Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Preschool Screening for Social and Emotional Competencies - Development and Psychometric Properties

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Preschool Screening for Social and Emotional Competencies - Development and Psychometric Properties

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Age-appropriate screening for preschool children is important for early detection of developmental delays. Emotional and social competencies have been established as predictors of mental health, as well as school readiness. We developed two screening scales, for parents and teachers corresponding to three age groups: 2.5-4 years-old, 4-5 years-old, and 5-7.5 years-old respectively. Approximately 150 children from each age group took part in this study. The statistical analysis showed that the internal consistency (α-Cronbach) was high with values over 0.80. Likewise, the test-retest coefficients (after 3 months) indicated values over 0.70. For the assessment of the content validity we correlated the screening scores with Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). We also established the concurrent and predictive validity with measurements of behavior problems (internalizing and externalizing disorders) and school performance. All the above mentioned data show that these screening scales are relevant for predicting children's mental health problems and school readiness.

KEYWORDS: screening, preschool, emotional and social competence, school readiness, behavior problems.

An increasingly important trend in the assessment of preschool children is the emphasis placed on developing screening instruments. Screening is a rapid, lowcost evaluation method, which allows gathering information about the need for indepth assessment (Squires, Pottersi, & Bricker, 1999, as cited in Denham, 2003). Screening, as opposed to diagnosis instruments, is used for determining children's risk status, not for identifying specific disorders (Gredler, 1997; Pianta & McCoy, 1997). In other words, screening is a preliminary step in diagnosis. Those children identified to be at risk undergo further testing in order to establish diagnosis (Hill, Lochman, Coie, Greenberg, & The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2004; Korkman, Jaakkola, Pesonen, & Turunen, 2004). The assessment of mental health and school adjustment predictors are important for a few reasons: 1) identifying children who lack age-appropriate skills (at risk children); 2) obtaining relevant information for diagnosis; 3) developing individualized preventive interventions; and 4) evaluating prevention programs for children within this age group (Barry & Lochman, 2003).

According to the latest statistical data in the U.S., up to 10% of preschool children may suffer from symptoms of mental health problems, which could develop in time into a mental health disorder (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2007). About 50% of the children who develop emotional and behavioral problems are likely to drop out from school (HRSA, 2007). Moreover, recent research emphasized that abilities related to school performance develop during the preschool period and manifest a continuous evolution. About 80% of the variance of the school performance at the end of 4th grade could be predicted at the beginning of the first school year [(U.S. Department of Education Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), as cited in Ionescu & Benga, 2006], a fact which shows how important is to determine by assessment, during the preschool period, a child's ability to adapt to school demands. Furthermore, it is obvious that early detection and intervention on a child's disability reduces social and economic costs in a significant manner, and increases the efficacy of the intervention.

Taking into account these data, it becomes clear that monitoring children's developmental trend by systematic assessment and early intervention, may have positive long-term effects for their mental health as well as for school adjustment.

Caveats in preschool screening practices

Preschool children's screening is not yet a widely used assessment method. Specifically, in Romania, there is a complete lack of screening tools and most decisions about children's school readiness are made by parents relying on common sense rather than on a rigorous assessment of their child's abilities. …

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