Advisory Programs

What does research say about the effectiveness of advisory programs? What are the effects on achievement and student self-perception?


Definition and Purpose

An advisory program is an arrangement whereby one adult and a small group of students have an opportunity to interact on a scheduled basis in order to provide a caring environment for academic guidance and support, everyday administrative details, recognition, and activities to promote citizenship. Stevenson (1992) stated that the purposes of advisory are “to ensure that each student is known well at school by at least one adult who is that youngster’s advocate (the advisor), to guarantee that every student belongs to a peer group, to help every student find ways to be successful, and to promote coordination between home and school” (p.293).


Although few formal research studies provide hard data on a comprehensive, national level, numerous narrative accounts attest to the effectiveness of advisory programs in the affective domain and subsequent effect in other areas. Simmons and Kiarich (1989) wrote about a successful advisory program and its influence on school climate, “Students who have learned to cooperate with and care about others help create a pleasant school atmosphere in which everyone feels a sense of security and belonging… The results are increased concern, trust, and better communication among the entire school community” (p. 13).

A few quantitative research studies address the effects of middle school advisory programs. Mac Iver and Epstein (1993) related advisory to drop-out rates and reported, “With family and student background variables, regions, and grade organization statistically controlled, principals in schools with well-implemented group advisory programs report that they have stronger guidance programs overall and lower expected drop-out rates” (p. 526).

Putbrese (1989) surveyed 3,400 middle level students to assess the effects of advisory programs and reported a reduction in student smoking and alcohol use. Ziegler and MuIhall (1994) in a three year longitudinal study of a Canadian advisory program found an increase in decision-making, the sense of belonging to the school, and in teacher-student relations. Simpson and Boriack’s (1994) study of a special advisory period for 70 chronically delinquent students showed marked decreases in absenteeism during the implementation period.

Supporting Research for the Objectives of Advisory Programs

A growing body of research in adolescent development supports advisory program objectives by showing relationships among psychological characteristics of students, social responses, achievement, and other variables. The following sections highlight advisory objectives and current research:

Advisory Programs
  • Promote student-teacher relationships: For the past 15 years Eccles and her colleagues have been studying the effects of different school environments and middle level students’ declines in motivation, competency beliefs, and general self-esteem after the transition to middle school. Eccles, Lord, and Midgley (1991) concluded that the decline in motivation appears to be linked to specific classroom characteristics, such as declines in the quality of the student-teacher relationships and in opportunities for participation in classroom decision making, and in an increase in classroom ability grouping. They recommended that “serious efforts be made to improve, and expand, the nature of student-teacher relationships in schools that serve early adolescents” (p.539). Arhar & Kromrey (1993) emphasized the importance of social bonding for potential drop-outs and other students who have few quality relationships elsewhere.
  • Address general self-esteem and competence beliefs: In a study of 1,850 7th graders, Wigfield and Eccles (1994) found children’s self-esteem decreased following the transition to a typical junior high school. They noted, “Decline in social competence beliefs illustrates the impact of the transition to junior high. This decline probably occurs because the transition disrupts early adolescents’ social networks, at a time when social activities are becoming increasingly important” (p.123). Advisory programs attempt to promote self-esteem by recognizing each student and providing time in small groups with a caring adult.
  • Provide social exchange and peer recognition in a safe environment: Students’ concern about peer pressure, not wanting to appear able, and the resultant self-handicapping strategies result in poor academic performance (Midgley & Urdan, 1995).
  • Link parents and school. Advisory programs can provide a vehicle to link parents with adolescents. Petersen and Epstein (1991) noted, “Peers become increasingly important in adolescence. nevertheless, values of an adolescent’s peer group are more likely to support or complement parental values than to be in conflict with them, a finding that deviates sharply from earlier views of an oppositional peer culture” (p.375). Paulson (1994) found higher levels of both maternal and paternal responsiveness were related positively to achievement outcomes, and that “despite declines in parental involvement in higher grades, it continues to be important for achievement” (p.262). Wigfield and Eccles (1995) pointed out that “continued parental involvement in education is crucial to early adolescents’ success in school” (p.7). Based on the literature that links parenting and academic performance, Wentzel(1994) proposed social and emotional adjustments as mediating variables between parenting and academic performance.
  • Mediate between academic and social concerns. The advisory curriculum supports achievement by addressing the range of intervening variables such personal factors (self-esteem, attitudes, behavior, motivation, well-being, anxieties), interpersonal factors (peer relationships, belonging, acceptance) and practical strategies for success (study habits, test-taking techniques, peer-coaching)as compared to self-defeating behaviors. Research studies include the following:
  • Following a four-year research program of young adolescent sixth grade boys provided evidence of the role of emotions and restraint in linking family functioning and academic achievement, Wentzel (1994) noted, “children’s academic achievement in middle school is related significantly to their levels of emotional distress and self-restraint” (p.278).
  • Linn and Songer (1995) examined the “powerful influence of the social context in which learning occurs. This social context gains importance during adolescence in conjunction with increased awareness of social relationships and social influences” (p.379).
  • Other findings, reviewed by Wigfield and Eccles (1994), include “adolescents’ competence beliefs and expectancies for success are the strongest predictors of subsequent performance in math, stronger predictors in fact than previous math performance” (p.133).

Although the above studies provide some understanding of the effects of advisory programs, more research is needed to report benefits to students (George & Alexander, 1993).

Current Trends

Advisory is more than a program. It can be expanded to develop quality teacher-student relationships and to become an integral part of the curriculum, as in schools that use advisory time to review portfolios with students and assess progress individually and holistically.

Related Articles
  • Mac Iver, D.J. (1990). Meeting the needs of young adolescents: Advisory groups, interdisciplinary teaching teams, and school transition programs. Phi Delta Kappan, 71(6), 457-464.
  • Ziegler, S. & Mulhall, L. (1994). Establishing and evaluating a successful advisory program in a middle school. Middle School Journal, 25(4), 42-46.
  • George, P.S. & Alexander, W. N. (1993). The exemplary middle school. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • Ayres, L.R., (1994). Middle school advisory programs: Findings from the field. Middle School Journal, 25(3), 8-14.
  • Putbrese, L. (1989). Advisory programs at the middle level-the students’ response. NASSP Bulletin, 73(514), 111-115.
  • Arhar, J.M., & Kromrey, J. D. (1993, April). Interdisciplinary Teaming in the Middle Level School: Creating a Sense of Belonging for At-Risk Middle Level Students. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta, GA.
  • Ayres, L. R. (1994) Middle school advisory programs: Findings from the field. Middle School Journal, 25(3), 8-14.
  • Beane, 3., & Lipka, R. (1987). When the kids come first: Enhancing self-esteem. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
  • Cole, C.(1992). Nurturing a teacher advisory program. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
  • Connors,N. A. (1992). Teacher advisory: The fourth R. In J. L. Irvin (Ed.) Transforming Middle Level Education. (pp.162-178). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Eccles, J. S., Lord, S., & Midgley, C. (1991). What are we doing to early adolescents? The impact of educational contexts on early adolescents. American Journal of Education, 99(4), 521-542.
  • Espe L.(1993). The effectiveness of teacher advisors in a junior high. Canadian School Executive, 12(7), 15-19.
  • Epstein, J. L., & Mac Iver, D. J. (1990). Education in the middle grades: Overview of national practices and trends. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
  • George,P.S., & Alexander, W. (1993). The exemplary middle school. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
  • James, M. (1986). Adviser-advisee programs: Why, what and how. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
  • Linn, M.C. & Songer. M. B. (1991). Cognitive and Conceptual Change in Adolescence. American Journal of Education, 99(4), 379-417.
  • Mac Iver, D. J. (1990). Meeting the needs of young adolescents: Advisory Groups, Interdisciplinary Teaching Teams, and School Transition Programs. Phi Delta Kappan, 71(6), 457-464.
  • Mac Iver, D. & Epstein, J. (1993). Middle grades research: Not yet mature, but no longer a child. Elementary School Journal, 93(5), 519-533.
  • Midley,C. & Urdan, T. (1995). Predictors of middle school students’ use of self-handicapping strategies. Journal of Early Adolescence, 15(4), 389-411.
  • Petersen,A. C., and Epstein, J. (1991). Development and education across adolescence: An introduction. American Journal of Education, 99(4), 373-378.
  • Paulson,S. E. (1994). Relations of parenting style and parental involvement with ninth-grade students’ achievement. Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(2), 250-267.
  • Putbrese(1989). Advisory programs at the middle level–the students’ response. NASSP Bulletin, 73(514), 11-115.
  • Simmons, F. G., & Blyth, D. A. (1987). Moving Into Adolescence. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
  • Simmons, L., & Klarich, J. (1989). The advisory curriculum: Why and how. NELMS Journal, 2(2), 12-13.
  • Simpson, G., & Boriack, C. (1994). Chronic absenteeism: A simple success story. The Journal of the Texas Middle School Association, 2(2), 10-14.
  • Stevenson, C. (1992). Teaching ten to fourteen year olds. White Plains, NY: Longman.
    Vars, G.E. (1989). Getting closer to middle level students: Options for teacher-advisor guidance programs. Schools in the middle: A report on trends and practices. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
  • Wentzel,K. R. (1994). Family functioning and academic achievement in middle school. Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(2), 268-291.
  • Wigfield, A. & Eccles, J. S. (1994). Children’s competence beliefs, achievement values, and general self-esteem: Change across elementary and middle school. Journal of Early Adolescence 14(2), 107-138.
  • Wigfield, A. & Eccles, J. S. (1995). Middle grades schooling and early adolescent development. Journal of Early Adolescence, 15(1), 5-7.
  • Ziegler,S. & Mulhall, L. (1994). Establishing and evaluating a successful advisory program in a middle school. Middle School Journal, 25(4), 42-46.

Copyright 1999 National Middle School Association. Used on NCMSA web site with permission of NMSA.