NDTAC Issue Brief: The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model
By Leslie Brock and Mary Quinn
In a 1995 National Education Goals Report, “a lack of discipline” was the top challenge facing American schools. In response to this, schools over the last decade have started to “get tough” by implementing reactive and punitive policies such as zero tolerance and “three strikes and you are out” legislation. Research has shown, however, that using punishment alone, without teaching or reinforcing pro-social behavior, is ineffective and has been associated with increases in aggression, vandalism, truancy, and dropout rates (Mayer, 1995; Mayer & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1990; Skiba & Peterson, 1999).
Juvenile justice facilities across the country face great challenges. Youth who enter facilities come with serious mental, health, educational, and social needs. According to one national study, upon entering the juvenile justice system, the typical inmate, age 15.5 years and in the ninth grade, reads at the fourth-grade level (Project READ, 1978). Most of these youth lag two or more years behind their peers in basic academic skills and have higher rates of retention, absenteeism, and suspension. In addition, incarcerated youth suffer from learning disabilities and mental and behavioral problems in much higher proportions than the rest of the youth population (Quinn, Rutherford, Leone, Osher, & Poirier, 2005). Juxtaposed with myriad challenges faced by juvenile justice facility staff in their work with youth who are neglected, delinquent or at risk, research has consistently shown that academic achievement can be linked to reduced rates of recidivism and increased pro-social behavior (Katsiyannis & Archwamety, 2000; White, 2002; Wolford, Purnell, & Brooks, 2000). These statistics make the urgency for sound education in youth facilities all the more pressing.
How can schools and juvenile justice facilities decrease discipline and antisocial behavior problems and create environments conducive to teaching and learning? A systematic approach to positive behavior support and discipline has long been the standard approach to classroom management used by successful practitioners. These practitioners create environments using positive strategies and processes that facilitate socially competent behaviors rather than just punish inappropriate behaviors. Designed to prevent behavior problems before they occur, socially competent environments:
- Emphasize teaching appropriate behaviors rather than just punishing unwanted behavior
- Match the level of intervention resources to the level of behavioral challenge
- Design and integrate multiple systems that address the full range of behavioral challenges
- Create environments that facilitate the ultimate goal of increasing academic achievement for all students
Rather than simply directing individual students to change inappropriate behaviors, the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model (also referred to as the Positive Behavioral Supports model, or PBS) considers the larger context for behavior—the classroom, school, family, and community (Egnor, 2003). “Attention is focused on creating and sustaining environments that improve educational results for all students, thereby making problem behaviors less effective and relevant, and desired behavior more functional” (Horner & Carr, 1997). These environments teach or encourage pro-social responding, especially for the relatively small number of students who are at risk for adopting antisocial lifestyles.
To encourage the use of PBIS, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education funded a center to study the use and outcomes of PBIS, and to facilitate the use of PBIS in schools by disseminating training and technical assistance to school districts nationwide. Since the initial funding of the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (Center on PBIS) in 1998, a great deal has been learned about the compilation of effective practices, interventions, and systems change strategies necessary to create and maintain socially competent learning environments. When the Center on PBIS was renewed by OSEP in 2004, its mission was broadened to include juvenile detention and correctional facilities.
Features of PBIS
A significant body of research shows positive outcomes for social skills instruction, academic restructuring, and behavioral interventions—the key elements of PBIS—to address inappropriate behaviors, facilitate positive behavior change, and encourage academic achievement (Gottfredson, 1997; Elliot, Hamburg & Williams, 1998; Tolan & Guerra, 1994; Lipsey, 1992). As such, four essential concepts form the basis for the PBIS model (OSEP, 2005):
- Operationally defined and valued academic and social behavior outcomes are linked to annual school improvement objectives, local and State initiative priorities, and individual academic goals and objectives
- Behavioral and biomedical strategies are used to address problematic behavior in schools
- Only research-validated practices, interventions, and strategies are used to achieve goals
- Existing systems are examined and changed to enhance the quality of life and learning for all students and simultaneously reduce problem behaviors on a large scale
Based on the Public Health Prevention model, PBIS is implemented using a three-tiered, strategic approach:
- Primary prevention targets the entire school and focuses on teaching behavioral expectations for every school setting (e.g., halls, classroom, cafeteria, and buses). Every student, faculty, and staff member is explicitly taught the expected behavior, and the positive and negative consequences for appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Research shows that about 80 percent of behavior problems can be avoided with well implemented primary prevention.
- Secondary prevention introduces more intensive instructional strategies and supports for a smaller number of students who are at risk (about 15–20 percent) who do not respond to the primary prevention strategies alone. Secondary strategies include the use of study halls and academic tutoring for students who are struggling academically and small group instruction for those with behavioral challenges (e.g., anger management, social problem solving, and social skills instruction).
- Tertiary prevention is reserved for the 3–5 percent of students who have serious and persistent behavioral and academic challenges. These interventions are highly individualized to meet the students’ needs and usually require the use of functional behavioral assessment (also mandated in the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA) and interagency collaboration (e.g., child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice).
Through research and practice, we are finding that these same types of prevention activities are producing similar results for students in juvenile detention and correctional facilities.
Relevance to Populations Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk
Schools across the Nation that have implemented PBIS are experiencing overwhelmingly positive effects on school climate, reduction in problem behavior, enhanced instructional time and outcomes, and increased efficiency in school-wide discipline (Nelson, Sugai, & Smith, 2005). Some juvenile detention and corrections facilities have also adopted the PBIS model with impressive results. Similar to research in public school settings, research in juvenile detention and correction facilities shows that punishment-focused and “get tough” policies are ineffective, especially for youth with disabilities and/or mental health conditions. Nelson and his colleagues (2005) explain the many benefits of using this approach in juvenile justice facilities. For example, one youth development center in southern Illinois realized an 89 percent reduction in major behavior incidents and a 95 percent reduction in minor behavior incidents after one month of PBIS implementation. Follow-up observations revealed that there were no fights reported for two years following implementation of PBIS in the facility.
Craig Rosen, principal at the Iowa Juvenile Home, adopted the school-wide PBIS model at the residential juvenile facility. The results were positive; a 46 percent reduction in restraints over a year-long period for girls in an alternative clinical setting, and a 37 percent reduction in the number of classroom removals over a 3-month period in the alternative classroom for boys. In addition, data show that all students improved academically (Rosen, 2004).
Like public school implementation, PBIS standardizes expectations and consequences across the setting in the facility so youth know the appropriate behaviors in each setting and receive the same interventions—regardless of the adult responsible. This is achieved by thoroughly training and supporting educational and security staff in the use of positive behavioral approaches to create environments that facilitate appropriate behaviors. A very important component of PBIS is data-driven decision making. This component enables staff to use data to inform decisions about the effectiveness of changes to rules, routines, and arrangements in the facility. Use of these data enable staff members to specifically pinpoint problem areas and make focused changes rather than continue an intervention that is ineffective or implement an intervention and hope it will have the desired result.
One of the most difficult parts of implementing PBIS in a school or alternative juvenile justice facility is generating buy-in from staff who are skeptical to change. The Center on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (the Center on PBIS) recommends buy-in by at least 80 percent of staff before beginning implementation. Policymakers who want to bring about systems change in schools and juvenile facilities must therefore “sell” the program and advertise the positive outcomes realized in similar settings before mandating the use of PBIS. Once buy-in is achieved, a team is established to assess need and facilitate intensive training in PBIS components. To assist in these tasks, the Center on PBIS has developed the School-wide Positive Behavior Support Implementers’ Blueprint and Self-Assessment. This blueprint provides a rationale for implementation of PBIS, as well as practical steps for implementation and use of the self-assessment checklist for accountability. You may also visit the Center on PBIS Web site to review more examples of PBIS implementation in various States.
For More Information
For further information on and examples of PBIS implementation for youth who are at-risk or involved with the juvenile or adult justice system, visit the Positive Behavior Support for Youth At-Risk and Involved in Juvenile Corrections section of the Center on PBIS Web site.
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Published January 2006