Emotional Competence in Preschool: Connecting Assessment, Programming, and Emotional Support

J. Reba Troxler

Advisor: Timothy W Curby, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Adam Winsler, Marvin Powell

David J. King Hall, #1024
July 09, 2019, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


Children’s emotional competence, an aspect of social–emotional skills, develops rapidly during the preschool years and is seen to be important for various concurrent and later outcomes. There has been a surge of programs and interventions to foster children’s social–emotional skills in recent years, yet, experimentally tested school-based programs for the preschool age group are somewhat rare. There is a need in particular for programs that are available and accessible to schools serving low-income and at risk populations that are under-resourced.  Emotional support in the preschool classroom is believed to play a particularly important role in children’s development of emotional competence, so programs directly targeting children’s social–emotional skills and teachers’ emotional support may be especially effective. The overarching purpose of the current study is twofold: 1. Examine psychometric properties of the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) in the Randomized Control Trial (RCT) sample, and of the Positive Behavior Rating Scale (PBRS) in both the RCT sample and a DC sample of children attending AppleTree Public Charter Preschools, and  2. Rigorously evaluate the impact of the Get Ready to Learn program (GRTL) developed by AppleTree Institute, including testing for mediational effects of emotional support. Analyses also explored differential effects of GRTL based on child age, and child levels of emotional competence at baseline. This study utilizes Item Response Theory (IRT) to explore psychometric properties of the measures, and takes a novel approach to assessing the impact of GRTL through use of IRT-based ability 

scores as an alternative to commonly used sum or mean scores. The ability scores were used as baseline and outcome child data in multilevel Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to account for the nested nature of the data while exploring complex relations between multiple variables of interest. Psychometric properties of PBRS items indicate that the measure is functioning well in both the RCT and DC samples, but that items seem to be slightly harder for children in the DC sample. The DECA measure shows less consistent results with a handful of items standing out due to non-use of response options or poor spread across the ability continuum.

Results from multilevel SEM analyses show that GRTL has a positive impact on children’s emotional competence as measured by the PBRS but not the DECA, and that children in the treatment group are rated as higher in behavioral concerns at outcome than children in the control group. Further analyses of these impacts reveal that younger children benefited from GRTL while older children did not, and that older children show higher levels of behavioral concerns while younger children do not.  Emotional support did not mediate the relation between GRTL and child outcomes, but higher levels of emotional support are related to improved child outcomes on both PBRS and DECA. Limitations and suggestions for continued and future research are also discussed.