Washington Framework for Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling

In planning your program it is essential to collect and analyze data at the individual level (students, parents/guardians, school staff) and the school level (attendance, drop out trends, etc.). This data will help shape not only the delivery of the program but also can be used to assist in other parts of the planning process (seeking faculty and administrative support, advisory council, and building foundational elements). Effective school guidance and counseling programs use multiple sources of data (existing and new assessments) to determine the needs of the students in a school.

Using Existing Data

Existing data can help you understand the context in which to build your program, help you relate the school counseling program goals to the overall educational objectives of the school, and help you decide which new data to collect. Some existing data may be at the school level (number of students, average gpa, dropout rates, attendance rate, percentage of students passing the state standardized achievement exam, course enrollment patterns, etc.). For example, the Washington school report cards from OSPI provide aggregate data in many areas. Other existing data can be found at the individual/student level (gpa, attendance, achievement scores on the state standardized exam, etc.). In order to plan your program, you will need to explore existing data at both the student level and the school level.

There may also be some existing data that is not a part of what is usually collected, but may be available to you for use in planning your program. For example, the Healthy Youth Survey in Washington State is collected every two years in grades 6, 8, 10, & 12. This survey provides valuable information on the self-reported behaviors and perceptions of students in respect to issues such as school safety and drug/alcohol use. As with other sources of information, the data from the Healthy Youth Survey can be used to help determine school needs and articulate program goals.

Your school may have conducted a needs assessment in previous years. Since it has already been collected, the results of a previously conducted needs assessment is essentially existing data that can be examined to further help in the planning process. Additionally, existing needs assessments can be utilized for program improvement (see Managing Your Program) and evaluating your program (see Evaluating Your Program). Even if a needs assessment has been conducted previously, conducting a needs assessment at the start of planning your program is very important.

Collecting Needs Assessment Data

A needs assessment is the precursor to program design, implementation, and delivery. A needs assessment is an attempt to determine the unmet needs, missing services, or problems not previously identified (Royse, Thayer, Padgett, 2010).  In school counseling, needs assessments are generally conducted via surveys of students, teachers, and parents/guardians.

School needs can be determined in all three content domains from the ASCA’s Student Standards and Competencies:

  • academic
  • career
  • personal/social development

The existing data and school/community context information can help guide the development of the needs assessment. A needs assessment can be used to further investigate a generic school ‘problem’ and to determine what elements of the school counseling program can be tailored to address those needs.

Connecting Existing Data and Needs Assessments

Case Example:

Achievement scores indicate that the majority of students of all grades consistently fail the math portion of the state standardized achievement exam. The school counselor designs a needs assessment in the academic, career, and personal/social areas to investigate the contributing causes of this problem.  Students might be asked about managing test anxiety (personal/social competencies), the relationship of math course enrollment to future career options (career competencies), and study skills (academic competencies). Teachers might be asked why students are underperforming in their classes. Parents might be asked about home support (e.g. rating or ranking items such as “I would like to know ways to help my child study at home” or “I would like to know more about my child’s post-secondary educational options”).

The table below gives some examples of how to connect existing sources of data with data collected from a needs assessment in all three domains.

  Existing Needs Assessment
Personal/Social School Discipline records indicate majority of disciplinary action(s) are regarding peer to peer conflict. Healthy Youth Survey results reveal majority of students have experienced bullying. Students rank ‘learning how to respond to bullying’ as one of the top two needs. Teachers indicate they do not know how to help reduce bullying and improve the school climate.
Career Course Enrollment patterns indicate students do not take advanced level math courses. Students report that math is not integral to their career plans. Students inaccurately answer questions about the requisite math credits for 4 year college entrance.Parents/Guardians report that they would like to know more about how much math is required for their child to enroll in post-secondary education.
Academic School report card indicates over half the students are not passing the annual state achievement test in math. Teachers indicate students appear unprepared for math test(s) in class. Students indicate they need assistance with study skills/test preparation.Parents/Guardians report they do not know how to help their child study at home.


By assessing the perceptions of students, parents/guardians, and staff, school counselors can gain a better picture of the key areas that may need to be addressed by the school counseling program. Further, collecting and utilizing the perceptions and beliefs of key stakeholders may greatly enhance school counseling program design, implementation, and stakeholder buy-in.


Sample Needs Assessments

Survey Tools

A comparison of the top five on-line survey tools can be found here: