ERIC Identifier: ED327314
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Pellegrini, A. D. - Glickman, Carl D.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL.
Measuring Kindergartners' Social Competence. ERIC Digest.
At different ages, children develop different competencies. The competence
hallmark for kindergartners is the development of peer-interaction skills
(Waters and Sroufe, 1983). Over time, these peer-interaction skills are
transformed into other related competencies. For example, kindergarten
children's social and dramatic play develops into traditional literacy
(Pellegrini, 1985). Therefore, both social (for example, peer interaction)
and cognitive (for example, reading achievement) measures should be used
to assess kindergartners.
This digest advocates assessment of children's social competence, of
which performance on achievement tests is only a small part. Social competence
is the degree to which children adapt to their school and home environments.
Social competence in young children is best assessed with a combination
of measures--behavioral measures, peer nominations, teacher ratings, and
WHY ACADEMIC TESTS ARE NOT ENOUGH
The argument for assessing social competence continues because of the
over-reliance on academically oriented standardized tests. One method,
which follows Zigler and Trickett (1978) and the National Association for
the Education of Young Children's position statement on standardized testing
of 3- to 8-year-olds (1988), includes assessment of both school achievement
and peer relations as predictors of first grade achievement. Both these
domains are important, interdependent measures of adaptation to school.
The assessment of social competence calls for the use of observational
data, teacher rating scales, peer nomination measures, and standardized
tests. In short, multiple assessment measures are needed, particularly
for decisions about grade retention or assignment to special classes.
ASSESSMENT OF SOCIAL COMPETENCE
Assessment of children's social competence requires observation of children
interacting with peers. While classrooms can be used to study such relationships,
a playground maximizes opportunities for peer interactions, minimizes the
chances of teacher involvement, and provides children with a greater amount
of play. Children generally like to be on the playground with peers and
typically exhibit high levels of competence (Waters and Sroufe, 1983).
For example, tag--a game allowed on the playground but not in the classroom--elicits
rule-governed behavior, the kind expected in classrooms and in society
in general. Children try to play such games well because they want to sustain
interaction with peers. Thus, children show their competence.
In a recent study, 35 children of lower and middle socioeconomic status
were observed on their school playground at recess through both their kindergarten
and first grades. Classroom teachers assessed the children with two standardized
tests: The Metropolitan Readiness Test (MRT) in kindergarten and the Georgia
Criterion-Referenced Test in first grade. Children's playground behavior
were observed and their peer-nominated sociometric status assessed. Teachers
rated children's personalities for both years. (See Pellegrini, 1988, for
technical details of data collection.)
The results indicated a number of important things. First, although
kindergartners' MRT scores were a significant predictor of first grade
achievement, they explained only 36% of the variance in children's first
grade achievement scores. Therefore, 64% of first grade achievement was
due to factors other than those measured by the MRT. When observed behavior,
peer nomination, and teacher rating scales were included, 75% of first
grade achievement was predicted.
The behavioral data present a clear picture: Passive children (those
who are adult-directed and noninteractive) are less competent than peer-oriented
children who engage in social games with rules. Games may predict achievement
because the social interaction characteristic of games taps a number of
linguistic, social, and cognitive dimensions that are incorporated into
later achievement. For example, the ability to use reasoned arguments in
games necessitates the use of language forms that characterize tests and
school literacy lessons (Pellegrini, Galda, and Rubin, 1984).
The most reliable assessment contexts seem to be those in which children
are comfortable and have opportunities to exhibit their competence. Measures
taken in such contexts are more accurate predictors of first grade achievement
than standardized achievement test scores.
We have tried to predict children's first grade social skills based
on teacher-rated personality and peer-nominated popularity in kindergarten.
These criteria for first graders' competence were included because of the
often made, and valid, criticism that evaluation of primary school children
does not include social and affective components (Haney, 1978). Too often
only cognition is assessed. The job of schools is to develop good citizens.
The ability to get along with peers and to act prosocially--as well as
the ability to read--are important components of a democratic education.
We found that children's aggressive or passive interactive behavior
in kindergarten predicted their antisocial personality in first grade.
These predictors give us insight into behavioral dimensions of psychopathology
in young children, because aggression may predict an antisocial personality,
or other externalizing problems, and passive interaction may predict a
neurotic personality, or other internalizing problems.
What a child does in games with rules predicts popularity. In games
with rules, children must exhibit the social and cognitive skills necessary
for popularity (Dodge, Petit, McClaskey, and Brown, 1986). In other words,
they must possess and use the skills needed to analyze social interaction.
Children who possess these skills are popular.
The implications are clear. First, if kindergartners are to be accurately
assessed, they must be assessed from different perspectives. Their engagement
in peer interaction during free play seems to yield particularly relevant
Second, we stress that tests provide limited data. Although kindergartners'
test scores predict their first grade achievement, they do not tell most
of the story. More of the story is told with more natural assessment techniques.
Third, if first grade success is to be successfully predicted from kindergarten
experience, time and money will have to be invested. Granted, observations
are expensive, but so are remedial programs. Observations of children should
be conducted weekly for each child. We realize that teachers, administrators,
and aides already have too much to do, and that the advocating of more
assessment may frustrate them. These weekly observations, however, typically
take less than one minute per child. Similarly, the personality scale done
midway in the school year takes about 10 minutes per child.
Perhaps the time and money now spent on standardized tests should be
spent differently--half as much on academic testing, with some money spent
on social competence testing. It is probably cheaper to make the investment
needed to spot potentially serious problems in kindergarten than to spend
money later on juvenile detention homes and unemployment checks. No measurement
of anything will cure society's ills, but assessment of kindergartners'
social competence may be a step in the right direction.
This digest was adapted from an article titled, "Measuring Kindergartners'
Social Competence," by A.D. Pellegrini and Carl D. Glickman, which appeared
in YOUNG CHILDREN (May, 1990): 40-44.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dodge, K., Petit, G., McClaskey, and Brown, M. Social Competence in
Children. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development,
51 (2, Serial No. 213), 1986.
Haney, W. ESEA Title I Early Childhood Education: Review of Literature
on Evaluation and Instrumentation. Interim Report to the U.S. Office of
National Association for the Education of Young Children. "NAEYC Position
Statement on Standardized Testing of Young Children 3 through 8 Years of
Age." Young Children, 43(3) (1988): 42-47.
Pellegrini, A. "Elementary School Children's Rough-and-Tumble Play and
Social Competence." Developmental Psychology, 24 (1988): 802-806.
Pellegrini, A. "The Relations between Symbolic Play and Literate Behavior:
A Review and Critique of the Empirical Literature." Review of Educational
Research, 55 (1985): 207-221.
Pellegrini, A., Galda, L., and Rubin, D. "Context in Text: The Development
of Oral and Written Language in Two Genres." Child Development, 55 (1984):
Pellegrini, A.D. and Glickman, Carl D. "Measuring Kindergartners' Social
Competence." Young Children (May, 1990): 40-44.
Waters, E. and Sroufe, L. "Social Competence as a Developmental Construct."
Developmental Review, 3 (1983): 79-97.
Zigler, E., and Trickett, P. "I.Q., Social Competence, and Evaluation
of Early Childhood Intervention Programs." American Psychologist, 33 (1978):