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New Gunn counseling survey suggests higher satisfaction level

Original post made on Apr 6, 2013

A new survey of students at Gunn High School suggests possible improvement in satisfaction levels with the school's guidance counseling program, which has been under fire by some parents and the subject of lengthy discussion by the Board of Education.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, April 6, 2013, 1:09 PM

Comments (11)

Posted by pausd parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Forgive me for being a little cynical. I just find when the school administration in this town in criticized, they find ways to gloss things over rather than solve problems. I'd want to know more about the rewording of that survey before I made up my mind either way.

For example, with the survey the superintendent sent out recently about the strategic plan, the survey asked questions under the topic of facilities that were just poorly worded and didn't include obvious priorities, like ensuring good upkeep and well-monitored construction bond. I'm sure we'll hear the results massaged to mean parents didn't prioritize those things even though they weren't listed.

I have a child who has experienced depression at school, and the school psychologist reported things like that my child felt the school was a "connected" school -- but didn't ask whether my child and our family felt connected with the school, when we've felt very, very alienated from the school and especially the district this year. I think when they get away with that kind of intellectual dishonesty, it just encourages them.

I'm not saying it's applicable here, I'd just like to see both surveys to be sure. Does anyone have a link to both?


Posted by pausd parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2013 at 9:15 pm

This is a for example:

"Last year, students were asked how much they agreed with the statement: "I feel comfortable going to my guidance counselor about personal issues that I might be struggling with." This year, the question changed to "I feel comfortable going to an adult at Gunn about personal issues that I might be struggling with."

The percentage of ninth-graders who agreed or strongly agreed went from 32 percent last year to 56 percent this year; 10th-graders went from 32 percent last year to 52 percent this year and 11th-graders went from 26 percent last year to 49 percent this year"

This doesn't support the existing system, it actually supports moving to an advisor system, because the improvement came when the survey didn't directly ask about the counselors but asked about "adults". This isn't the same question and doesn't gage the same things.


Posted by data please?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Here is a rundown on the questions that appear to be identically worded, and how the numbers compare to last year and to Paly:

1. My guidance counselor can help with supporting me if I am struggling emotionally:

Gunn 2012: 44%; Gunn 2013: 64%; PALY: 80%

Advantage: Paly

2. I trust the advice my counselor gives me about academic classes and schedules
Gunn 2012: 72%; Gunn 2013: 86%; PALY: 91%

Advantage: PALY

3. I trust my counselor to help me if I'm struggling academically
Gunn 2012: 58%; Gunn 2013: 77%; PALY: 88%

Advantage PALY

4. My counselor can help with supporting me if I'm in a difficult family situation.
Gunn: 2012: 39%; Gunn 2013: 49%; PALY: 82%

Advantage PALY

5. My counselor can help with supporting me if I'm struggling with friends and peers.
Gunn 2012: 41%, Gunn 2013: 53%; PALY: 83%

Advantage: PALY

6. . My counselor can help with supporting me if I'm feeling generally stressed.
Gunn 2012: 48%; Gunn 2013: 65%; PALY: 83%

Advantage PALY

7. My counselor or Titan 101 coach helped me to make the transition from middle to
high school.
Gunn 2012: 24%; Gunn 2013: 38%; PALY: 50%

Advantage: PALY

All of this data is available here: Web Link

It is interesting that Gunn is showing jumps of this magnitude which are quite unusual and raises some question about whether the survey administration conditions were similar, and whether the students understood that the results were anonymous. It is hard to explain gaps like this, particularly when there was no large infusion of money or support for the counseling program, and the negative evaluations were consistent with years of data.

Assuming it's true, that's terrific. Clearly, it is only happening due to the pressure that community groups such as We Can Do Better Palo Alto and the Weekly created for finally facing up to the inequity in counseling support between our two high schools.

The situation calls for continued monitoring using the same questions at both high schools in order to continue to monitor the comparability of services at both schools. Because Paly's program is clearly superior and delivers objectively better services and results, and because it is being iterated on and improved all the time, comparability is a moving target.

The best solution would clearly be to move Gunn to an advisory system. It's much better, we already know how to do it well, and it delivers a superior product for a very good price. Although some roughly comparable questions show some improvement, in every case, Paly is still better. That's the bottom line. How much time/money/effort does this district intend to spend in order to not do the sensible, efficient thing so that the Gunn teachers don't have to try something new? Who works for whom here?


Posted by pausd parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2013 at 11:14 pm

That's a good point you made, data. Was the Weekly article comparing this year's survey at Gunn to last year's survey at Paly, or this year's survey at Paly (was there one) with the same questions?


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Way to go Gunn!


Posted by data please?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 7, 2013 at 10:24 pm

The next line after the one you quoted is: "Assuming it's true, that's terrific."

The real point is that the test is comparability, although senior district staff recently stated that they don't know what "comparability" means. See above for an illustration of what it means.

Senior district staff committed to the board last year that both Paly and Gunn students would be surveyed in spring 2013 using the same questions as in 2012 and under the same conditions etc. at both schools. Those results will presumably be available soon and we will all have a lot more information.


Posted by Reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 8, 2013 at 7:58 am

Yes, you said "assuming". There is no assumption here, it is true. That's the point. The preconceived assumptions are all on your side and not born out by the data.
Yes the above is an example of "comparability" but your conclusions are incorrect.
- If you have Gunn 2013 at 86% and PALY at 91%, then you have comparability since both results are excellent.
- If you have Gunn 2013 at 38% and PALY at 50%, you have comparability but not in the way you want since both results suck and neither should be accepted.
Your problem, as always, has been to equate comparability with exact match with no understanding of the data.


Posted by data please?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 8, 2013 at 11:05 am

One thing we should know is what exactly the prompt that was given to the students was. In the case of the 2012 survey there was a prompt at the beginning about the purpose of the survey and how the results would be used and assuring anonymity. The survey itself was taken on the internet and no personally identifying information was collected. This survey was taken via scantron form. Was there a prompt given either orally or in writing with the survey? What were students told was the purpose of the instrument and how were they assured of anonymity?

Even Mr. J says that he has no idea what explains the large jumps in scores so it is important to probe a bit for whether some change in the survey condition may have caused it rather than a change in underlying satisfaction. If it is true, it's terrific and it's the result of pressure from We Can Do Better and the Weekly to finally get some traction on this issue.

But even with jumps of this magnitude, Gunn students are still not receiving comparable results to Paly students.


Posted by Whaaa?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by reality check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Ty Tan, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 8, 2013 at 2:51 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] In 2008 the district established a focus goal to "improve guidance and counseling services that prepare students for college and other post secondary opportunities." This goal was sitting idle until WCDB raised this issue with the school board. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of WCDB and other community members, both high schools are now working to improve their guidance systems with enthusiastic support from the district including additional financial resources.

In regards to possible survey variables that might affect outcomes, I noticed that the survey this year was administered in a different location. Last year Gunn students took it in their math classes but this year "it was administered during course-selection periods for 2013-14". This may give a partial explanation as to why "students expressed greater trust than they did a year ago in their counselor's advice in the area of academics, classes and schedules". Students might have been more focused on academic counseling during the time they were making course selections versus during their math classes last year. The additional counselor this year, an improved website and incremental improvements to existing programs hopefully explain the rest of the jump in satisfaction.

Another thing I found interesting in the data is that Gunn freshmen and sophomores showed higher satisfaction then juniors on all survey questions with the exception of question #9 where junior and sophomore responses were tied. Web Link
One possible reason for this gap may be the extra guidance services that freshmen and sophomores are receiving in small groups. "[Mr. Jacoubowsky] said that the school is offering more counseling activities to sophomores in groups and has improved its "Titan 101" high school transition program for freshmen."


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