Measuring Kindergarteners' Social Competence
At different ages, children develop different competencies. The competence hallmark for kindergarteners 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 kindergarteners.
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 standardized tests.
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.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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