Counselor Formation Assessment

While the material in this section of the handbook may be redundant with material elsewhere, it is important to collate assessment information in one section.

The distinction between formative and summative assessment is important to understanding the process of counselor formation development. Formative assessment refers to the feedback to the student that is designed to foster awareness and growth, to give support and encouragement. This formative assessment is the most frequent type of assessment the student will experience. Summative assessment, on the other hand, is an assessment of achievement, with an outcome consequence. Course grades, admission to internship, and approval to implement a Community Action Project are examples of summative assessment.

Counseling faculty tend to be more comfortable with formative assessment than with summative assessment. We like being in a supportive and encouraging role. Summative assessment may in contrast feel too blunt and even harsh. For this reason we do try as much as possible to use formative assessment to give students a clear understanding of their strengths and growing edges well in advance of critical summative evaluation points. Ideally, any summative evaluation will be just that – a summary of work and competencies, with no surprises.

In addition to course grades, the times at which the summative evaluation of the student comes into clearest focus are those times of decision by the faculty and staff regarding the students demonstrated competence and potential to succeed as a professional counselor: the process of admission to the program, the admission to internship decision, and approval to graduate. Each process involves documentation of preparation and readiness, and each process also involves the less quantifiable professional judgments by the faculty.

Admission to internship is a central decision point. Admission to internship marks an important movement from “student” toward “colleague.”


Course grading is an important summative assessment. Most courses are given a letter grade. In cases where it is difficult or counter-productive to objectively quantify performance with respect to course objectives, pass and fail grades are given.

Student self-evaluation

Student self-evaluation is an important part of the process of internalizing a counselor identity, and comparing self-perceptions with the professional evaluations of teachers, their advisor, and supervisors. Self-evaluation is a constant part of the clinical feedback process in practicum and internship. Students are also invited to engage in extensive self-awareness projects in many courses.

Writing and presentation assessment

Professional writing and presentation skills are essential competencies for the counselor. Many classes provide opportunity to work on both writing and presentation skills. As noted earlier, the university adheres to standards for graduate level writing, and these standards are the basis for faculty assessment of student writing.

Group supervision is an important forum for working on presentation skills, particularly in the task of presenting case material to the group.

Other opportunities for professional presentations exist in classroom guidance, various educational group-work, and conference presentations.

The Community Action Project is the culminating opportunity to demonstrate competencies in a substantial paper and project presentation.

Clinical assessment – supervisor evaluation

The student’s faculty group supervisor and the individual site supervisor have weekly opportunities to provide the student with formative evaluation. The evaluative work in these settings is the core of the assessment of student clinical competence and professional identity, and this ongoing and regular work is conducted in the context of the shared evaluative understandings described in the Counselor Assessment Scale and the Practicum and Internship Performance Evaluation Forms.

The Counselor Assessment Scale (pdf) is used by the faculty as a summary assessment instrument of performance in the clinical setting.

The CAS categories are Academic Competency, Professional Behavior, Counselor Identity, and Counseling Skills. Counseling Skills are further divided into categories of Empathic Attunement, Intervention Skills, Theory, and Case Conceptualization and Management.

It is important to explicitly recognize that a high percentage of the criteria students are assessed on go beyond academic performance, and address the personality and character of the counselor. While we value the importance of academic success and a solid grasp of concept and theory, we also feel that fostering personal growth and attending to personal characteristics are equally important and crucial to the formation of competent counselors. As stated in the Journal of Counseling & Development, the qualities that comprise competent counselors include, “emotional security, sincerity, extroversion, positive self-concept, patience, interpersonal competence, openness to professional self-development, understanding, goodwill, recognition, acceptance of one’s personal power, a willingness to be open, self-respect, and a sense of humor” (Duba, Paez, & Kindsvatter, 2010, p.155). We therefore not only assist students with academic skills, but also address interpersonal dynamics and incongruencies as they relate to work with others in the program and to clinical work.

Student competency to practice

Counselor education programs have an ethical and legal obligation to assess student competency to practice, and to remediate or sanction impaired student counselors. The ACA Code of Ethics mandates that counselor educators and supervisors monitor student progress in the areas of both professional and personal development. CACREPstandards state that it is the responsibility of faculty to counsel out students who are inappropriate for the profession. The Student Competency to Practice (pdf) policy details how the program fulfills this responsibility.

Mastery Competency Portfolio

All of the above particular formation assessments, others as described in this portfolio section, and individual goals and activities negotiated between faculty and student are brought together in the student’s Mastery Competency Portfolio.

Critical components of the degree program require demonstrated mastery level competence.

Clinical competence, as defined in the CAS, is assessed through the collaborative feedback/evaluation processes in practicum and internship, described in the Professional Practice Policies & Procedures section of this Student Handbook.

Academic competence is defined in course syllabi and assessed through course assignments and exams.

There is an addition cluster of competencies that extend beyond the boundaries of a particular course and/or serve to integrate all these components into professional level competence and professional identity. These include, but are not limited to, writing competence and use of APA style, demonstrated capacity to do both literature based research and project assessment/research, specific clinical skill/technique competencies, capacity to self-reflect with respect to personal/professional identity, demonstrated ability to write a clinical case conceptualization feeding into a coherent, theoretically grounded treatment plan, and demonstration of consistent professional behavior in all program settings.

It is each student’s responsibility to keep a record of mastery of these competencies in a portfolio. It is the student’s responsibility to use their advisor or other faculty as appropriate for consultation and guidance throughout their progress through the program, including making appointments with faculty at suggested portfolio review times.

All these mastery competencies help faculty follow student progress toward admission to internship during the practicum semester, and nomination for completion of the program in the fall of the final year. The portfolio is the primary repository for documentation of work that is reviewed for admission to internship and nomination for degree completion.

Competencies that are anticipated to be met in courses are indicated as follows. If a competency is not mastered in the time frame of that course, it is the student’s responsibility to work with the faculty to create and follow through on a plan to expeditiously complete the mastery requirement.

Competencies Checklist

Following the successful completion of all competencies in final semester, students will be approved for Completion of the Program and Graduation and will receive a letter confirming their approval for Graduation.

Mastery Competency Portfolio Timeline

Orientation: Students are oriented to the portfolio assessment system during program orientation and during their first advising session.

Required Portfolio Meetings: In September, returning students will be required to meet for portfolio review. In January, first year students will meet for portfolio review of the first semester requirements. In April, graduating students will meet for portfolio review. Instructors of each competency will need to sign off indicating the student has met the competency requirements and has achieved an A or a B.

Advising: Students will meet several times a semester with their advisors. Advisors will check in on the competency requirements and will note this on the Advisory Conference Feedback form.

Throughout: It is the student’s responsibility to add relevant materials to the portfolio in a timely manner. Students should keep copies of all documents in the unfortunate case that the portfolio is lost.