THE ASSESSMENT OF PSYCHOSOCIAL MATURITY IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS: Implications for the Evaluation of School-Based Character Education Programs

Article excerpt

The Relationship Questionnaire (Rel-Q) is a multiple choice measure of psychosocial maturity derived from developmental theory that identifies the capacity to differentiate and coordinate the social perspectives of self and other to be central to treating other people in respectful and ethical ways. Data from 1237 students in grades 4 through 12 were used to explore the Rel-Q's usefulness as a tool for evaluating school-based character education programs. Significant developmental change on mean psychosocial maturity was found across grades (with the exception of a plateau across the middle school grades). The Rel-Q also shows sensitivity to group differences based on differential socialization, with significant differences among students reporting different levels of risk behavior and between genders and social classes. Quantitative and qualitative data on social climate predicted differences in mean psychosocial maturity between schools. The findings suggest that this evaluation measure can assess mature psychosocial choice due to either development or socialization (including school climate), and can help clarify the extent to which character education programs not only teach social awareness and interpersonal skills but also engage students in personally meaningful ways.

The focus of this study is the validation of a measure of psychosocial maturity-the Relationship Questionnaire or Rel-Q-designed for the evaluation of school-based character education programs. The construct of psychosocial maturity used in the Rel-Q derives from developmental theory that identifies the social-cognitive capacity to differentiate and coordinate the social perspectives of self and other as central to character development and education (Selman & Schultz, 1990; Selman, 2003). Growth in psychosocial maturity promotes children's ability to interact with others respectfully, by incorporating the other's perspective in one's social interactions and relationships (Selman, Watts, & Schultz, 1997). Other researchers also recognize that the way people treat children, and the way adults treat others in their presence, is fundamental in character development and its promotion in schools (cf. Berkowitz, 2002).

Theoretical & Methodological History of the Relationship Questionnaire

The Relationship Questionnaire's assessment of psychosocial maturity based on social perspective coordination was developed within the cognitive-developmental research tradition. Cognitive-developmental theorists (Kohlberg, 1981, 1984; Piaget, 1965; Loevinger, 1966; Selman, 1980) and their intellectual predecessors in social theory (Baldwin, 1906, Dewey, 1933; Mead, 1934) assume that there is a structure to the way persons think about social relations, and these conceptions become more complex as children grow up. Cognitive-developmental theorists stress that socio-moral development is promoted by role-taking opportunities, the perceived socio-moral level provided by an institution, and cognitive-moral conflict that stimulates movement to the next stage through reflective reorganization arising from sensed contradictions in a person's current structure (Kohlberg, 1984; Rest, 1979; Turiel, 1966).

In order to map out the hierarchical, universal, and invariant sequence of stages of structural development empirically, cognitive-developmental researchers initially assessed subjects with reflective interview methodology (Piaget, 1983; Colby & Kohlberg, 1987). This methodology, pioneered in Piaget's methode clinique, uses extensive questioning with probes to illuminate the compexity of subjects' social reasoning, thus assessing the highest developmental level in their repetoire. Establishing the age-related developmental sequence of structural stagesas Piaget did for cognitive development, Kohlberg in the domain of moral reasoning development, and Selman (1980) for social reasoning development-is an assessment of individual competence. …