The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Mapping Trajectories of Peer Acceptance in Elementary School by Race/Ethnicity and Gender: Results of a Hierarchical Linear Modeling Study

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 10:00 AM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Kate M. Wegmann, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background/Purpose: Peer acceptance or rejection in elementary school has been associated with a host of important developmental outcomes for children, including academic performance, internalizing problems, externalizing problems, mental health, and socioemotional development (Greenman, Schneider, & Tomada, 2009; Ladd & Troop-Gordon, 2003; Sullivan, 1953). Despite the developmental importance of peer acceptance in middle childhood, few studies have attempted to track patterns in acceptance during this critical period. In addition, most existing studies rely on peer nominations to assess peer acceptance or rejection, which may be skewed by perception biases and subjective social norms (Boivin, Petitclerc, Feng, & Barker, 2010), rather than measuring children's own perspectives as stakeholders in this issue. The current study uses a child self-report measure to map a longitudinal trajectory of peer acceptance across grades 3-5, and examines whether this trajectory varies according to students’ gender or race/ethnicity.

Methods: Three hundred thirty-three students from four elementary schools completed the Elementary School Success Profile for Children (ESSP-C), a self-report instrument for children in grades 3-5, in the fall and spring semesters of grades 3, 4, and 5. The ESSP-C’s peer acceptance score served as the dependent variable for the study.

A basic three-level hierarchical linear model (time at level 1, individuals at level 2, and schools at level 3) with time as the sole predictor variable was used to map the general trajectory of peer acceptance for all students in the sample. Individual-level predictors were then added into the model to determine whether trajectories of peer acceptance differed according to students’ gender or race/ethnicity.

Results: Peer acceptance followed a concave trajectory from grades 3-5: levels of peer acceptance increased throughout 3rd grade, reached a peak at the beginning of 4th grade, and then declined through the end of 5th grade. No statistically significant differences in trajectory were found by gender; however, African American and Asian student trajectories had significantly different slopes as well as rates of change across time. For African American students, peer acceptance essentially began and ended at the same level as for other students, but followed a much more level trajectory between grades 3-5. Students of Asian ethnicity experienced a steady decline in peer acceptance from the beginning of 3rd grade through the end of 5thgrade, although the actual levels of peer acceptance were not statistically significantly different than those of their non-Asian peers.

Conclusions/Implications: The concave trajectory mapped in the current study provides one model of the natural development of peer acceptance in middle childhood, based on children’s own perspectives of their social worlds. Better understanding the normal course of peer acceptance may be of great value in developing and timing social, behavioral, and academic interventions for elementary school students, especially school social work interventions such as anti-bullying programs. Knowledge of the general development of peer acceptance and how peer acceptance trajectories may differ according to children’s individual characteristics (such as race/ethnicity) provides a contextual background that can be applied in school social work practice.