measuring progress in individual counseling girl standing up

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.

We have to do a little borrowing from our 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, we 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 I'm having trouble saying the student is making progress with this as my goal. 

We have to break it down. For this example, I would break it down into many smaller skills. I 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.

Each session we may focus on a different small goal or on combining 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 I know that 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. 

* I typically use exit tickets.


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. 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? I have a very weathered copy on my bookshelf. Most of the book focuses on your tier 1 counseling program, but lots of her ideas can be translated to measuring progress in individual counseling.

I use her idea of measuring attitudes, skills, and knowledge for my entry and exit tickets.

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

For most of my sessions I have an exit ticket, and almost as often, I have entry tickets. These are targeted short questions on slips of paper that the student answers when getting to counseling and when leaving. 

entry and exit slip for measuring progress in individual counseling

I find it's a great way to focus them on our goal, show progress, and wrap up each session.

In our conflict resolution example, I might have a entry/exit ticket with the following:

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

More 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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  • 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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