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Section 5: Sample Constructed-Response Question
School Counselor (252)

General Directions

This question requires you to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject area by providing an in-depth written response. Read the question carefully before you begin to write your response to ensure that you address all components. Think about how you will organize what you plan to write.

The final version of your response should conform to the conventions of standard English. Your written response should be your original work, written in your own words, and not copied or paraphrased from some other work. You may, however, use citations when appropriate.

Exhibits for the constructed-response question will be presented in a tabbed format on the computer-administered test. You will have the ability to move between exhibits by clicking on the tab labels at the top of the screen.

An on-screen answer box will be provided on the computer-administered test. The answer box includes a white response area for typing your response, as well as tools along the top of the box for editing your response. A word counter that counts the number of words entered for the response is also provided in the lower left corner of the box. Note that the size, shape, and placement of the answer box will depend on the content of the assignment.

Sample Assignment

Use the information in the exhibits to complete the assignment that follows.

Analyze the information provided in the exhibits and, citing specific evidence from the exhibits, write a response of approximately 400–600 words in which you:

Description of Student

A school counselor receives a referral for Jimmy, a sixth-grade student who has been exhibiting increased behavioral issues at school. Concerns related to Jimmy's social skills and work habits have also been noted by school staff members. In preparation for individual counseling with Jimmy, the counselor reviews additional information.

Referral Form

School Counseling Referral Form

Student Name: Jimmy T.

Grade: 6

Referred by: S. Nickels, homeroom teacher

Reason for Referral

 x   Change in behavior

 x   Change in social skills

 x   Change in work habits

 x   Personal/family concern

Additional concerns or information related to this referral:

Jimmy has exhibited increasing difficulties at school.  He has engaged in verbal and physical altercations with other students.  He typically does not complete or hand in homework assignments or projects, which impacts his grades.  Jimmy also does not participate in classroom discussions and often puts his head down on his desk or draws pictures.  He has several friends in his classes but has issues getting along with some students.  Jimmy scores very high on quizzes and tests in all classes.  It should be noted that Jimmy enrolled as a new student this year after living in another state.

Steps taken to address concern (check all that apply)

 x   Student conference

 x   Parent/guardian conference

 x   Discipline referral

 x   Behavior contract

blank  Academic support

Have these concerns been discussed with the student's parents/guardians?

Yes, these concerns have been discussed with Jimmy's parents.

Outcome of the discussion:

A conference was held with Jimmy's parents during the first month of school.  Jimmy's parents stated that his father was relocated to the area several months ago due to a job opportunity.  They reported changes in Jimmy's behavior and social skills at home.  His parents mentioned that they have spoken with Jimmy about his behaviors in school and he states, "I am fine."  Jimmy has also stated that he misses his previous school and friends and wants to move back.  Jimmy has not established any close friends in the neighborhood.

Please rate the severity of this referral on the scale below.

Less Serious

Moderately Serious

Very Serious

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 This cell is shaded gray 9 10

Student Interest Inventory Excerpt

Excerpt from Student Interest Inventory

Name:  Jimmy T.
Grade:  6
Date:  September 26

1. What is your favorite class in school and why?
My favorite class is gym because I enjoy playing games and sports.

2. What is your least favorite class in school and why?
My least favorite class is science because I do not really like some of my classmates and I am usually really bored.  My teacher also calls on me sometimes to answer questions and I don't like being put on the spot to speak out loud in front of all my classmates.

3. If you could change anything about school what would it be?
I wish I could pick out people I want to have class with.  Some students in my classes are really annoying.  I also wish my friends from my other school went to school with me.  I really miss them.  I would also get rid of homework assignments.

4. What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to become an electrical engineer or a pharmacist.

5. What are your hobbies outside of school?
I enjoy playing computer games and watching movies.

6. What is a past accomplishment that made you feel proud of yourself?
I felt proud of myself when I won a computer game this week.

Excerpt from Classroom Incident Reports

Sample Responses and Rationales

Score Point 4

Jimmy is a student who has experienced many changes in his life with his family relocating to a new city. Being a new student in school, there may be struggles related to his adjustment to such a change and the possibility that this move was sudden for him. In addition, as a 6th grader, there is the possibility that he is also struggling with the now increased demands of being enrolled in multiple classes while also trying to adjust to being a new student. In the initial session, it will be important for me to first assess Jimmy's feelings surrounding the move and his new surroundings. An important need to address in session will be establishing the reasons why he is behaving as he is and what social-emotional challenges he may be grappling with (e.g., management of anxiety-like behaviors, social skills, possible depressive-like behaviors due to the move).

I would first aim to establish rapport with Jimmy by discussing his favorite hobbies and his interests by conducting a preference assessment (e.g., What is Jimmy willing to work for? What motivates him? What does he enjoy in terms of a reinforcement?). After establishing rapport, I would then attempt to have him articulate his feelings through his art (as it is noted he enjoys drawing), which research suggest is an appropriate counseling strategy for students who may have difficulties verbally articulating their feelings. By looking for themes and/or having him explain his art, I would then be able to further understand what is causing him to be withdrawn and resistant. Another tool that could be used if rapport is built is the "Guess Why?" game, which is a projective measure where students answer hypothetical questions about why a fictional child feels/acts the way that they do (e.g., "Roy doesn't like to go to school. Why? Roy feels scared. Why?"). By using measures that require little-to-no verbal response, this may allow Jimmy to feel more comfortable communicating his needs and wants.

From this step, a meeting with all stakeholders (parents, teachers, admin., etc.) will be necessary so everyone can be on the same page with regard to the possible roots of Jimmy's behaviors and framing said behavioral outbursts as not reflective of him being defiant, but rather, trying to communicate to us adults that he is needs our empathy. By seeing behavior as a form of communication, we shouldn't punish Jimmy due to the nature of his social-emotional struggles but should celebrate his strengths which include art, the ability to score high on academic assessments (even when seemingly withdrawn), and so forth. Opportunities for the team to be strategic in who they have him work with and gauging his willingness to join a counseling group (possibly with other students who are new and/or have interests similar to him) should be developed after said meeting. If Jimmy prefers one-to-one, that should be considered with measurable goals centered on adjustment to change, self-esteem, and resiliency.

A method to check the effectiveness of such work can be in measuring Jimmy's emotional state via self-ratings (e.g., "On a scale of 1–5, how do you feel?"), teacher reports, observations (in-class and in-session), and then over a 6–8 week timeline, determine whether or not further interventions should be implemented. Teacher reports and observations would be useful as a monitoring tool to assess changes, positive or negative, in Jimmy's behavior and demeanor. Documenting these changes provides data for making decisions about how to support Jimmy going forward. When considering counseling theory, the idea of a client/strength-based approach is shown to be effective for students demonstrating social-emotional challenges (as they are reminded that they are important and do matter). A strength-based approach which also considers Jimmy's feelings may lead to more successful outcomes via his buy-in.

Rationale for the Score of 4

The "4" response reflects a thorough understanding of the relevant content knowledge and skills. The response fully addresses all parts of the assignment and demonstrates an accurate, highly effective application of the relevant content knowledge and skills. The response provides strong, relevant evidence, specific examples, and well-reasoned explanations.

Completion: Each task is answered in a sequence that begins with meeting the student, then stakeholders, and then implementation of a plan. The response focuses on the needs of the student and cites known strategies used in school-based counseling today. The candidate is completely student-centered in their approach, offering many different pathways toward helping the student. The candidate describes how long they will observe the interventions and how they will measure if they are effective.

Application of Content: The candidate mentions many strategies that are currently used in school-based counseling. The candidate takes time to explain the need to develop rapport and to use the knowledge gained from the session with Jimmy to educate the team on Jimmy's needs. The candidate describes a developmentally appropriate approach to counseling sessions with young children. In each section, the candidate uses possible first-hand as well as second-hand knowledge in terms of working with students who appear to be withdrawn and having difficulty adjusting to change. The candidate develops a working hypothesis in regard to Jimmy and discusses ways to measure that effectiveness.

Support: The response discusses monitoring Jimmy's progress via self-ratings, observations, and additional data points. Each step of the candidate's process is rooted in establishing rapport with the student and then building a consistent plan for the adults in his life to follow. The candidate supports their argument by consistently returning back to Jimmy and giving him his undivided attention via counseling (individual or group), observations, goal work, and so forth.

Score Point 2

Jimmy is facing many challenges in his life outside of school that may be difficult for a young child. He needs extra counseling support because he is dealing with possible depression and anxiety. Because he is fighting students, he also may need anger management training to help him avoid conflicts with his peers. A strategy I would try to use with Jimmy is the empty chair technique, which would feature Jimmy imagining that he is talking to someone who is causing him anger and conflict. From there, I would help Jimmy engage in more positive talking with the person through this role play and then monitor how he uses these skills in the classroom setting. I would have teachers continue to track data on how often he fights with other kids or withdraws during class. I also want to be sure that Jimmy's parents are also using some form of a behavior contract for Jimmy in the home when he is attempting to do what is needed in order to receive a reward for that week.

I would also continue to use his behavior contract which should stipulate certain behavior milestones that he is working towards (e.g., three days without fighting=activity of his choice). This will guide me in terms of how effective this strategy is and counseling is about monitoring a student's behavior and having them monitor themselves. Jimmy should take pride in his new opportunities to be at a new school and I want Jimmy to consider the things that have gone right for him since his move. This may require sessions where different characters sit down in the empty chair and Jimmy is required to talk through his feelings. Jimmy may need to have his behavior contract improved to reflect the academic demands of our school and clear consequences for such behavior. Such behavior should not be tolerated in our school and I want Jimmy to know this before his behaviors lead to possible retention and/or expulsion.

It is my hope that Jimmy will come to terms with his feelings and lead his classmates towards making better decisions. Jimmy needs our help and I am hopeful that the skills that I will teach him will do just that! I also would like to see if Jimmy has a history of depression and/or anxiety and to determine if medication may also help him in controlling his emotional outbursts. If this isn't an option, a class for students who have emotional disabilities may also be considered through the special education process.

Rationale for the Score of 2

Completion: The candidate reaches the 400-word count and appears to discuss the major sections of the prompt. Even so, identification of steps for involving others in addressing Jimmy's needs as well as an explanation of the counseling theory that applies to their response is lacking and seems to be only given a glancing mention. The candidate does not fully explain the counseling theory being applied in Jimmy's case. As well, it appears as if the candidate begins to ramble in some parts, possibly in an attempt to reach the minimum 400-word count.

Application of Content: The candidate shows some understanding of counseling techniques such as the "Empty Chair" method. An issue with this technique is that the counselor does not indicate how this would be appropriate for this particular student who may already feel like an "outsider" in this new school. By having the student practice such a technique as well as continuing a behavior contract possibly rooted in disciplinary consequences rather than strengths, the candidate shows a lack of understanding and knowledge of how putting the student on the spot without learning about him could backfire. The candidate takes a counselor-centered rather than a student-centered approach, acting as a disciplinarian instead offering a helping relationship and is already considering actions such as placement in special education for emotional disturbance.

Support: The response lacks evidence on how this will be effective outside of referring to an unknown behavior plan. There is no evidence of application of counseling theory and most of the response focuses on behavior management rather than the student's specific emotional needs. The candidate does not demonstrate significant knowledge on working with students who are withdrawn and makes wide assumptions about medical diagnoses (which they are not certified to make) and the need for medication (inappropriate within the public-school setting). The candidate shows little understanding of rapport building and does not reference evidence (whether professionally or personally) as to how identified strategies can improve Jimmy's well-being.

Performance Characteristics

The rubric created to evaluate your response to the constructed-response question is based on the following criteria:

Completion The degree to which the candidate completes the assignment by responding to each specific task in the assignment.
Application of Content The degree to which the candidate applies the relevant knowledge and skills to the response accurately and effectively.
Support The degree to which the candidate supports the response with appropriate evidence, examples, and explanations based on the relevant content knowledge and skills.

Score Scale

The four points of the scoring scale correspond to varying degrees of performance.

Score Point Score Point Description
4 The "4" response reflects a thorough understanding of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response fully addresses all parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates an accurate, highly effective application of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response provides strong, relevant evidence, specific examples, and well-reasoned explanations.
3 The "3" response reflects a general understanding of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response addresses most or all parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates a generally accurate, effective application of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response provides sufficient evidence, some examples, and generally sound explanations.
2 The "2" response reflects a limited understanding of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response addresses at least some of the parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates a partially accurate, partially effective application of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response provides limited evidence, and examples or explanations, when provided, may be only partially appropriate.
1 The "1" response reflects little or no understanding of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response addresses, few, if any, parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates a largely inaccurate, ineffective application of the relevant content knowledge and skills.
  • The response provides little to no evidence, and if provided, examples or explanations are weak or inappropriate.
U The response is unscorable because it is unreadable, not written to the assigned topic, written in a language other than English, or does not contain a sufficient amount of original work to score.
B There is no response to the assignment.

Note: Your written response should be your original work, written in your own words and not copied or paraphrased from some other work.

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