Measuring Adolescent Connectedness: A Guide for School-Based Assessment and Program Evaluation

The following text is the introduction to a chapter from the Handbook of School Counseling (Coleman and Yeh, Eds.), forthcoming from Erlbaum Press. It focusses on the implementation of a connectedness evaluation program as a model for and component of a larger accountability program for school counseling. If you are interested in reading further, please download the entire chapter.

School counselors who can demonstrate that their guidance and counseling programs result in improvements in their students’ connectedness to school, teachers, and peers are less likely to be pulled in 100 different directions by administrators, teachers and parents. Based on their experiences, the authors argue that this is because such counselors are viewed as providing a unique and highly valued service. School counselors who utilize a comprehensive and organized approach to deliver guidance presentations, individual student planning, system support, and responsive services (American School Counseling Association, [ASCA] 2003), and who can demonstrate that it results in improved connectedness among their students, are less likely to be asked (or expected) to supervise testing, class scheduling, or lunch duty. Or, if asked, they can turn to their impressive body of evaluative evidence, use it to define the borders of their professional duties, and by doing so educate parents and colleagues alike about the unique and valuable role that professional counselors play in schools.

It is incumbent upon school counselors to create and organize a quality program of guidance and counseling services that is amenable to evaluation in order to demonstrate accountability. The planning of such thoughtful, focused, and intentional services takes precious time, but it also requires forethought in order to anticipate desired outcomes and make certain, from the outset, that these outcomes are measurable. Compounding these time constraints on program planning, many school counselors may believe they have limited training or insufficient tools at hand to link their program components’ activities to program evaluations.

This chapter provides a guide that school counselors can use both to systematically assess the impact of a school counseling program and to strengthen it by focusing on promoting changes in students’ connectedness. A theory of adolescent connectedness (Karcher, 2001) is presented in this chapter in which connectedness is described as movement towards others through positive affect and activity. Connectedness is a student’s response to feelings of relatedness and belonging; this definition provides the first key to intervention: to promote connectedness, school counselors must create school contexts where youth feel a sense of belongingness at school and relatedness to teachers and peers. When individuals feel a sense of relatedness to others and belonging in general they, in turn, value relationships and social institutions in which they experienced belongingness and relatedness (see figure on Introduction page). But school counselors also must help students pursue related activities and relationships which cement their connections through behavioral and affective commitment.

Of course, connectedness is but one outcome or construct a school counselor might wish to measure as evidence of outcomes. There also are measures of social skills, self-esteem, peer attachment, cultural competence, and a variety of other behavioral and attitudinal indices that a school counselor might choose to use. For the purposes of this chapter, connectedness is solely emphasized in order to provide a comprehensive overview of one measure, its norms, uses, and evaluative procedures, which we believe will allow the reader to make generalizations and comparisons to other measures.