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Counseling/mental health interventions for students who are academically failing in high school — October 2018


Could you provide research on counseling/mental health interventions for students who are academically failing in high school?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on counseling or mental health interventions for students who are failing in high school. Since failing in high school is also associated with dropping out, we included references on counseling interventions for high school students at risk of dropout. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Archuleta, D. J., Castillo, L. G., & King, J. J. (2006). Working with Latina adolescents in online support groups.Journal of School Counseling, 4(1). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Latina students face many challenges that can lead to school dropout. Although school counselors have the skills and training to provide counseling and guidance to students at-risk for dropping out of school, they are often placed in positions where their role is primarily administrative. This paper describes an online support group developed by two rural school districts and a university counseling program in order to address the needs of Latina students.”

Berger, C. (2013). Bring out the brilliance: A counseling intervention for underachieving students. Professional School Counseling, 17(1). Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study evaluated the impact of a small group counseling intervention designed for students who underachieve. The results of the study demonstrated significant improvement for ninth- and tenth-grade underachieving students in the areas of organizational skills, time management, and motivation. The author discusses implications and recommendations for school counselors working with underachieving students.”

Blount, T. (2012). Dropout prevention: recommendations for school counselors. Journal of School Counseling, 10(16). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “School counselors are charged to identify potential dropouts and they work closely with students to help them stay in school or find alternative means of completing their education. Ninth grade students transitioning to high school experience insurmountable challenges as they shift from middle school to high school. Students who lack the academic preparedness for high school often repeat the ninth grade or drop out of high school. This literature review explored the reasons why students drop out of school, identified predictive risk factors, and highlighted social indicators associated with students who drop out of high school. The school counselor role is to provide intervention strategies and programs to strengthen students desire to remain in school. This article provides school counselors with recommended strategies to decrease students from dropping out of school.”

Carr, C. V., & Galassi, J. P. (2012). The role school counselors believe they should adopt in dropout prevention. Journal of School Counseling, 10(1). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The ASCA National Model's theme and element definitions were used to investigate the school counselor's role in dropout prevention. The domains recommended by the What Works Clearinghouse (staying-in-school, progressing-in-school, and completing-school) were used to determine how accountability should be assessed. Results indicate that counselors view delivery system as the primary role they should adopt followed in order by advocacy and collaboration, systemic change, and leadership. Counselors did not indicate a preference for any one assessment domain except when comparing the completing-school and progressing-in-school domains. In that comparison, the progressing-in-school domain was the preferred method of demonstrating accountability in dropout prevention.”

Curry, J. R., & Hayes, B. G. (2009). Bolstering school based support by comprehensively addressing the needs of an invisible minority: Implications for professional school counselors. Journal of School Counseling, 7(7). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The ethical imperative for school counselors to intervene on behalf of marginalized students has been well documented. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth (LGBTQ) have been noted to be at increased risk for school dropout, truancy, lower school achievement, suicidal ideation and attempts, and depression. School counselors are in a unique position to foster the well-being of LGBTQ youth. This manuscript gives concrete strategies for intervening with LGBTQ youth through comprehensive school counseling programming.”

Dockery, D. J. (2012). School dropout indicators, trends, and interventions for school counselors. Journal of school counseling, 10(12). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “School counselors are expected to develop programs that promote academic success for all students, including those at risk for dropping out of school. Knowledge of key indicators of potential dropouts and current trends in dropout prevention research may assist school counselors in better understanding this complex issue. Implementing recommended intervention strategies including longitudinal tracking systems to more clearly identify students who may later drop out of school, targeted programs for use with individual and groups of students at risk of dropping out, and offering school-wide strategies may help school counselors better meet the needs of potential dropouts.”

Blount, T. (2012). Dropout prevention: Recommendations for school counselors. Journal of School Counseling, 10(16). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “School counselors are charged to identify potential dropouts and they work closely with students to help them stay in school or find alternative means of completing their education. Ninth grade students transitioning to high school experience insurmountable challenges as they shift from middle school to high school. Students who lack the academic preparedness for high school often repeat the ninth grade or drop out of high school. This literature review explored the reasons why students drop out of school, identified predictive risk factors, and highlighted social indicators associated with students who drop out of high school. The school counselor role is to provide intervention strategies and programs to strengthen students’ desire to remain in school. This article provides school counselors with recommended strategies to decrease students from dropping out of school.”

Greenberg, M. T., Domitrovich, C. E., Weissberg, R. P., & Durlak, J. A. (2017). Social and emotional learning as a public health approach to education. The Future of Children. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, when implemented effectively, lead to measurable and potentially long-lasting improvements in many areas of children’s lives. In the short term, SEL programs can enhance children’s confidence in themselves; increase their engagement in school, along with their test scores and grades; and reduce conduct problems while promoting desirable behaviors. In the long term, children with greater social-emotional competence are more likely to be ready for college, succeed in their careers, have positive relationships and better mental health, and become engaged citizens. Those benefits make SEL programs an ideal foundation for a public health approach to education—that is, an approach that seeks to improve the general population’s wellbeing. In this article, Mark Greenberg, Celene Domitrovich, Roger Weissberg, and Joseph Durlak argue that SEL can support a public health approach to education for three reasons. First, schools are ideal sites for interventions with children. Second, school-based SEL programs can improve students’ competence, enhance their academic achievement, and make them less likely to experience future behavioral and emotional problems. Third, evidence-based SEL interventions in all schools—that is, ‘universal interventions’—could substantially affect public health. The authors begin by defining social and emotional learning and summarizing research that shows why SEL is important for positive outcomes, both while students are in school and as they grow into adults. Then they describe what a public health approach to education would involve. In doing so, they present the ‘prevention paradox’—‘a large number of people exposed to a small risk may generate many more cases [of an undesirable outcome] than a small number exposed to a high risk’—to explain why universal approaches that target an entire population are essential. Finally, they outline an effective, school-based public health approach to SEL that would maximize positive outcomes for our nation’s children.”

Lemon, J. C., & Watson, J. C. (2011). Early identification of potential high school dropouts: An investigation of the relationship among at-risk status, wellness, perceived stress, and mattering. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 16(2), 17–23. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In this study, the researchers concentrate on the gap in the educational and counseling literature documenting the extent to which certain psychosocial variables may contribute to the prediction of students who are at risk of dropping out of high school. Specifically, wellness, perceived stress, mattering, and at-risk status for dropping out of high school were assessed across 175 students attending a medium-sized high school located in the southeastern part of the United States. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the Five Factor Wellness Inventory-Teenage Version, the Student At-Risk Identification Scale-Student Questionnaire, the General Mattering Scale, and the Perceived Stress Scale. Using a regression analysis, the researchers found that the complete model, including all seven predictor variables, significantly predicted at-risk status for dropping out of high school, F(7, 167) = 12.89, p less than 0.05. This model accounted for 35.1% of the variance in at-risk status for dropping out of high school. Based on these findings, counselors should utilize skills and interventions that help students stay intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally engaged in the learning process.”

Iachini, A. L., Brown, E. L., Ball, A., Gibson, J. E., & Lize, S. E. (2015). School mental health early interventions and academic outcomes for at-risk high school students: A meta-analysis. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 8(3), 156–175. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “The current educational policy context in the United States necessitates that school-based programs prioritize students’ academic outcomes. This review examined the quantitative research on school mental health (SMH) early interventions and academic outcomes for at-risk high school students. Seven articles met the inclusion criteria for this review. All articles were examined according to study design and demographics, early intervention characteristics, and outcomes. Of the studies included, most were conducted in urban settings, involved the implementation of group-based early intervention strategies, and monitored GPA as a distal academic outcome. Counselors were frequent implementers of these early interventions. A meta-analysis found no statistically significant effect on the academic outcomes most commonly assessed in the studies (i.e., GPA, attendance, and discipline). Findings suggest the need for more rigorous research in this area. Implications for SMH early intervention research and practice are discussed.”

Mau, W. C. J., Li, J., & Hoetmer, K. (2016). Transforming high school counseling: Counselors’ roles, practices, and expectations for students’ success. Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, 6(2), 83–95. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This study examined the current roles and practices of American high school counselors in relation to the ASCA [American School Counselor Association] National Model. Expectations for student success by high school counselors were also examined and compared to those of teachers’ and school administrators’. A nationally representative sample of 852 lead counselors from 944 high schools was surveyed as part of the High School Longitudinal Study: 2009–2012. Findings are examined in the light of the National Model and advocated practices.”

Minton, S. J. (2016). Evidence-informed recommendations to promote Black student engagement. Journal of School Counseling, 14(12). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In 2012, Black students dropped out of school at a rate of 7.5% (NCES, 2013a). While this is the second lowest dropout rate for this population in 55 years, Black students are still dropping out at nearly twice the rate (4.3%) of their White counterparts. This paper includes a review of literature related to this phenomenon and offers evidence-informed recommendations taken from the literature for professional school counselors to utilize to improve academic engagement of Black students. These recommendations include: facilitating difficult dialogues on race, using a Student Success Skills program, and entering into school-family-community partnerships.”

Mitchell, N., & Bryan, J. (2007). School-family-community partnerships: Strategies for school counselors working with Caribbean immigrant families. Professional School Counseling, 10(4), 399-409. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Caribbean immigrant students, who represent one of the largest subgroups in the Black population in the United States, are experiencing negative educational outcomes that are related to poor academic achievement and high dropout rates. These academic problems have been partially connected to the negative experiences Caribbean students and their families have within schools, particularly poor interactions with school personnel (Albertini, 2004; Fine et al., 2004). This article discusses the cultural values, historical experiences, and socio-political issues of Caribbean immigrants as a foundation for understanding appropriate school counseling interventions in working with this population. Specifically, the use of school-family-community partnerships to encourage positive interactions among Caribbean students, their families, and school personnel is discussed as a means to promote high academic achievement for Caribbean immigrant students. Specific strategies for counselors working with Caribbean immigrants within the context of such partnerships are provided.”

Pérez-Gualdrón, L. (2017). A longitudinal model of school climate, social justice orientation, and academic outcomes among Latina/o students. Teachers College Record, 119(10). Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Background: Social justice orientation (SJO) is the motivation to promote justice and equity among all in society. Researchers argue that students of Color with high SJO can resist structural racism in their schools/society and have positive academic outcomes. Purpose: In the present study, a longitudinal model of cultural and environmental predictors (i.e., school relational climate, school language climate, Spanish language background, and English proficiency) and civic/educational outcomes (i.e., community engagement, grades, school engagement, school dropout) of SJO among Latina/o youths was developed and tested. Participants: The study was conducted with a subsample of Latinas/os taken from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. Participants were enrolled in eighth grade (N = 1,472), sampled from different schools and regions in the U.S., and followed through three waves of data collection from 8th through 12th grade. Research Design: A longitudinal, correlational design was used to explore the association among the constructs studied. Data Collection and Analysis: Secondary data analyses were conducted. Structural equation modeling techniques were used to analyze the data. Results: Early school relational climate (8th grade) was a positive predictor of SJO, which in turn predicted more community and school engagement, higher grades, and decreased likelihood of dropping out of school (12th grade) via personal agency. In addition, school language climate and language skills predicted a greater sense of personal agency, which in turn predicted higher grades and a decreased likelihood of dropping out. Conclusions: The results of the present study underscore the importance of strengths-based and cultural approaches in education in a sample of Latina/o students. Specifically, close attention should be paid to school cultural climate variables in which positive relational climates and cultural language climates are addressed in schools. The integration of sociopolitical context, critical consciousness, and SJO may be key factors in improving the educational and counseling experiences of Latina/o youths.”

Perry, M. L. (2017). A school counselor's guide to promoting a culture of academic success. Georgia School Counselors Association Journal, 25, 48-59. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Graduation rates are affected by several factors in which school counselors are not always aware of. Current research highlights several demographics at a higher risk for dropping out of high school including low socioeconomic status, African-Americans, Hispanics, teen pregnancy and students whose parents dropped out of high school. This manuscript is intended to recognize community-based and school-based intervention programs to increase graduation rates as a whole and ways to advocate for these students. Further, the manuscript will provide important research in regards to additional risk factors to target students through a comprehensive school counseling program.”

Scheel, M. J., Madabhushi, S., & Backhaus, A. (2009). The academic motivation of at-risk students in a counseling prevention program. The Counseling Psychologist, 37(8), 1147–1178. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “School dropout is a problem that has distressing personal and societal consequences. Not surprising, students who drop out are typically not academically motivated. This phenomenological study examined the meanings that students construct about academic motivation while participating in a dropout prevention program that primarily uses counseling. Twenty interviews were conducted and transcribed. Six themes emerged from 172 significant statements and corresponding meaning units: self-efficacy, purpose of school, family influences, relationships at school, counselor influence, and school structures and activities. Findings revealed the essence of academic motivation—namely, the importance of relationships in nurturing such motivation. Implications highlight caring relationships as a key factor, fostered through dropout prevention programs that use counseling. Additional implications include the use of career interventions to construct future orientations, the influence of family, and the need for assistance to gain academic self-efficacy.”

Schwarzbaum, S. E. (2004). Low-income Latinos and dropout: Strategies to prevent dropout. Journal of multicultural counseling and development, 32, 296. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “This article explores factors historically and currently associated with dropout from counseling services by low-income Latino clients and the organizational barriers that continue to prevent Latinos from staying in the counseling relationship. Interventions and strategies that decrease dropout rates from counseling services by low-income Latinos are described.”

Slaten, C. D., & Elison, Z. M. (2015). Interpersonal process group counseling for educationally marginalized youth: The MAGNIFY Program. Journal of School Counseling, 13(17). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Youth mental health is an area of profound disparity between the demand and supply of services, particularly in schools that serve students at risk of school dropout. This article describes the conceptual foundations and implementation of "MAGNIFY", a program that provides free group counseling to small alternative schools with students who have a history of behavioral problems in school or have been labeled at risk of dropping out of school. MAGNIFY is a non-structured program that uses school counseling graduate students to facilitate weekly school-based interpersonal process groups and is financially supported by local businesses and donors. Program components, finances, limitations, and implications are discussed.”

Tromski-Klingshirn, D., & Miura, Y. (2017). School counselors’ role in dropout prevention and credit recovery. Journal of School Counseling, 15(4). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This article introduces credit recovery (CR) programs to school counseling. Traditionally the school counselors’ role in CR has been limited to referring students who are, or who have, failed courses. Based on our own findings from a study of a large Midwest high school (N = 2,000) CR program, we make specific recommendations for school counselors to advocate for, and intervene with, failing students. Further, we propose a new instructional leadership role for school counselors within the instructional leadership team (ILT) to lead credit recovery efforts within the schools.”

White, S. W., & Kelly, F. D. (2010). The school counselor's role in school dropout prevention. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(2), 227-235. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “The role of the school counselor has undergone numerous revisions over the past few decades. The current emphasis on accountability and academic performance of students has forced counselors to scrutinize their role in promoting students' academic success and school completion. In this article, the authors review the problem of school dropout from the school counselor's perspective and offer guidelines for how school counselors can deliver empirically supported strategies to address this problem as part of their comprehensive guidance programs.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

American School Counselor Association –

From the website: “The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) supports school counselors’ efforts to help students focus on academic, career and social/emotional development so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society. ASCA provides professional development, publications and other resources, research and advocacy to professional school counselors around the globe.”

REL West note: ASCA has a related summary of research studies that support school counseling. Within this document are summaries of research that describes effective counseling for various at-risk high school students:

Center for School Counseling and Outcome Research –

From the website: “The Ronald H. Fredrickson Center for School Counseling Outcome Research & Evaluation (CSCORE) is dedicated to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all children through identifying and developing research-based and effective school counseling practices.

School counseling has great potential to help all students achieve to high standards, make wise vocational/career choices, and develop pro-social attitudes and skills. Powerful models of practice exist that can ensure that all students have access to the benefits of effective school counseling.”

REL West note: CSCORE has a research monograph relevant to this request, as follows:

McGannon, W., Carey, J., & Dimmitt, C. (2005). The current status of school counseling outcome research (Research Monograph, Number 2). Amherst, MA: Center for School Counseling Outcome Research. Retrieved from

RTI Action Network –

From the website: “The RTI Action Network is dedicated to the effective implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI) in school districts nationwide. Our goal is to guide educators and families in the large-scale implementation of RTI so that each child has access to quality instruction and that struggling students—including those with learning and attention issues—are identified early and receive the necessary supports to be successful. The RTI Action Network is a program of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, funded by the Cisco Foundation and in partnership with the nation’s leading education associations and top RTI experts.”

REL West note: The following link directs to resources targeted at high school students and interventions for different tiers of RTI:


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

[“high school” AND ((“counseling” OR “counselor” OR “mental health support”) AND intervention AND (“academic failure” OR “academic improvement” OR “at risk” OR “dropping out” OR “drop out” “failing grades” OR “course failure”)) OR (“counseling” AND “dropout”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.