can close elementary student achievement gaps

May 15, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Elementary school counselors can play a large part in closing the achievement gap that exists among students, says a team of Penn State researchers.

In a new journal article, Jerry Trusty, Elizabeth Mellin, and James Herbert, faculty members in Penn State’s Counselor Education program, recommend that counselors organize partnerships to bring together the schools, the students’ families, and the communities. When elementary school counselors forge successful school-family-community partnerships, they are taking steps to improving the learning and social outcomes that result in closing achievement and opportunity gaps, say the authors.

The article, titled “Closing Achievement Gaps: Roles and Tasks of Elementary School Counselors,” appears in The Elementary School Journal (vol. 108, no. 5, 2008).

In their article, the researchers discuss proximal-distal outcomes. Proximal outcomes take place in the short term. These types of outcomes tend to be influenced by educational interventions, say the authors. Any intervention put into place by elementary school counselors usually yield proximal outcomes—outcomes that occur while the student is still in elementary school.

Distal outcomes, on the other hand, are realized over a longer term. These may not occur until after a student has reached high school.

The authors outline four initial leadership and advocacy tasks that elementary school counselors can undertake to build successful school-family-community partnerships that can yield positive proximal outcomes. These tasks address issues such as cultural hurdles, lack of connectivity, and lack of funds—barriers that can hinder a partnership. The four tasks are as follows:

  1. Counselors are encouraged to learn about the resources offered by organizations that support the creation of strong school-family-community partnerships. Among the organizations are the National Network of Partnership Schools, the National Association of Partners in Education, the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, and the UCLA School Mental Health Project.
  2. Counselors should develop proposals that outline how to expand their leadership and advocacy roles, and present these proposals to principals and administrators. Once they obtain support from the school administration, counselors can develop a local team of family members, community agencies, and school staff.
  3. Counselors should then begin an assessment of what needs to be done. This task calls for a collection of data on three fronts—barriers to successful partnerships; the culture of the community; and what the schools, families, and community agencies want to achieve in the partnership.
  4. Using the data collected in the assessment, counselors should begin creating an action plan, taking into account the measurable proximal and distal outcomes. Developing a proposal for grant funding gives added credibility to the assessment. Even if the proposal is not funded, counselors will find the data useful as they make informed decisions on how to close achievement gaps.

“School counselors with comprehensive school counseling programs regularly use data for program development and decision-making,” notes Trusty.

The co-authors point to a “consistent theme” in proximal-distal outcomes: Student social engagement is a dominant factor in the narrowing of the achievement gap. Social engagement is one of three variables—along with intensive course-taking and parental involvement in their child’s education development—that benefit students in the long term (i.e., distal outcomes).

Trusty identifies these three variables in his Long-Term Educational Development (LTED) model. Trusty developed the LTED model based on his research on data from the 1988–2002 National Education Longitudinal Study. The LTED model summarizes the school experiences and behavior that are important to closing longstanding achievement and opportunity gaps.

Trusty has done extensive research on the educational and career development of adolescents and on multicultural counseling. He notes that the educational achievement gap is especially wide along racial-ethnic and socioeconomic lines—and the gap widens once the students reach high school.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009