Social Adjustment and Academic Achievement: A Predictive Model for Students with Diverse Academic and Behavior Competencies

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined the hypothesized relationship between social adjustment, as measured by perceived social support, self-concept, and social skills, and performance on academic achievement tests. Participants included 27 teachers and 77 fourth- and eighth-grade students with diverse academic and behavior competencies. Teachers were asked to select one student for each of the three participant nomination categories: undeveloped academic competence, undeveloped behavior competence, and proficient academic and behavior competence. Multivariate analysis of variance results indicated that each participant group differed significantly on social skills, and students with proficient academic and behavior competence demonstrated significantly greater levels of self-concept than did those with an undeveloped behavior competence. None of the groups differed significantly on perceived social support. Structural equation modeling analyses revealed that the model predicting academic achievement from self-concept, social skills, and academic competence adequately fit the data. Indicators of social adjustment were discussed as intervention targets for programs intended to improve students' social competence and academic achievement.

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Students with learning and behavior difficulties tend to present relatively lower levels of social adjustment than their typically achieving peers. Key indicators of social adjustment include perceived social support, self-concept, and social skills. Researchers have demonstrated that levels of these three indicators vary by students' academic and behavior competencies (Demaray & Malecki, 2002; DiPerna, Volpe, & Elliott, 2002; Merrell, 1991; Wentzel, 1991). These studies have included students in 3rd-12th grades, individuals with and without disabilities, and roughly one third of participants in each study were racial or ethnic minorities.

Several researchers have also shown that academic achievement can be predicted from indicators of social adjustment. In their longitudinal study of the prosocial foundations of children's academic achievement, Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, Bandura, and Zimbardo (2000) used children's third-grade social behavior to predict their eighth-grade academic achievement. Caprara et al. (2000) found that early prosocial behavior robustly predicted later academic achievement, but early aggressive behaviors did not. Third-grade prosocial behaviors significantly predicted eighth-grade academic achievement, even when controlling for third-grade academic achievement. Interestingly, third-grade academic achievement was not a significant predictor of eighth-grade academic achievement when controlling for third-grade prosocial behaviors. The results of this study suggest that social skills significantly contribute to later academic achievement, more so than do problem behaviors and even early academic skills.

Other researchers have included the construct of academic competence in their predictive models of academic achievement. DiPerna and Elliott (2002) defined academic competence as a multidimensional construct comprised of students' skills, attitudes, and behaviors that contribute to school success. The components of academic competence are categorized as either academic skills or academic enablers. Academic skills include a student's aptitude in content areas such as reading and math, whereas academic enablers are the attitudes and behaviors (i.e., motivation, interpersonal skills, etc.) that facilitate a student's learning (DiPerna & Elliott, 2002). Academic competence has been operationalized as teacher ratings of a student's performance across multiple domains including content area achievement (e.g., reading, math), motivation, classroom behavior, and parental encouragement (DiPerna et al., 2002; Gresham & Elliott, 1990).

Although researchers have demonstrated an association among social adjustment and academic and behavior competencies, the methods for identifying students of varying levels of academic and behavior competence have relied on either disability status or the same instruments used to examine the association with social adjustment. …