Measuring Progress in Individual Counseling 

By: Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

Measuring progress in individual counseling is challenging. I don't think there is much argument there. Long rating scales and lengthy observations are not viable or scalable solutions. 

Couldn't measuring progress in individual counseling be easier? I think so.

You have to do a little borrowing from your school buddies. Teachers backwards plan lessons. SpEd teachers break big objectives into small goals. Writing teachers use rubrics. Speech therapists use tallies. The data diva, Trish Hatch, gives us a template for entry/exit tickets

Break It Down

Whether your student has an IEP or not, there is a lot to learn from how special education staff measure progress. 

Often in counseling, you start with a big goal. Big goals aren't friendly though. How would you measure this goal? 

Student will improve their conflict resolution skills. 

No wonder it's difficult to say the student is making progress with this goal. 

You have to break it down. For this example, I would break it down into many smaller skills. You may want the student to:

  • identify feelings,
  • generate solutions to a problem,
  • use I-Messages to communicate
  • independently use a 6-step process to resolve conflicts,
  • use the process in other settings, and
  • believe they can resolve conflicts on their own.

In each session, you may focus on a different small goal or combine small goals.

It is easier to show that a student can accomplish smaller goals (e.g., identify feelings, generate solutions) than that they improved their conflict resolution skills. But if they can do all those smaller skills, they are well on their way to the big goal.

How would you break down another big goal? Take a minute to think of one (e.g., improve impulse control or improve organization skills). How can you break that down into smaller goals that are measurable?

Backwards Planning

I know, I know. Planning?! Stay with me. Even if you aren't writing down a plan for sessions each week, you can still use this. 

Lots of teachers backwards plan their lessons. They start with an objective. 

Their next step isn't creating a lesson. It is creating an assessment that would show mastery of the objective. Something that the student does independently. 

For example, say I'm still working with that student on conflict resolution. During this particular session, we are working on communicating a feeling using an I-Message. By the end of the session, the student should be able to respond to a scenario card using an I-Message independently. 

Now when I think of planning my activities, I know that what we do has to prepare the student to be able to complete this activity/assessment. 


Writing is a terribly challenging thing to measure compared to other skills. Teachers will often use rubrics to show student progress on writing skills. 

While this would require some beforehand work, you could create rubrics based on social emotional learning standards or your counseling program or a student's goals. 

Even better, you can also ask teachers or parents once a quarter to weigh in.


My favorite data diva, speech therapists, use tallies to measure student progress in sessions. They have goal sheets for their students. They track with tally marks when a students shows the skill.

These are perfect for measuring discrete skills. Say you are working on identifying emotions. Simple. Write down that goal. During a game focused on feelings identification, tally right and wrong responses. Students can even keep track themselves.

If you have already broken down your big goals to small goals, then add those small goals, have a column for each session, and tally away.

ASK Tickets

Oh, Trish Hatch, you brilliant woman. Have you read Using Data in School Counseling? Most of the book focuses on tier 1 counseling programs, but lots of her ideas can be translated to measuring progress in individual counseling.

Try using her idea of measuring attitudes, skills, and knowledge for your exit tickets.

Attitudes are what the student believes. Skills are what the student can do. Knowledge is what the student knows.

Exit tickets are a great addition to sessions. These are targeted short questions on slips of paper that the student answers at the end of the session. 

entry and exit slip for measuring progress in individual counseling

It's a great way to focus them on their goal, show progress, and wrap up each session.

In the conflict resolution example, you could have a entry/exit ticket with the following:

  • Attitude: I think coming up with multiple solutions will help solve a problem. Agree/Disagree.
  • Skills: Come up with solutions to the following problem: Your friend is angry that you didn't play with her at recess.
  • Knowledge: How does brainstorming multiple solutions help solve a problem?

More Data Tracking Ideas to Explore

  1. Goal Attainment Scaling
  2. Goal Sheets
  3. Rating Scales - DESSA, SSIS, Lagging Skills
  4. Teacher & Parent Reports

How do you measure progress in individual counseling? Comment below. Share the wealth.

measuring progress in individual counseling
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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.
  • Nice information, thank you so much! I’d love to see more of your exit tickets. They are a great way to show what’s learned!

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