RD264 - School Divisions’ Ability to Fill School Counselor Positions – June 30, 2021
*This report was replaced in its entirety by the Department of Education on July 8, 2021.
School counselors across the Commonwealth provide support to the student body by providing advocacy, instruction, appraisal and advisement of students throughout their academic, career, and social-emotional development. Section§ 22.1-253.13:2 of the Code of Virginia defines staffing expectations for school counselors, dependent on student population, in Virginia’s Standards of Quality (SOQ). State SOQs, prescribed by the General Assembly, encompass the requirements to be met by all public schools and school divisions across the Commonwealth so that “each student [can] develop the skills that are necessary for success in school, preparation for life and reaching their full potential." Currently, the Code of Virginia requires school divisions to maintain school counselor to student ratio of 1:375 elementary school students, 1:325 middle school students, and 1:300 high school students. Beginning in School Year 2021-2022, as an attempt to address the high caseloads of school counselors, the school counselor-to-student ratios were reduced to 1:325 in grades kindergarten through 12. School divisions meeting this staffing requirement may assign school counselors to schools according to the greatest area of need, regardless of school type.
Within the Commonwealth, other specialized student support personnel work in concert with school counselors to meet broadly the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. School psychologists, school social workers, and other licensed mental health providers deliver school-based mental health services to students at all grade levels. Unlike school counselors, and as of this report, there are no minimum staffing requirements for school psychologists and school social workers as defined in Virginia’s SOQs. Consequently, there is great variability among school division staffing ratios for these specialized student support personnel positions. In part, to address these differences, the 2021 General Assembly passed Senate Bill No. 1257 to amend and re-enact § 22.1-253.12:3 and § 22.1-274 of the Code of Virginia. This legislation, effective in school year 2021-2022, modifies the SOQs to require school divisions to provide at least three specialized student support positions per 1,000 students.
Caseloads vary greatly across these personnel types and often, in contrast to nationally prescribed ratios. The average school counselor working in Virginia has a caseload of 328 students while the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a caseload of 250 students.(*1) The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends that one school psychologist has a caseload of no more than 1,000 students, or no more than 500-700 students per school psychologist when comprehensive or preventative services are being provided.(*2) However, the average school psychologist in Virginia has a caseload of 1,686 students; and, in some divisions with demonstrated need, a school psychologist may have a caseload of over 4,200 students(*3). The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recommends a caseload of 250 students for school social workers or 50 if the social worker is providing services to students with intensive needs(*4). In Virginia, the average school social worker has a caseload of 1,618 students and, in school divisions with demonstrated need, may have a caseload of over 7,000 students or no school social worker at all(*5). There are initiatives in place to address high ratios of school-based mental health provider to student ratios, including those that support the recruitment and retention of such providers in school divisions with demonstrated needs.
The purpose of this study was to determine school divisions’ ability to fill school counselor positions within Virginia. Given the changes in student-to-school counselor ratios and the interest in modifying ratios for other school-based mental health providers, the VDOE collected data to inform this study through a survey of school divisions on (1) the number of school counselors employed; (2) vacant school counselor positions; (3) number of employed and license types of specialized student support personnel (i.e., school psychologists, school social workers, and other licensed mental health professionals); and (4) their preferred means of meeting the updated school counselor to student ratios.