Study Guide

Field 139: School Counselor 
Sample Constructed-Response Assignment

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Test Directions for the Constructed-Response Assignment

This section of the test consists of one constructed-response assignment. You are to prepare a written response of approximately  300 to 600  words on the assigned topic. You should use your time to plan, write, review, and edit your response to the assignment.

Read the assignment carefully before you begin to write. Think about how you will organize your response.

As a whole, your response must demonstrate an understanding of the knowledge and skills of the field. In your response to the assignment, you are expected to demonstrate the depth of your understanding of the content area through your ability to apply your knowledge and skills rather than merely to recite factual information.

Your response to the assignment will be evaluated on the basis of the following criteria:

 start bold PURPOSE: end bold  the extent to which the response achieves the purpose of the assignment
 start bold SUBJECT MATTER KNOWLEDGE: end bold  accuracy and appropriateness in the application of subject matter knowledge
 start bold SUPPORT: end bold  quality and relevance of supporting details
 start bold RATIONALE: end bold  soundness of argument and degree of understanding of the subject matter

The constructed-response assignment is intended to assess subject matter knowledge and skills, not writing ability. However, your response must be communicated clearly enough to permit valid judgment of the scoring criteria. Your response should be written for an audience of educators in this field. The final version of your response should conform to the conventions of edited American English. Your written response must be your original work, written in your own words, and not copied or paraphrased from some other work.

Be sure to write about the assigned topic. You may not use any reference materials during the test. Remember to review what you have written and make any changes you think will improve your response.

Sample Constructed-Response Assignment

subarea roman numeral 5 
Constructed-Response Assignment

 start bold Use the information in the exhibits to complete the assignment that follows.  end bold 

Analyze the information provided in the exhibits and, citing specific evidence from the exhibits, write a response of approximately  300 to 600  words in which you:

 start bold Exhibit 1 end bold 

 start bold Background Information end bold 

Mr. Washington, a middle school counselor, receives a referral for Karla, an eighth-grade student who demonstrates an increasingly tired and withdrawn demeanor and has not been performing as well as usual academically. In preparation for individual counseling with Karla, Mr. Washington gathers additional information.

 start bold Exhibit 2 end bold 

 start bold School Counseling Referral Form end bold 

Student Name: Karla M.


Grade: 8


Referred by: J. Smith


Reason for Referral

  1.  x checked   Change in behavior
  2.  x checked   Change in social skills
  3.  x checked   Change in work habits
  4.  x checked   Personal/family concern

Additional concerns or information related to this referral:

Karla's grades are dropping. She has several missing assignments and many assignments that she turns in are incomplete. Karla's interactions with her classmates have decreased dramatically. I suspect that something in the home environment is contributing to these changes.


Steps taken to address concern (check all that apply)

  1.  x checked   Student conference
  2.  x checked   Family conference
  3.     unchecked   Discipline referral
  4.     unchecked   Behavior contract
  5.  x checked   Academic support

Have these concerns been discussed with the student's family?

Yes, these concerns have been discussed with the mother. The father is not present in the home.

Outcome of the discussion:

The mother says Karla appears fine at home and that she doesn't know what she would do without Karla's help with her younger siblings and the housework. She agreed to discuss school with Karla.


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

Severity Scale Chart
Less Serious Moderately Serious Very Serious
1 2 3 4 5 6 7  highlighted 8 9 10

 start bold Exhibit 3 end bold 

Student Journal

Excerpts from Karla's school journal:

Monday, October 11

I had so much homework over the weekend and I couldn't do any of it. I had to do laundry and cook. More cooking and babysitting. I was so exhausted, I didn't even try to do schoolwork. I'm getting nowhere fast.


Thursday, October 21

As soon as I got home, Mom called and said she was going out with friends. So I had to help the kids with homework, feed them, and make sure they got their baths. I was only able to get part of my own homework done. I'm never going to catch up.


Tuesday, October 27

Another late night last night. Mom came home at a reasonable time, but was sick all evening. So, I not only had to take care of the kids, but her, too. Sometimes I wish I could just stay at school overnight so I could catch up with my own stuff. I don't want to end up in some low-paying job, but it's not looking good.


Friday, October 30

I'm getting really worried about my mom's drinking. I told her and she promised to cut back. She stayed home last night and had her friends come to our house instead. All they did was drink and watch TV. The kids and I all had trouble sleeping.


Sample Strong Response to the Constructed-Response Assignment

 start bold Please note: The sample response provided below is for review purposes only and should not be used in a response on an operational exam. Use of the exact words and phrases presented in this sample response will result in a score of "U" (Unscorable) due to lack of original work. end bold 

The school counselor would first need to discuss with Karla the nature of confidentiality. The counselor must explain to Karla that everything spoken about in the session is private except in matters involving a risk to self, a risk to others, and so forth (this is also known as mandated reporting). Considering that the nature of Karla's exhaustion appears to stem from having to take care of her younger siblings and her mother due to her mother's drinking, it may be possible that the counselor may need to make a report to Child Protective Services (CPS) if Karla does not feel safe in the home and/or the counselor feels that Karla and her siblings are in danger.

One important need to address in individual counseling with Karla is the fact that she is falling behind in her school work. In her journal entries, she speaks of this being a source of stress for her and wishing that she could “catch up on her own stuff” in regards to school. It would be important to discuss with not only Karla but her teachers the need for accommodations in order to help Karla not give up on her desire to do well in school (i.e., extended time on turning in assignments, ability to re-do an assignment for a better grade, etc.). It will also be important to let her teachers know (without breaching confidentiality) that their assessments of Karla having home struggles is accurate and that we, as a community, must rally around her and support her.

In regards to counseling, a developmentally appropriate counseling strategy that could be used is narrative therapy. Narrative therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps people identify their values and the skills they have in order to live out those values regardless of what problem may arise in their lives. Narrative therapy would attempt to allow Karla to see how her problem is helping her more than it is hurting her. Though a school counselor may not be a therapist by trade, the hope is that within their training they have learned such core skills in order to help said student see how their ability to take care of siblings, house, and even her mother is a strength that could lend itself to going to college and getting a decent paying job (i.e., Karla notes her fears of ending up with a “low-paying job”). By doing narrative therapy, the counselor would also be able to challenge the viewpoint that the student will “never catch up” with school work and hopefully allow the student to acknowledge her ability to continue wanting to do well in school even with the significant home struggles occurring in her life. The hope would be that Karla would be able to meet with the counselor once a week for 30 minutes at a time in order to continue to work on strengthening the narrative as well as monitoring both the home (i.e., her mother's drinking and taking care of her siblings) and school (i.e., grades, accommodations being followed, etc.) situations.

A method of evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy is by capturing baseline data in relation to the student's viewpoints on herself, her family, and her academic achievement. This can be as simple as a “on a scale of 1-10, how do you feel...?” type of measurement chart. After a six-to-eight week process, the counselor could then see if anything has changed in the self-ratings by the student. As well, the counselor could follow-up with her teachers to note if they have seen any changes in the student's behavior after sessions have been initiated and working agreements between home and school have been put into place.

Rationale for the Sample Strong Response

Please note that the response is evaluated based upon the four performance characteristics of Purpose, Subject Matter Knowledge, Support, and Rationale. Please also note how the score point descriptions are based upon how the examinee attends to the performance characteristics. You should be very familiar with the CEOE performance characteristics and score scale and refer to them when reviewing this rationale.

The response fulfills the purpose of the assignment (refer to the instructions for the assignment) by providing general knowledge and understanding of the subject matter in the response. For instance, the purpose of the assignment is largely achieved in that the writer has identified the need (i.e., school success) of the student, a counseling approach (i.e., narrative therapy), reasoning why to use it (i.e., to focus on student's strengths), and how to measure its effectiveness (i.e., point-scale or baseline data). The writer provides a generally accurate and appropriate application of subject matter knowledge. For instance, the writer shows prior understanding in relation to mandated reporting and how to help Karla achieve her goal of doing well in school. Moreover, the writer demonstrates understanding of the scenario and the various factors that are involved with Karla’s situation. A more thorough response would provide additional supporting evidence in the discussion of narrative therapy and would elaborate further on the evaluation of the effectiveness of using narrative therapy. Overall, this response reflects a general understanding of the topic.

Sample Weak Response to the Constructed-Response Assignment

One important need for Karla is her falling behind in her school work. It appears that both Karla and her teachers may have worries about her inability to catch up on her school work. Thus, it would be important for the counselor and Karla to develop a game plan to help her catch up on her school work and feel academically successful. The counselor would also want to determine if Karla would like for the counselor to reach out to her teacher to see if there is any way she could turn in assignments late and get points for them or if there are any assignments that the teachers can modify for her (i.e., instead of doing 10 problems of math she does 5) in order to lessen the burden on her. I would also want to make sure Karla is safe and knows that she is able to talk to her counselor whenever she needs to. One counseling strategy may be to continue working with her on journaling as it seems that this is something she likes to do. The counselor and Karla could review her journal writings with a “How, What, Where, When, Why?” type of protocol to gauge her feelings about her mother's drinking, taking care of her siblings, as well as falling behind in her school work. The strategy would be effective because it will allow Karla to talk about her feelings in a way that appears to already be easy for her (as she has already been journaling within the school environment). One method I would use to see if this strategy was effective would be to review each journal entry and see what themes come out of them as she progresses through the counseling sessions. If she is able to continue to articulate her feelings in a clear way then the counselor would be able to see what to work on during their next session.

Rationale for the Sample Weak Response

Please note that the response is evaluated based upon the four performance characteristics of Purpose, Subject Matter Knowledge, Support, and Rationale. Please also note how the score point descriptions are based upon how the examinee attends to the performance characteristics. You should be very familiar with the CEOE performance characteristics and score scale and refer to them when reviewing this rationale.

The response only partially fulfills the purpose of the assignment (refer to the instructions for the assignment). The writer touches on all four bullet points of the prompt, but does not provide much detail in relation to helping Karla feel successful in school nor does the writer address the home environment and the ethical and/or legal ramifications which may be at play. The writer suggests using journaling instead of attempting to think of other counseling approaches which may be effective for this student. Journaling is part of the prompt itself, so no new knowledge is presented by the writer, leaving the reader to question the writer’s content knowledge. Overall, the response reflects a limited application of subject matter knowledge and a poorly reasoned understanding of the topic.

Performance Characteristics

The following characteristics guide the scoring of responses to the constructed-response assignment.

Characteristics that guide the scoring of responses
Purpose The extent to which the response achieves the purpose of the assignment
Subject Matter Knowledge Accuracy and appropriateness in the application of subject matter knowledge
Support Quality and relevance of supporting details
Rationale Soundness of argument and degree of understanding of the subject matter

Scoring Scale

Scores will be assigned to each response to the constructed-response assignment according to the following scoring scale.

Score Scale with description for each score point.
Score Point Score Point Description
4  start bold The "4" response reflects a thorough knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. end bold 
  • The purpose of the assignment is fully achieved.
  • There is a substantial, accurate, and appropriate application of subject matter knowledge.
  • The supporting evidence is sound; there are high-quality, relevant examples.
  • The response reflects an ably reasoned, comprehensive understanding of the topic.
3  start bold The "3" response reflects a general knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. end bold 
  • The purpose of the assignment is largely achieved.
  • There is a generally accurate and appropriate application of subject matter knowledge.
  • The supporting evidence generally supports the discussion; there are some relevant examples.
  • The response reflects a general understanding of the topic.
2  start bold The "2" response reflects a partial knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. end bold 
  • The purpose of the assignment is partially achieved.
  • There is a limited, possibly inaccurate or inappropriate application of subject matter knowledge.
  • The supporting evidence is limited; there are few relevant examples.
  • The response reflects a limited, poorly reasoned understanding of the topic.
1  start bold The "1" response reflects little or no knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. end bold 
  • The purpose of the assignment is not achieved.
  • There is little or no appropriate or accurate application of subject matter knowledge.
  • The supporting evidence, if present, is weak; there are few or no relevant examples.
  • The response reflects little or no reasoning about or understanding of the topic.
U The response is unscorable because it is illegible, not written to the assigned topic, written in a language other than English, or lacking a sufficient amount of original work to score.
B There is no response to the assignment.