Sen. Boren files bill to protect school counselors’ time

Ponca City Now - January 15, 2020 9:11 am

OKLAHOMA CITY – Due to unfunded mandates of high stakes testing, many Oklahoma schools are using their school counselors as building test coordinators and test administrators, a practice Sen. Mary Boren says needs to stop.

The Norman Democrat and certified school counselor filed Senate Bill 1381 Tuesday to protect school counselors from being pulled away from their official duties to help with testing.

“Besides academic and career planning, counselors also play a critical role in helping students deal with substance abuse, bullying, family violence and other life trauma. We know from the statewide initiative to make educators aware of Adverse Childhood Experiences that without proper help and guidance, these types of trauma can negatively impact students’ academic success as well as their path in life,” Boren said. “The work school counselors do cannot be filled by other staff and they should no longer be expected to meet the unfunded mandate of high stakes testing.”

Boren explained that while serving as a school counselor, a time analysis of the elementary counselors in her district showed that 20 percent of their time was redirected away from mental health support to administering high stakes testing.

“The State Department of Education’s 2020 budget request includes $19 million for a School Counselor Corps, due to the state’s high student-to-counselor ratio, which at 421-to-1 far exceeds the 250-to-1 recommendation by the American School Counseling Association,” Boren said. “Oklahoma’s schools are facing a critical shortage of counselors, so I don’t understand how administering high stakes testing has overshadowed school counselors’ vital responsibility of addressing the mental health needs of students.”

Under SB 1381, school districts would be prohibited from using school counselors as building test administrators, district test coordinators or test administrators beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

“Nationally, Oklahoma has the highest occurrence of childhood trauma and child poverty, and school counselors are often the only adults these students trust or will confide in,” Boren said.  “We must ensure that this small group of professionals can focus their talents and skills helping address the mental health issues of their students while also helping prepare them for the future.”

The state budget for high stakes testing for FY’19 was $7.5 million and $9.6 million for FY’20. Boren said most of those funds go to the state assessment vendor rather than to schools to hire additional staff.  Her bill would require the State Board of Education to ensure that the state assessment vendor includes compensation for schools to hire enough staff to cover the responsibilities of district test coordinator and building test coordinator.

 

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