Author: White, Susan Williams
Date published: April 1, 2010
Rates of on-time high school graduation have increased in recent years, from just over 72% in 2001-2002 to almost 74% in 2003-2004. These data represent modest progress. However, up to a quarter of all students are not graduating on time or not graduating at all (Warren & Halpern-Manners, 2007). Students from low-income families are 4 times more likely to drop out of school than are students from high-income families. Approximately 1 in 10 youth from lowincome families drop out of school (10.4%) compared with 2.5% in high-income families (Laird, DeBeIl, & Chapman, 2006, Table 1). According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (Davis & Bauman, 2008, p. 4), 3.3 million people, or 11% of people ages 18 to 24 years, were high school dropouts in 2006. Almost 9% of 16- to 24-year-olds were considered to have dropped out of school prior to earning a diploma in 2007 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, 2009). In other words, more than 1 in 10 people in this age range were neither enrolled in school nor had they earned a diploma.
The social, psychological, and financial consequences associated with school dropout are substantial. Students who drop out have higher rates of unemployment and are in lower status, lower paying jobs (Steinberg, Blinde, & Chan, 1984; Timberlake, 1982) than students who graduate. Recent data (for 2003) indicate that the median income of people age 18 years and over who completed a high school credential was $20,43 1 , compared with a median income of just $ 1 2, 1 84 for those who dropped out of school (Laird et al., 2006, p. 1). The U.S. Department of Education (1996), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, reported that in Miami, Florida, over 71% of 13- to 16-year-old adolescents prosecuted for criminal violations had been truant from school. Similarly, a 30-year longitudinal study conducted in St. Louis, Missouri, concluded that "truancy was clearly related to adult criminality, violence, marital problems, and job problems" (Gonzales et al., 2002, p. 4). The negative effects of school dropout on society are extreme and include forgone national income, lower tax revenues for support of government services, higher demand for social services, and higher crime rates committed by individuals who have dropped out of school.
When examined in terms of race and ethnicity, significant differences emerge in dropout rates. Laird et al. (2006, Table 1) reported 2004 dropout rates for Hispanic, Black, White, and Asian/Pacific Islander students (i.e., 15- through 24-year-olds who dropped out of Grades 10-12) as 8.9%, 5.7%, 3.7%, and 1.2%, respectively. The U.S. Bureau of the Census (2007) reported that 16.7% of 18- to 19-year-old Hispanics were not high school graduates. Absenteeism and truancy among students seem to be the most visible aspects of a long-term process of alienation from school that eventually culminates in dropping out (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003). In this article, we review the problem of school dropout from a developmental perspective, highlighting both the risk and the resiliency factors believed to affect a student's decision to eventually drop out of school, and we identify specific strategies that counselors can implement to address this problem.
To identify the state of the research in the field of school counseling on prevention of school dropout, we conducted a comprehensive review of the primary journals that have a focus on school counseling. Following a critical analysis of studies in this field on dropout prevention, we integrate the content of the literature we identified with findings from a previously published comprehensive review of research on school-dropout intervention programs (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003) in the Best Practices section. We provide recommendations to school counselors on strategies for addressing the problem of premature dropout in their schools.
The primary journals published by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA; The School Counselor, Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, and the current consolidated journal Professional School Counseling) from 1 985 through November of 2008 were searched for all entries containing either of the keywords dropout or truancy (because truancy is highly related to eventual dropout). We then screened the results of this search, and we critically reviewed the results that discussed the role of the school counselor in dropout prevention (N= 20). Because the focus of this review is the school counselor's role in preventing school dropout, only studies that implemented an active intervention (e.g., counseling, consultation, group guidance) were included. Of the 20 articles found, 10 addressed either risk factors or characteristics of students who drop out of school and 6 addressed school-based interventions. We determined that 4 of the identified articles were not relevant for this review because they did not evaluate an intervention program (i.e., Herr, 2002; Hutchinson & Bottorff, 1986; Rose-Gold, 1991; and Stickel, Satchwell, & Meyer, 1991). The following review is based on the six published studies that addressed intervention approaches and programs designed to reduce school dropout: Bemak, Chung, and Siroskey-Sabdo (2005); Blum and Jones (1993); Gerler, Drew, and Mohr (1990); Ruben (1989); Shepard-Tew and Creamer (1998); and Wirth-Bond, Coyne, and Adams (1991).
Although the ostensible purpose of these articles was to evaluate impact of certain intervention approaches on the probability of school dropout, all six studies evaluated the effects of an intervention on students identified as being at risk for school dropout, and most interventions were implemented with middle-school students. Only one study actually included dropout as a dependent variable (Wirth-Bond et al., 1991). This study, which did not include a control group, found that students identified as at risk for dropout and placed in a vocational special needs program with high counselor availability had a surprisingly low dropout rate (8.4%; Wirth-Bond et al., 1991). The other five studies evaluated the effect of various interventions on associated variables such as attitudes toward teachers and school (Gerler et al., 1990), academic achievement and attendance (Blum & Jones, 1993; Ruben, 1989; Shepard-Tew & Creamer, 1998), and personal empowerment (Bemak et al., 2005).
Why have so few articles published in the primary schoolcounseling journals over the past 24 years actually tested or evaluated interventions to reduce school dropout? An explanation may lie in an examination of the recent publication trends of the ASCA journals. The previously mentioned review of the articles published in these journals over the past 2 decades (i.e., Prevatt & Kelly, 2003) revealed that at least 60% of these articles could be classified in the remedial or crisis categories, with such topics as school phobia, divorce, death, attentiondeficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suicide, and bullying being dominant. These issues and problems are specific, immediate, and clearly denned. The scarcity of intervention research on dropout prevention, on the other hand, may be at least partly attributed to the nature of the problem itself.
Unlike many other school- and child-related difficulties, the problems associated with school dropout are much more systemic and multifaceted in their etiologies (Alexander, Entwisle, & Horsey, 1997). Moreover, the complexity posed by the long-term developmental pathways that lead to school dropout (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003) and the fact that the definable problem (i.e., dropout) represents the culmination of this pathway require more difficult-to-execute, longitudinal research efforts. Finally, by the time the problem is identified, it may be perceived by relevant school personnel as too difficult to effectively intervene.
Despite these difficulties and complexities, the ASCA (2003) National Model for school counseling programs challenges school counseling personnel to be results-oriented in demonstrating the effectiveness of their programs. In particular, it instructs individuals involved in these programs to examine long-range results, as well as short-term and intermediate outcomes, because they both apply to student progress. Monitoring, intervening with, and evaluating students to ensure that they complete the journey to high school graduation are very important elements in the long-range accountability picture.
As applied to the goal of school completion, the accountability task just alluded to is difficult when one considers the complex developmental pathways that lead to school dropout (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003). However, conceptualizing school dropout as the culminating event in a process of alienation from school that is the result of both negative forces (risk factors) and a lack of sufficient supports (protective factors) may provide school counselors with a framework for intervention. Programs and strategies that address both sides of the equation - reduction of risk factors and enhancement of protective factors - early in a student's academic career will be more likely to have a positive effect on the academic trajectory of identified students.
*Best Practices: Promising Strategies for Preventing School Dropout
Although there is not an abundance of empirically based literature on school dropout prevention, the interventions described in the six studies reviewed for this article are consistent with a previously published comprehensive review of evidence-based intervention programs for school dropout prevention (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003). Drawing on both our current review of the school counseling literature and that of Prevatt and Kelly, we can identify several specific strategies that school counselors can incorporate into effective prevention programs.
Prevatt and Kelly (2003) reviewed 217 articles, published during a 20-year period (1982-2002), that focused on attendance, truancy, school completion, school failure, and school dropout. From this pool of 217 articles, only 18 met our four criteria for an evidence-based school intervention: (a) published in a peer-reviewed journal, (b) described an intervention specified by the authors as prevention, (c) included a data-based (empirical) analysis the intervention's effectiveness, and (d) included a measure of dropout as one of the dependent variables. Prevatt Kelly used the Procedural and Coding Manual for of Evidence Based Interventions (Task Force on Based Interventions in School Psychology, 2003) to review each study. It is important to note that each program was comprehensive in nature and contained multiple components. However, none of the studies tested the separate effects of each component in the overall program. Nonetheless, there were specific intervention components that appeared with sufficient regularity to that they might be valuable tools in addressing the school dropout problem. These intervention components in Prevatt and Kelly's 2003 review are similar to and overlap with the interventions used in the six studies that we identified for this article in the school counseling literature.
These overlapping interventions from the two sources (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003, and the current study) are described in the following sections. The strategies are categorized according to whether they primarily address protection (i.e., enhancing strengths or protective factors) or risk (i.e., reducing risk factors for later school dropout). A risk and resiliency model be used as a framework for conceptualizing factors with truancy and dropping out of school. Negative life events, or risk factors, are those variables associated with a likelihood of negative outcomes. Resiliency or protective factors are less well defined and appear to have both effects on outcomes and indirect (moderator) effects on the relationship between risk and outcome (Garmezy, 1985). Table 1 provides examples of specific strategies addressing both protective and risk factors. The school dropout interventions outlined and described in the following sections have strongest empirical support. As such, they should be considered as potentially important tools for use by practicing school counselors who have placed school dropout and its correlates (e.g., absenteeism, truancy, failing grades, school alienation) on their agenda.
Strategies Addressing Protective Factors
Social support. One protective factor contributing to decreased likelihood of school dropout is degree of social support, including peer social support (Stearns & Glennie, 2006), a supportive family, positive school experiences, and religious involvement (Doll & Lyon, 1998; Dubow, Edwards, & Ippolito, 1997; Jackson & Frick, 1998). Providing social support for students during early adolescence appears to be a potentially valuable intervention. Early adolescence is a critical developmental period during which many students acquire negative and oppositional attitudes toward school and authority figures and begin their association with peer groups that may exert a strong and negative influence. Blum and Jones (1993), hypothesizing that enhanced social support would result in improved academic achievement and school retention, provided an intervention comprising peer social support groups and support from adult mentors. Bemak et al. (2005) similarly implemented an unstructured group counseling experience to improve participants' academic performance and school attendance. Other researchers have implemented peer "buddy" systems (Pearson & Banerji, 1 993), and teacheras-advisor programs (TAP; Gallassi & Gulledge, 1997) for students in Grades 6-9. The TAP program can be considered a developmental/preventive intervention in that it is available to all students and provides the social and academic support so critical to middle-school students. School counselors have been central figures in initiating and coordinating TAP programs in their schools. Prevatt and Kelly's (2003) review indicated empirical support for such interventions.
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Monitoring and mentoring. Frequent absenteeism may be the strongest behavioral antecedent to school dropout (Bryk & Thum, 1989), with attendance patterns in the primary grades predictive of high school dropout (Oakland, 1992). As such, monitoring students' progress and school participation is a viable component of intervention. Shepard-Tew and Creamer (1998) applied a team-based multidisciplinary case management approach to delivering comprehensive services to students at risk of school dropout and to their families and to monitoring these students' progress in school. Blum and Jones (1993) assigned one-on-one adult mentors to students identified as being at risk for school dropout. Sinclair, Christenson, Evelo, and Hurley's (1998) Check and Connect program demonstrated the efficacy of close adult monitoring of students' academic and behavioral progress. This monitoring role, in years past, was executed by parents who stayed on top of their child's school performance and progress. Over the past generation, however, realities of life such as divorce, single-parent families, and dual-career families have left parents struggling just to balance career, home, and personal needs. Often, the child's academic progress is not actively monitored by parents until a call from the school indicates the presence of a problem.
The problem may be compounded by the responsibilities and stresses of most classroom teachers, who may not have regular communication with parents. The result is that many academic and behavioral difficulties of students are only addressed long after they have become significant and chronic problems. Even then, interventions are often sporadic, shortterm, and lack the influence and follow-up required to bring about a positive change. A structured monitoring intervention can catch problems long before they become entrenched patterns; it can also ensure that a behavioral/academic intervention plan is being implemented and tracked to determine the attainment or nonattainment of targeted outcomes for students. In Sinclair et al.'s (1998) study, graduate students, adult community volunteers, and resource teachers performed this function of monitor for targeted students who were at risk for school dropout. The monitor's role was quite active as he or she provided students with performance feedback, communicated regularly with parents, and arranged for the student's participation in tutoring or other needed interventions. Again, the counselor's role might be that of program coordinator who would recruit, train, and supervise these monitors. It is also important to remind school personnel that it is not only students who have individualized education plans (IEPs) who require monitoring, but also students without identified special needs who may be at risk for school difficulty or later dropout.
Personal and social skill development. There are several individual or skills-based risk factors related to school dropout. Children with disruptive or aggressive behaviors, assessed as early as kindergarten, are significantly more likely to drop out of school (Ensminger & Slusarcick, 1992; Vitaro, Larocque, Janosz, & Tremblay, 1997) than are children without such behaviors. Early substance abuse (i.e., before ninth grade) is predictive of school dropout (Bohon, Garber, & Horowitz, 2007), as is poor academic performance (Ensminger & Slusarcick, 1992; Simner & Barnes, 1991). The importance of cultivating students' personal and social coping skills was underscored by the inclusion of social development components in several of the studies reviewed by Prevatt and Kelly (2003). Sinclair et al. (1998) provided a cognitively oriented problem-solving program for at-risk students needing intensive intervention. Hawkins, Catalano, Kosterman, Abbott, and Hill (1999) implemented Shure and Spivack's (1988) interpersonal cognitive problem-solving curriculum as part of a schoolwide elementary-level intervention. Finally, Vitaro, Brendgen, and Tremblay (1999) focused on social-skills development for disruptive second- and third-grade male students. They used the social problem-solving skills training program described by Tremblay, Pagani-Kurtz, Masse, Vitaro, and Pihl (1 995). The programs implemented by Gerler et al. ( 1 990) and by Ruben (1989) addressed multiple skills, such as problemsolving, cooperation, responsibility, and listening skills.
Proactive prevention programming is considered to be a critical part of the school counselor's role (Baker & Gerler, 2004). Typically, intervention programs included under this umbrella involve both large (classroom) guidance and smallgroup counseling activities dealing with topics such as career exploration, academic survival skills, stress and anger management, interpersonal communication, and social problem solving. With the knowledge that these interventions produce not only short-term improvements in student behavior and school adjustment, but also possible protection from the longer term consequence of school dropout, school counselors should aggressively push for interventions such as these as part of their comprehensive school counseling programs.
The implementation of service-learning activities within the school curriculum has shown promise both in addressing the social support needs of students and in promoting their personal and social skill development (Billig, 2002). Service learning differs from pure community service in that the former involves a structured opportunity for students to process their real-life service experiences in a peer group context with a counseling professional as facilitator. These weekly or biweekly sessions help students process issues related to interpersonal conflict resolution, problem solving, goal setting, critical thinking, and career awareness. Processing such real-life versus simulated experiences brings immediacy to student learning. Commonly used service-learning activities involve tutoring younger children, working on outdoor public areas (nature trails), visiting older adults and people with infirmities, and preparing food and clothing for distribution to the poor. Program implementation would require a project leader at the school. The school counselor could serve in this central role. However, he or she could recruit a small team of parents to make and to maintain contact with participating community partners, such as hospitals, nursing homes, city parks departments, county libraries, and civic organizations. The school counselor would monitor student participation and performance, as well as facilitate the process groups.
Parent involvement. Students who stay in school and perform successfully tend to have parents who are informed concerned, and involved with their child's education (Viadero & Johnson, 2000). On the other hand, negative parental attitudes about school, low expectations, and poor parenting style contribute to poor student performance and, ultimately, to school dropout (Fagan & Pabon, 1 990; Miller & Plant, 2000). Conversely, parents who are concerned about and involved in their child's education contribute to positive educational outcomes. Four of the intervention studies reviewed by Prevatt and Kelly (2003) that demonstrated a positive impact on school dropout rates included a component that involved parents. The components ranged from keeping parents regularly informed of their child's performance and progress to more intensive parentfocused interventions that addressed parent training in behavior management (Hawkins et al., 1999) and general parenting skills (Vitaro et al., 1 999). The latter study used a parent-training program developed by Patterson, Reid Jones, and Conger (1975) at the Oregon Social Learning Center. Temple, Reynolds, and Meidel (2000) combined a parent training intervention with a social support network for parents.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District's (2008) Parent Involvement Program website is an excellent example of a districtwide effort in Minnesota to promote parent participation in their child's education. This site alerts and informs parents about opportunities in the following areas: (a) learning opportunities for parents (e.g., evening classes on child and teen development), (b) the Parent Involvement Resource Center (e.g., books, CDs, audio- and videotapes for loan), (c) volunteer opportunities, and (d) learning activities for home. School counselors, collectively and individually, should be at the heart of this effort, which calls on their specialized training and expertise to provide the information, resources, and instruction identified on the website. For example, the counselor's role in conducting workshops, providing updated materials to the resource center, and encouraging parent participation in their children's learning at home would be essential to the successful implementation of such a parent involvement program.
Taylor and Davis (2008) suggested several practical strategies for counselors to use to promote parent involvement. First, parents - especially those who have limited English proficiency - should be provided with translations of school information relevant to their involvement (i.e., explicitly stating what the parents can do to be involved). Arranging miniconference nights for parent-teacher contact and providing childcare at the school during such events was another suggestion. Finally, the authors suggested communicating optimism and hope by sending home "Glad Notes" that address students' positive behavior, attitudes, and accomplishments. It is unfortunately true that many parents receive only negative information or disciplinary notes about their children from the school on a regular basis.
Finally, Mattingly, Pristin, McKenzie, Rodriguez, and Kayzar (2002) found that comprehensive guidance program elements that promoted parent involvement accounted for the greatest proportion of variance in student academic achievement. Family Fun Nights were identified as one strategy proven to be successful in promoting this involvement. The counselor can and should play a central role in initiating, coordinating, and executing these events. The Family Fun Night involves the participation of all family members. It begins with an initial family activity, a shared meal, an active learning module, and finally, a family project requiring cooperative effort to successfully complete the project.
Although the goal of parental involvement is one that all school personnel would support, no single individual within the school typically assumes responsibility for it. If a point person within the school is not identified to be responsible for securing parental involvement, then it is unlikely to increase from existing baseline levels. The school counselor's skills in program development, systems coordination, and consultation, as well as sensitivity to parental needs and concerns would position him or her as an ideal individual to assume this task.
Strategies Addressing Risk Factors
Academic instruction.lf cognitive factors are considered, children with higher IQs are less likely to drop out of school than are those with lower assessed intelligence, although familial factors (e.g., maternal depression) may outweigh any protective influence of high cognitive ability (Bohon et al., 2007). Several intervention studies used intensive academic instruction in the basic skills of mathematics, reading, and language arts for children identified as at risk for school failure (Curiel, Rosenthal, & Richek, 1986; Meyer, 1984; Temple et al., 2000). Based on information in the available literature, it appears that most supports for teachers (e.g., teacher aides, classroom volunteers) that allow for time for basic skills instruction are most prominent in the elementary grade levels (K-6), with relatively little support of this kind available in the higher grades. Although school counselors are not directly involved in academic instruction, they could play a pivotal role in advocating for these programs with school administrators, recruiting and coordinating classroom volunteers, and assisting classroom teachers to be effective and efficient behavior managers so as to increase direct instructional time versus time devoted to discipline. Such intensive instruction may curtail negative school experiences, a known risk factor for later truancy and dropout.
Academic support. School dropout risk factors include high pupil-teacher ratios, student grade retention, poor studentteacher interactions, negative attitudes about school, minimal involvement in extracurricular activities, low motivation to achieve, and minimal school engagement (Fagan & Pabon, 1990; McNeal, 1997; Reschly & Christenson, 2006). Being held back a grade is one of the most salient predictors of dropping out of school (Ripple & Luthar, 2000; Rumberger, 1995; Servey & Ward, 1994), even after controlling for academic and behavioral variables (Cairnes, Cairns, & Neckerman, 1989). McMillen (1997) reported that on the basis of data for 1996, the dropout rate for students held back a year was twice that for students who were not retained. In the current political climate, accountability for student academic success is a key priority of politicians and school administrators, as well as parents and teachers. All school personnel, including counselors, share in this responsibility. Indeed, the ASCA National Standards for School Counseling Programs challenge school counseling professionals to ensure that "Students will acquire the attitudes, knowledge, and skills that contribute to effective learning in school" (Dahir, Sheldon, & Valiga, 1998, p. 8).
Several noninstructional academic support interventions were identified in Prevatt and Kelly's (2003) review of school dropout prevention literature. Of the studies in the current school counseling literature review, only one included explicit instruction on study skills (Wirth-Bond et al., 1991). Prominent among these interventions were study skills classes and workshops, as well as adult tutoring and peer tutoring programs. These interventions were most common in Grades 7-12. Although the intervention studies reviewed did not provide detailed descriptions of the study skills and tutoring intervention programs, other authors have described approaches that school counselors might find useful for inclusion in their comprehensive programs. For example, Dunn and Griggs ( 1 988) suggested an approach to counseling students to achieve effective study skills by using their learning skill strengths. A peer tutoring program was described by Greenwood, Delquadri, and Carta (1988), and a tutoring program to improve reading skills in elementary school children was introduced by Wallach and Wallach (1976). Finally, Woolfolk and Woolfolk(1986) studied atime management intervention as a vehicle to improve academic performance. School counselors could easily build study skills units into their classroom and large-group guidance lessons. The tutoring intervention would call on the school counselor's skills as a program coordinator. In this connection, it is important for counselors to keep in mind that many local colleges, civic organizations (e.g., Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis), and even businesses encourage their members and employees to be active volunteers in the community. These institutions can be a ready source of educated and competent adults who are willing to tutor children who are at-risk of school failure.
*A Model Comprehensive Prevention Program
On the basis of this review of the best practices for prevention of early school dropout, one can construct a comprehensive prevention program. Directed by the school counselor, this hypothetical program takes place in a public high school. It integrates schoolwide programs with special services for students who are identified as at-risk for school dropout. A committee of teachers or other school personnel, led by the school counselor, is charged with early identification of problems with student absences. Problems with poor attendance, such as chronic absenteeism or sudden, unexplained absences, are noted, and there is early communication with the student and his or her parent, along with remediation plans and follow-through after implementation.
A second schoolwide intervention would fosterparent-counselor communication. Given the strong correlation between socioeconomic status and school dropout (Laird et al. 2006), the school counselor dedicates certain times during the week that are convenient to families (e.g., early evening) for discussion of student concerns and progress updates. Families could also schedule telephone miniconferences so they do not have to find transportation to the school or take time off from work, and these conferences are held consistently from the start of the school year. A third school-level component is a classroom volunteering program. By partnering with a local senior citizen center or other community groups, the school counselor coordinates and trains adult volunteers to be present in several classrooms so that the teacher is able to devote more time to skills instruction.
In addition to schoolwide and systemic interventions, students who are identified as being at risk for school dropout (e.g., because of truancy or past grade retention) are offered peer support, participation in programs to address specific skill deficiencies, and academic interventions. For example, an ongoing peer support group facilitated by the school counselor might include low socioeconomic status or minority students who discuss the common challenges the group faces. Skills-based programs (e.g., problem-solving and social skills groups) and interventions to support academic skills (e.g., study skills workshops held before school) are coordinated by the school counselor and led by adult volunteers or students at the local college. In this hypothetical program, the students have access to all programs, not just those at the schoolwide level, regardless of IEP status.
*Summary and Conclusion
What are the implications of the available school dropout data and correlated risk factors for the role of the school counselor? First, the strength and consistency of the data over time suggest that these problems demand a more concerted intervention effort on the part of all school personnel. The school counselor, however, could play a pivotal role in the identification of, monitoring, intervention, and follow-up with students who are at risk for school dropout. Many of the identified school and individual risk factors may be addressed within the programs and interventions designed by school counselors. However, it is often the case that these interventions are sporadic or short term, lack an evaluation component (Dahir & Stone, 2003), and are not tied systematically to either short-term objectives or longer term goals that are consistently tracked (Studer, 2006). Regarding outcome variables, longitudinal analyses are needed to assess the impact of intervention on eventual school dropout rate. In terms of family risk factors, low socioeconomic status, parent psychopathology, and family stress are not typically within the purview of the school counselor's role. However, the school does bear some responsibility to promote parent involvement in their children's education. Programs and interventions designed to promote increased parent participation, higher expectations, and more positive parent attitudes toward school and learning are well within the areas addressed by school counselors' training and expertise.
Other school and individual risk factors, such as negative attitudes toward school, disruptive and aggressive behavior, poor academic skills, and social alienation, are all problems that are typically appropriate for the school counselor to address. The key to a successful intervention program is to tie the intervention strategies to concrete and measurable goals and to monitor and track goal attainment (or lack thereof) until the gains have stabilized into a reliable and consistent pattern.
Given the magnitude of the problem of school dropout (e.g., 1 in 10 low-income students dropping out of school; Laird et al., 2006), one would think that all schools would have in place a system of policies and procedures and programs to deal with the problem. Most certainly, attendance policies do exist in all school districts. However, the system often breaks down when it comes to implementation and follow-up. Who is responsible for identifying, intervening with, tracking, and following individual students who have several of the identified risk factors for school dropout? Usually, multiple school personnel are involved with this problem as it pertains to a particular student. In a hypothetical yet probable example, the teacher reports the student's difficulty (e.g., frequent absences). The assistant principal for discipline might become aware of the problem if the teacher's attempts at remediation are unsuccessful. The school counselor may be asked to assist with intervention. But who tracks and follows up to determine if the intervention was successful and if the absenteeism problem has abated? In many schools, no one is assigned this responsibility. Consequently, students at risk for dropping out often fall through the cracks. Thus, absenteeism escalates into truancy, school engagement decreases incrementally, academic problems mount, and dropout becomes an escape from an increasingly aversive school experience. The school counselor could assume a more proactive role in designing and proposing programs that address this problem in a deliberate, systematic, and consistent fashion.
In sum, it appears that events occurring relatively early in a student's academic career can set the stage for later difficulty and that less obvious warning signs of high-school dropout are often present years before, even at the elementary school level (Prevatt & Kelly, 2003). Intervening as early as possible, therefore, may deter the school-student alienation cycle and help prevent school dropout. The relevance of the school counselor in contributing to the academic development and success of students is under constant scrutiny by lawmakers, school superintendents, and principals. The role that school counselors can play in helping to prevent school dropout is substantial and could ultimately enhance not only student outcomes, but also the trajectory of the profession of school counseling.
Making a significant contribution to school attendance, academic performance, and eventual school completion would position the school counselor as a significant and critical element in the school success formula. In this effort, school counselors should draw on current evidence of intervention effectiveness, as we have cited in this article. Implementing empirically supported interventions will increase not only the probability of support from fellow teachers and school administrators, but also the probability of attaining more positive and enduring educational outcomes.
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Susan Williams White, Department of Psychology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; F. Donald Kelly, Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, Florida State University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Susan Williams White, Department of Psychology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 109 Williams Hall (0436), Blacksburg, VA 24061 (e-mail: email@example.com).