Few educators would dispute the importance of social competence for young handicapped children, yet there is much disagreement over an appropriate definition. Attempts to define social competence have included specifying all competent skills or behaviors of children or relating social competence to adaptive behavior. Most recent approaches have examined the skills or knowledge required for interpersonal social interactions as a basis for defining social competence; these approaches have encompassed both cognitive and behavioral orientations. In this paper, we advocate a performance-based approach to the assessment of social competence. In this approach, multiple social agents in the child's social environment (e.g., teachers, parents, peers, independent observers) evaluate the adequacy of children's social behavior in social interactions with peers and adults. The performance-based model thus provides complementary information about a child's social performance from a variety of perspectives. Implications for child assessment are discussed, and an example of the use of a performance-based assessment of social competence in an early childhood special education setting is provided. © 1985, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.