What the Research Says (Or Doesn’t Say): Advisory Programs


January 10, 2011


A teacher and student in a classroom

Advisory programs (or advisories) are frequently implemented by schools as a way to strengthen connectedness between adults and students and foster a personalized and supportive school culture. Although advisories are set up in varying ways, they are generally characterized by regular meetings between an advisor and a student or group of students to provide academic and social support. Although surveys and self-reports attest to the value of these programs, there are very few rigorous studies from which to determine the effects on student outcomes. Schools developing advisories have “relied upon intuition and anecdotal evidence rather than empirical data” (Shulkind & Foote, 2009). The reviews we consulted listed several issues that make objectively evaluating advisories difficult, including: lack of pre- and post-test data or control groups; differing goals and components that make it difficult to compare results at different sites; difficulty distinguishing advisories from other school-based strategies for increasing personalization; and a lack of formalized curricula or definitions.

Despite this lack of definitive research, we have compiled a short list of recent research studies, reviews, and other resources that can inform your decisionmaking. If you would like additional information, please contact the Ask A REL reference desk service at Education Northwest.

Johnson, B. (2009). Linchpins or lost time: Creating effective advisories. Horace, 25(2–3). Retrieved from http://essentialschools.org/resources/517

This article summarizes the results of an informal e-mail survey of five schools that implemented advisory programs. The schools describe goals, curriculum, the benefits and challenges of implementing advisory programs, and how teachers, students, and parents view the programs.

McClure, L., Yonezawa, S., & Jones, M. (2010). Can school structures improve teacher student relationships? The relationship between advisory programs, personalization and students’ academic achievement. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 18(17), 1–21. Retrieved from http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/viewFile/719/845

This paper presents the findings from a three-year study of students' perceptions of personalization, with specific emphasis on advisories as a reform strategy and their effect on students’ academic progress. The researchers looked at 14 recently converted small high schools in a large, urban school district in California. The effect of students' sense of personalization on their academic achievement was measured using standardized test scores and weighted grade-point averages. Although positive perceptions of personalization were predictive of better student outcomes, positive perceptions of advisory programs were associated with worse academic outcomes. A discussion of why this might be leads to the suggestion that personalization approaches must move beyond the formal advisory period to become part of the schoolwide culture.

MacLaury, S., & Gratz, Z. (2002). Advisories led by trained facilitators: Their impact on middle school students. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 26(1). Retrieved from http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/RMLEOnline/tabid/101/Default.aspx

This study examined the impact of advisories led by staff members trained in group facilitation. The researchers surveyed 44 students who participated in advisory groups and 27 who did not. The surveys measured social support, school environment, and school performance. The data suggested that students in advisories might be more likely to share their feelings with a teacher, seek out help from persons in their community, and perceive improvement in their school behavior, relative to the control group. Conversely, advisory students were less likely to report sharing with other students than were those students in the control group.

Makkone, R. (2004). Advisory program research and evaluation. Horace, 20(4). Retrieved from http://essentialschools.org/resources/282

This concise overview of the research on advisory programs emphasizes the need for rigorous research: “Data matters. Producing documented results for students has perhaps never been more important in education than it is today. And although advisory may indeed be all about personal relationships, collaborative inquiry and evaluation are not impossible tasks. When a local politician or policymaker asks ‘Why advisory?’ or ‘What does it accomplish?’ the evidence can save the program.”

Osofsky, D., Sinner, G., & Wolk, D. (2003). Changing systems to personalize learning: The power of advisories. Retrieved from Brown University, Education Alliance website: http://www.brown.edu/academics/education-alliance/publications/changing-systems-personalize-learning-power-advisories

This workshop was designed to help teachers and school leaders develop and assess advisory programs in their own schools. The accompanying materials help schools create a “vision for advisory groups based on theory, research, and field expertise; develop specific purposes and address issues of school processes and structures that support or diminish the potential of advisory groups; learn about content and activities to use during advisory groups; investigate assessment mechanisms; and learn how to create conditions for long-term sustainability.”

Shulkind, S.B. (2007). Fostering connectedness through middle school advisory programs. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles). Retrieved from National Association of Secondary School Principals website: http://www.principals.org/portals/0/content/57358.pdf

This 238-page dissertation has an excellent literature review that emphasizes the lack of empirical research on advisory programs. The author of this dissertation also coauthored an article in the Middle School Journal, which is cited below.

Shulkind, S.B., & Foote, J. (2009). Creating a culture of connectedness through middle school advisory programs. Middle School Journal, 41(1), 20–27. Retrieved from National Middle School Association website [with membership login]: http://www.nmsa.org/Publications/MiddleSchoolJournal/Articles/September2009/tabid/2011/Default.aspx

This article defines the qualities of advisory programs and advisors that foster connectedness based on research at three diverse middle schools with successful advisory programs. Strong advisories address issues of community and promote open communication. Effective advisors know and care about their advisees, closely supervise their advisee’s academic progress, and problem solve, and provide advice. Students and advisors perceive that advisories directly improve academic performance and can foster a community of learners.

Van Ryzin, M. (2010). Secondary school advisors as mentors and secondary attachment figures. Journal of Community Psychology, 38(2), 131–154.

This study examined whether students in two small secondary schools would nominate their advisor as part of their attachment hierarchy. The 40 percent that nominated their advisor to be a secondary attachment figure reported greater engagement in school and demonstrated greater gains in achievement and adjustment compared to those who did not. According the author, “This finding can assist in developing and sharpening new hypotheses about the factors that contribute to the success of advising (and mentoring) relationships, as well as the processes by which these relationships grow and develop.”

If you have additional questions or would like a literature search done for another topic, please contact Jennifer Klump at Ask A REL or 503.275.0454.