Touch Your Toes! Developing a New Measure of Behavioral Regulation
Co-Investigators: Alan Acock (Oregon State University), Ryan Bowles (Michigan State University) and Claire Cameron Ponitz (University of Virginia)
Purpose: Children's social skills at the beginning of kindergarten are related to their academic achievement and the quality of their peer relationships. Educators need tools to help identify potential problems and support children's behavior during the early school years. There are few direct assessments of young children's social and emotional skills available for researchers and practitioners to use. The goal of this project is to develop a reliable and valid screening measure of children's behavioral regulation skills that can be easily administered in school-based settings and is predictive of children's school outcomes.
Project Activities: The study will be conducted over a 4-year period. In Phase I (Year 1) of the study, the research team will refine the existing version of the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders (HTKS) task for use with children between the ages of 4–5 years. In Phase II (Years 2–4) of the study, the research will evaluate the HTKS as a reliable and valid screener of kindergarten readiness and early achievement for English- and Spanish-speaking children aged 4–5 years.
Products: Products will include a valid and reliable screening measure of children's behavioral regulation including administrative and scoring guidelines. Scholarly reports of the findings will also be produced.
Setting: The primary data collection phase of the study will take place in preschool programs and kindergarten classrooms in Oregon.
Population: The Phase I study will involve 624 children from five existing datasets in Oregon, Michigan, and Virginia, and a pilot sample of 100 children and 30 teachers in Oregon. The combined samples are socioeconomically diverse and include a subgroup of Spanish-speaking children. The Phase II study participants will include a new sample of 340 children and their teachers from preschool classrooms in Oregon. The sample of children will be 50 percent minority (30 percent Spanish-speaking) and 60 percent low-income.
Intervention: The research team will refine the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders (HTKS) task for use with children ages 4–5 years old. The HTKS measure is a test of behavioral regulation. The HTKS task is used to assess three aspects of executive function in a game format. It involves four paired behavioral rules: "touch your head" and "touch your toes"; "touch your shoulders" and "touch your knees." Initially children are asked to respond naturally, then they are instructed to switch rules by responding in the opposite way (e.g., touch their head when told to touch their toes). The task taps behavioral regulation by requiring children to integrate three skills: (1) paying attention to the researcher's instructions; (2) working memory to remember and execute new rules while processing the commands; and (3) using inhibitory control through inhibiting their natural response to the test commands while initiating the correct, unnatural response.
Research Design and Methods: The measurement refinement and validation work will occur in two phases. In Phase I, the research team will use data from several samples of children to refine the existing version of the HTKS measure. The research team will determine the administration procedures, the number of items, and the ordering of the items. In Phase II, the research team will evaluate the use of the refined HTKS task as a screening tool. The research team will collect data from two cohorts of children, parents, and teachers to examine the validity and reliability of the measure. The research team will recruit and assess the children in prekindergarten and kindergarten. The research team will evaluate the practical utility of the HTKS task (e.g., amount of training required, administration time, and the interpretation of scoring) by asking preschool and kindergarten teachers to administer the task to five participating children in each classroom. The research team will also examine the degree to which the HTKS task is predictive of social and academic indicators of children's school readiness in kindergarten.
Key Measures: The research team will collect data to examine the validity of the HTKS measure. Parent-, teacher-, child-, and classroom-level data will be collected in preschool and kindergarten. The following measures will be administered to children: (1) the Borders Dimensional Change Card Sorting will be used to assess children's executive attention; (2) the Woodcock-Johnson III Auditory Working Memory subtest will be used to assess working memory; (3) the Walk-a-Line and Draw-a-Line tasks will be used to assess the fine and gross motor aspects of inhibitory control; (4) the Simon Says task will be used to assess behavioral aspects of inhibitory control; and (5) the Woodcock-Johnson II Letter-Word Identification, Picture Vocabulary and Applied Problems subtests as measures of children's academic readiness and early achievement. Teachers will be asked to rate children using the Child Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS). Parents will be asked to rate children's behavioral regulation and temperament using the Child Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ). Parents and teachers will be asked to rate children's behavioral regulation using the Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF). Parents and teachers will be asked to complete demographic questionnaires. Members of the research team will use the Academic Engaged Time Observation to collect classroom-level data.
Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will use multilevel and longitudinal models to examine the reliability and validity of the HTKS as a screening instrument, including test-retest stability and criterion-referenced validity. They will also conduct analyses to examine the relative strength of the HTKS as a predictor of kindergarten readiness (including social competence) and achievement (literacy, vocabulary, and math skills) as compared to measures assessing specific component skills involved in behavioral regulation (attention, working memory, and inhibitory control) and early achievement skills.