School Wide Positive Behavior Support In Alternative Schools Education Essay


For the past 28 years, LAKE Academy (formerly known as LifeStream Academy) has served children and adolescents with emotional disorders and behavioral challenges as referred by the School Board of Lake County (LCSB). LAKE Academy is housed at two sites within Lake County and serves a total of 110 Emotional/Behavioral Disabled and Emotionally Handicapped (EBD/EH) students, 45 Alternative Education (AE) students, and 80 Alternative Disciplinary Program (ADP) students. LAKE Academy was formed as a charter between LifeStream Behavioral Center, a Mental Health Hospital and Lake County School Board.

LAKE Academy is under contract to maintain a teacher/student ratio of 1:11 in the Emotional/Behavioral Disabled and Emotionally Handicapped (EBD/EH) program; a teacher/student ratio of 1:15 will be maintained in the Alternative Education program. The teacher to student ratio in the Alternative Disciplinary Program classroom will average one teacher to twenty students. Recently, the Lake County School Board charter contract with Lake Academy added the No Child Left Behind Act certification requirement. All teachers are required to show yearly progress towards subject area and/or Exceptional Education Certification. However, LifeStream Behavioral Center, the employer, pays on the average of 10 dollars less per hour with no planning period or duty free lunch. In addition, this school requires frequent and sometimes lengthy restraint of students which often risks injury to staff.

Purpose of Study

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Traditionally, schools have used reactive, punitive strategies in an attempt to deter students from unwanted behaviors. These consequence based behavior systems have been proven ineffective. The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education states that "according to over 500 research studies, punishment is one of the least effective responses to problem behaviors. School-wide policies that punish students for negative behaviors but that don't reward positive behaviors actually increased aggression, vandalism, truancy, tardiness, and dropping out of school" (FAPE Research Brief, p. 1).

We need to think more about our students and teach them how to behave and learn, within a system that is positive and collaborative. "What is needed is a systemic, proactive approach that seeks to prevent challenging behaviors from developing while comprehensively addressing the needs of all children on the continuum of risk for challenging behaviors" (Dunlap, Lewis, & McCart, p. 1).

Over the last ten years, researchers have been looking at the effects of positive behavior interventions. These concepts were first used in special education settings. "PBS was developed initially as an alternative to aversive interventions that were used with students with severe disabilities who engaged in extreme forms of self-injury and aggression" (OSEP, ND, p. 1 ). More recently, this approach has been successful in regular education settings as well. Researchers George Sugai and Rob Horner from Oregon, funded by the U. S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) have formed a collaborative including universities and educational agencies with the goal to "assist states in large-scale implementation of School-wide Positive Behavior Support to achieve both reduction in problem behavior and enhanced learning environment" (OSEP Brochure, p. 1).

One study, by Bradshaw, Leaf and Debnam (2007) documents a randomized control trial conducted in Maryland in which implementation of school-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) was demonstrated to occur with fidelity, and to be linked to improved organizational health, improved academic outcomes, and reductions in office discipline referrals. (Horner & Sugai, 2007, p. 8)

A review of the incident data for both campuses last year showed that the Leesburg campus had 299 incidents that were caused by 70 students.

Sixteen students had 5 or more incidents for a total of 203 or 68%.

55% of all incidents were Acting Out (51% AO & 4% AO, with injury)

31% of all incidents were assaults.

The Eustis campus saw 120 incidents that were caused by 47 students.

9 students had 5 or more incidents for a total of 64 or 53%

56% of all incidents were Acting Out (44% AO & 12% AO, with injury)

21% of all incidents were assaults.

Lake Academy keeps doing the same thing and expects different results. The school must shift from a reactive and aversive approach to managing problem behaviors to one that is preventive and positive.

Lake County Schools introduced Positive Behavior Support in several schools last year. One school saw a nearly 50% reduction in discipline referrals. The Academy already has ¾ of the PBS work done with the Leveled Behavior Modification Program.

Literature Review

Definitions/ Background of PBS

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School-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) can be defined as "a systems approach for establishing the social culture and behavioral supports needed for a school to be an effective learning environment for all students" (Sugai, 2008, presentation slide 9). SWPBS is a more proactive alternative to reactive, punitive behavior management procedures. Administrators, teachers, and staff work collaboratively to improve the school climate by teaching behavioral expectations and social skills for all settings within the learning community. Positive reinforcement is used to acknowledge students who are exhibiting the expected behaviors. For students who are not responding to the given expectations, there is a continuum of interventions designed to fit the needs of the individual.

Key Elements of PBS

The main elements of the PBS model include "a prevention-focused continuum of support, proactive instructional approaches to teaching and improving social behaviors, conceptually sound and empirically validated practices, systems change to support effective practices, and data-based decision making" (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 2).


There are three levels of prevention used in SWPBS. "Primary prevention focuses on decreasing the number of new cases of a problem behavior or situations by ensuring and maintaining the use of the most effective practices for all students" (p. 2). This level of prevention is used with all students, school-wide in all settings. Students are taught the behavioral expectations and social skills for use in all areas of the school. Positive reinforcement is used by teachers and staff to acknowledge those students who are behaving according to these expectations.

The goal of secondary prevention is to reduce the number of existing problem behavior cases or situations by providing additional instructional and behavioral supports for the relatively smaller number of students who are at risk of significant school failure and who need more specialized supports than those provided by primary prevention efforts. (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 2)

In these cases, interventions are used to support these individuals in following the behavioral expectations established in the school.

The final type of prevention, "tertiary prevention focuses on reducing the number of existing cases of complex, intractable, and long-standing problem behaviors displayed by students who are at high risk for significant emotional, behavioral and social failure" (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 2) These students require more individualized and intensive interventions, including the use of functional behavioral analysis and other data collection to determine the best way to support them.

Proactive Approach.

The second key element of PBS is that the approach taken by the teachers and staff is proactive rather than reactive. At the beginning of the year or at the start of a new activity, behavior guidelines are taught explicitly and reinforced so that all students know what is expected of them.

This approach is characterized by a careful consideration of instructional practices, structures and processes for (a) maximizing academic outcomes; (b) selecting and teaching school-wide and classroom-wide expectations, rules and routines; and (c) practicing and encouraging the use of academic skills and behavioral expectations across multiple relevant settings and contexts (Sugai & Horner, 2002, pp. 2-3).

Students are taught social skills and given strategies for dealing with other students, such as conflict resolution and how to respond to being harassed or bullied. It is also made clear to students when they should seek assistance from an adult in a given situation.

Sound Practices.

Many of the components of PBS come from the practice of Applied Behavior

Analysis (ABA), which has been "refined, tested, and replicated to form an important disciplinary approach for addressing socially important concerns in education, especially improving behavioral outcomes for individual students" (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 3).

PBS focuses on two specific methods used in ABA: functional behavioral assessment and behavior intervention plans. Functional behavioral assessments are used to collect data about the variables associated with problem behaviors, such as "setting, antecedent, and consequences." This information is used to create behavior intervention plans, which "focus on the strengths and important social contexts of the student and family and make problem behavior ineffective, inefficient, and irrelevant so that more desirable or adaptable behaviors can be encouraged" (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 3).

Systems Perspective.

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A large part of the PBS approach is the fact that it is used school-wide. Having the systems set up throughout the school settings is crucial to the successful implementation of these practices. This involves ongoing training and coaching of teachers and staff to ensure that there is consistency throughout the school. "Systems supports must be in place to support the accurate, efficient, and sustained use of evidence-based practices and data management systems" (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 4).

Steps for Implementation.

The implementation of PBS in a school involves several steps. First, the leadership team is established. "With input from all staff, teams determine which features they will target first, how progress will be monitored, and what the behavioral expectations will be, when and how to teach the behavior expectations, and the type of data that will be used to inform decisions" (Dunlap, Lewis, & McCart, p. 2).

Next, the team defines the behavioral expectations for the students. For school-aged children, there are usually about five guidelines used throughout the school. These are posted throughout the various educational settings, using language students can easily understand and relate to or using pictures or icons. (Dunlap, Lewis, & McCart, p. 2)

Once the school-wide behavior expectations have been determined, they must be taught to the students. "Expectations can be taught with a range of strategies that include modeling, practice, role playing, and feedback in context, and a variety of materials can be used to help the teaching process (e.g. books, games, puppets, social stories)" (Dunlap, Lewis, &McCart, p. 2). Children are taught social skills as well as strategies for conflict resolution. There is also discussion about appropriate behaviors for different settings within the learning community, such as the classroom, the hallways, the lunch room, and the playground. It is important that the teaching of these expectations is clear and consistent and that the students are aware of the consequences for not complying with the guidelines.

After students have been taught the behavior expectations, the next step is to use constant positive reinforcement to acknowledge those students who exhibit the desired behaviors. Giving the children this feedback lets them know when they are on the right track and also shows other students that they will be noticed if they make the right choices. "Acknowledgement of desired behaviors is such a vital feature of PBS that often the leadership team needs to arrange special monitoring strategies to help prompt staff to 'catch the children being good' with a high enough frequency" (Dunlap, Lewis, & McCart, p. 3).

Data is used to help the PBS team to solve problems and make decisions regarding the actions taken to implement the program successfully throughout the school. The team meets to decide what types of data they will collect to monitor the effectiveness of the systems at different levels: school-wide, within each classroom, and with individual students.

One commonly used measure to assess the school-wide program is to look at the number of office discipline referrals (ODRs). Many schools also use behavior incident forms which "document occurrences of targeted challenging behaviors, and note the type of problem behavior, the setting in which it occurred, the type of activity and any other potential triggers to the behavior, the people involved in the activity and the consequences (if any) that were provided following the behavioral incident" (Dunlap, Lewis, & McCart, p. 3). This data is collected and analyzed regularly by members of the team in their decision making.

Students who do not respond to the behavioral expectations set forth are provided with additional interventions, as decided by the PBS team. "Data from behavior incident forms can help teams determine which children and classrooms need support and what supports are appropriate" (Dunlap, Lewis & McCart, p. 3).

Effectiveness of PBS.

A study of PBS in urban high schools examining PBS and its effectiveness at the secondary level was conducted over the course of 4 years.

Overall, school-wide PBS has been associated with reductions in ODRs at this school. Although the lack of experimental control in the study prohibits the ability to assume causality, during the months and years where school-wide PBS interventions were implemented, ODRs declined… Also, comparing baseline data to the first year of implementation revealed that a significantly smaller number of students received multiple ODRs during the implementation year in comparison with the baseline year. (Morrissay, 2010, pp. 30-31)

Many other studies have shown similar results, including reductions in behavior incidents, office discipline referrals (ODRs) and suspension rates. "Recent research indicates that school-wide positive behavior is associated with decreased exclusionary, reactive and punitive discipline practices, increased student satisfaction, and improved perceptions of school safety" (Putnam, Horner, & Algazzine, 2006, p. 1). Teachers report having more time for instruction in the classroom because there are less behavioral distractions. There are more positive interactions between students and staff, which create a better environment for everyone.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was originally passed as our nation's special education law in 1975. Its purpose is to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal chance to have "a free appropriate public education, just like other children" ( para 2). The act has been revised and amended many times, and was most recently reauthorized by Congress in 2004, with results published in 2006. The new act, IDEIA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act), states that "school administrators continue to have legislative support for their use of functional behavioral assessment and positive behavioral interventions and strategies for supporting children with disabilities who exhibit problem behaviors" (IDEIA, 2004, p. 2). The IDEIA provides more flexibility in funding, allowing schools to use a percentage of their funds toward implementing PBS. It is also proposed that these interventions be used school-wide, to create an inclusive learning community for all students.

Congress is currently preparing to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary

Education Act, known as "No Child Left Behind." It appears that "policymakers have begun to acknowledge that there are many non-academic factors that affect students' school success" (Mandlawitz, 2007, p. 1). In her recent publication, Myrna Mandlawitz describes two bills that have been introduced, the Reducing Barriers to Learning Act of 2007 and the Positive Behavior for Effective Schools Act. Both of these involve the use of school-wide positive behavior support.

On May 21, 2009, the Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act (HR 2597) was introduced by Representative Phil Hare (D-IL).  If signed into law, HR 2597 will improve school climate and promote students' academic success by encouraging the use of schoolwide positive behavioral supports (PBIS). Research has documented that PBIS leads to improved instructional time, reduced disciplinary problems and increased test scores. According to Rep. Hare, HR 2597 "provides schools with the flexibility and technical assistance needed to implement, expand, and sustain the use of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports system." The goal of this bill is to see more implementation of positive behavior supports "in order to systematically create a school climate that is highly conducive to learning, reduce discipline referrals, and improve academic outcome. They also propose more flexibility in the use of Title I funds for School-wide Positive Behavior Supports to make it more accessible to all schools.

SWPBS and Academics.

"Several studies have found relationships between academic performance and problem behavior across grade levels" (Putnam, Horner & Algazzine, 2006, p. 1). "Other research has demonstrated that students with severe problem behavior experienced large academic deficits as compared to typical peers. In most areas these deficits remained stable over time" (p. 2).

In many cases, behavior problems arise because a student is trying to avoid an academic task. If a child is weak in a certain area or is struggling with a task, he or she may act out as an escape. For example, if a "student's literacy skills do not keep pace with those of peers, academic tasks become more aversive, and problem behaviors that lead to escape from these tasks become more likely" (Putnam, Horner & Algazzine, 2006, p. 1). It is important as teachers that we learn what is reinforcing our students for their behaviors and look at what the function of the behavior is.

Researchers have recently begun to examine the relationship between SWPBS and academic achievement. With less time and energy going to managing problem behaviors, teachers have more time available for instruction in the classroom. "Research has consistently shown that the amount of time that instruction is provided is highly correlated with student achievement" (Putnam, Horner, & Algazzine, 2006, p. 2).

Some studies have also shown increased time on task and academic engagement in schools and classrooms using PBS. "Student academic engagement has been found to be correlated with improved academic achievement…In a study of six classrooms that implemented behavior support plans, on-task behavior increased by 24 % over baseline levels" (Putnam, Horner, & Algazzine, 2006, p. 2).

Research is also beginning to show that implementation of SWPBS is associated with improved test scores. "There is increasing evidence that school-wide positive behavior support interventions improve standardized test results" (p. 3).


The Academy already has a leadership team in place and a Behavior Modification program. This project will focus in the positive aspect. The leadership team defined the universal behavioral expectations as Respect, Responsibility, and Safety. The following chart shows what each of these behaviors' look like:




Use appropriate and positivelanguage

Follow staff directions

Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself

Listen when others are speaking

Care for your belongings and clean up after yourself

Walk at a safe pace

Raise your hand and speak when it is your turn

Give your best effort

Enter and exit in orderly lines

Respect others, staff, and property

Be prepared

The leadership team then developed a guide to how the program will work. The bell will ring randomly throughout the day. Techs will give PBS points for students that are exhibiting the Expected Universal Behaviors when the bell rings (Respect, Responsibility, and Safety). An extra column has been added to Daily Point Log for this tracking. Points can be turned in at the end of the week for school store items. The moment the bell rings… the very second the bell rings… is when the PBS point is earned. It does not matter what behavior the student displayed two seconds ago, two minutes ago, or two hours ago. It does not matter if the child has not "made his day." All that matters is if he was displaying universal behavior expectations at the moment the bell rang. If he was, he earns the PBS point.

The team then established the rules for the school store. School store will be on Friday from 1:30pm-2:30pm. Students must be escorted and supervised by their classroom staff. Appropriate behavior must be demonstrated at the school store. Students will be asked to leave if their behavior is unacceptable. Rules of school store will be posted at the store site and a copy will be given to each classroom for staff to review with students. Students must be earning 80 points, must be dress code compliant, and have no major acting out behaviors to attend store. School store will be announced on the speaker and a schedule will be implemented of classroom times. Only appointed staff will be allowed to operate and have access to school store and shall maintain store inventory. It is the responsibility of the classroom staff to track student's points in order for them to buy items from store. Any staff/student that is suspected of theft, manipulating points, not tracking student's points, not allowing students to utilize store will be reported immediately to an Administrator and receive a consequence for their actions. There will be a suggestion box for any requests for inventory, changes that may be needed, or comments/concerns at the store that will be reviewed by the PBS team. PBS team will monitor point/inventory relation and make necessary adjustments.

The incident data each month will be compared to the data from last year and disaggregated by types of incident. This comparison data will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and to determine the target area for the second tier. It is projected that the number of incidents per month will decrease by 50% like that of other schools in the county.