POSITIVE BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTIONS AND SUPPORTS: HISTORY, DEFINING
FEATURES, AND MISCONCEPTIONS
George Sugai and
Center for PBIS &
Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
Version: June 19,
PDF File Download (153 KB)
Positive Behavioral Interventions
and Supports (PBIS) has been defined, described, and studied ever since its
introduction in the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act
(1997). The purpose of this paper is to revisit PBIS with respect to its history, defining practices and features, and
PBIS is an implementation
framework that is designed to enhance academic and social behavior outcomes
for all students by (a) emphasizing the use of data for informing decisions
about the selection, implementation, and progress monitoring of evidence-based
behavioral practices; and (b) organizing resources and systems to improve
durable implementation fidelity.
Development of PBIS
1980s. During the 1980s, a need was identified for improved selection,
implementation, and documentation of effective behavioral interventions for
students with behavior disorders (BD) (Gresham, 1991; Sugai & Horner, 1999;
Walker et al., 1996). In response, researchers at the University of Oregon
began a series of applied demonstrations, research studies, and evaluation
projects. These efforts indicated that greater attention should be directed
toward prevention, research-based practices, data-based decision-making,
school-wide systems, explicit social skills instruction, team-based
implementation and professional development, and student outcomes (Biglan,
1995; Colvin, Kame’enui, & Sugai, 1993; Horner, Sugai, & Anderson,
2010; Lewis & Sugai, 1999; Mayer, 1995; Sugai & Horner 2002).
In the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997, a
grant to establish a national Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and
Supports was legislated to disseminate and provide technical assistance to
schools on evidence based practices for improving supports for students with
BD. Given the results of their work in the 1980s, researchers at the University
of Oregon successfully competed for the opportunity to develop the PBIS Center.
A defining feature of the original center was the establishment of a
partnership comprising researchers and implementers from the Universities of
Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and South Florida, and from prominent
providers of specialized supports (i.e., Illinois Wraparound Network, May Institute,
Sheppard Pratt Health Systems) (www.pbis.org,
Sugai et al., 2000).
The National Technical Assistance (TA) Center on PBIS is currently in Year 14
(third 5-year grant cycle), and has assisted in shaping the PBIS framework
(also referenced as “school-wide positive behavior supports”), and providing
direct professional development and technical assistance to more than 16,000
schools. Other Center activities include (a) web-based collection and
dissemination of evidence-based behavior practices and systems (www.pbis.org), (b) two national leadership and
dissemination conferences (October Leadership Forum, and March partnership with
the Association for Positive Behavior Supports), (c) three best-practices and
systems “blueprints” (Implementation, Evaluation, and Professional
Development), (d) numerous publications and professional presentations, and (e)
school, district, and state implementation demonstrations.
What is PBIS?
Although initially established to
disseminate evidence-based behavioral interventions for students with BD, the
National TA Center on PBIS shifted focus to the school-wide behavior support of
all students, and an emphasis on implementation practices and systems. As a
result, PBIS is defined as a framework
for enhancing the adoption and implementation of a continuum of evidence-based
interventions to achieve academically and behaviorally important outcomes for
all students (Sugai et al., 2000) As a “framework,” the emphasis is on a
process or approach, rather than a curriculum, intervention, or practice. The
“continuum” notion emphasizes how evidence- or research-based behavioral
practices are organized within a multi-tiered system of support, also called
“response-to-intervention” (Sugai & Horner, 2009). Within this definition,
the mutually beneficial relationship between academic and social behavior
student success is highlighted (Chard, Harn, Sugai, & Horner, 2008; Sugai, Horner, &
Gresham, 2002). Finally, the
important supportive relationship between positive school- and classroom-wide
culture and individual student success is emphasized.
PBIS framework has a number of defining characteristics. First and foremost, student
outcomes serve as the basis for practice selection, data collection, and
intervention evaluations. These outcomes are (a) academic and social, (b)
individual and small group, and (c) judged on their educational and social
value and importance (McIntosh, Filter, Bennett, Ryan, & Sugai, 2010;
McIntosh, Flannery, Sugai, Braun, & Cochrane, 2008).
rather than focusing on specific packaged or manualized interventions, the PBIS framework highlights specification and adoption of evidence- and
research-based practices that characterize packaged programs. These practices
are organized to support students across (a) school-wide (e.g., teaching and
acknowledging a small number of positively stated behavioral expectations,
clear and distinctive definitions for rule violations, and data-decision
rules), (b) nonclassroom (e.g., active supervision, reminders, teaching
setting-specific routines), (c) classroom (e.g., effective academic
instruction, active supervision, high praise rates), and (d) individual student
(e.g., function-based behavior intervention supports, explicit social skills
instruction, wraparound processes) routines (Eber, Sugai, Smith, & Scott,
2002; Lewis & Sugai, 1999).
consistent with the response-to-intervention approach, PBIS is characterized by
the establishment of a continuum of behavior support practices and
systems (Sugai & Horner, 2009). These practices are unified with procedures
for universal screening, continuous progress monitoring, team-based decision
making rules and procedures, explicit monitoring of implementation fidelity,
and local content expertise and fluency. In addition, the PBIS framework
stresses the importance of embedded and continuous professional development,
monitoring based on phase of implementation, and systems-based competence and
supports (e.g., policy, leadership, funding) (Sugai, Horner, Fixsen, &
the effective, efficient, and relevant use of data or information to
guide decision-making links the above characteristics. The collection,
analysis, and use of data are considered essential for a number of PBIS
purposes: (a) need clarification and priority, (b) matching of need and
intervention or practice, (c) evaluation of research-base for practice
selection, (d) student responsiveness and outcome impact, (e) intervention or
practice fidelity, (f) social and ecological validity, and (g) implementation
adjust for efficiency, effectiveness, and relevance (Lewis-Palmer, Sugai, &
Impact and Evidence
Base for PBIS
in the 16,000 school teams that have been trained on the PBIS implementation
framework (especially, tier 1 or primary prevention), are 3 states with more
than 60% of schools involved in PBIS implementation, 9 states with more than
40%, and 16 states with more than 30%. This impact reflects efforts by state
and district leadership teams to build capacity for sustaining and scaling up
their implementation of PBIS. Schools that are effective in their
implementation have (a) more than 80% of their students and staff who can
indicate the desired positive behavioral expectations for a given school
setting, (b) high rates of positive acknowledgements for contributing to a
positive and safe school climate, (c) have more than 70-80% of their students
who have not experienced an office discipline referral for a disciplinary rule
infraction, (d) a good idea about which students require more intensive
behavior supports, and (e) systems for regular review of their school-wide
behavior data to guide their PBIS action planning and implementation decision
making (Lewis & Sugai, 1999; Sugai et al., 2000; Taylor-Greene et al.,
addition, since the 1980s, a number of experimental studies have documented the
effectiveness of the PBIS framework at the school-wide level. This body of
research supports improvements in problem disciplinary behavior, school climate,
organizational health, student bullying behavior and peer victimization, and
academic achievement (Bradshaw, Koth, Bevans, Ialongo, & Leaf, 2008;
Bradshaw, Koth, Thornton, & Leaf, 2009; Bradshaw, Mitchell, & Leaf,
2010; Bradshaw, Reinke, Brown, Bevans, & Leaf, 2008; Horner et al., 2009;
Horner, Sugai, & Anderson, 2010; Luiselli, Putnam, & Sunderland, 2002;
Muscott, Mann, & LeBrun, 2008; Nelson et al., 2009; Pas, Bradshaw, &
Mitchell, 2011; Sadler & Sugai, 2009; Simonsen et al., 2011; Simonsen, Fairbanks,
Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008; Waasdorp, Bradshaw, & Leaf, in press).
Misconception #1: “PBIS is an intervention
or practice.” Although PBIS
is comprised of research-based behavioral practices and interventions that have
been shown to improve social behavior and academic achievement, PBIS is more
accurately described as a “framework” or “approach” that provides the means
of selecting, organizing and implementing these evidence-practices by giving
equal attention to (a) clearly defined and meaningful student outcomes, (b)
data-driven decision making and problem solving processes, and (c) systems that
prepare and support implementers to use these practices with high fidelity and
#2: “PBIS emphasizes the use of tangible rewards which can negatively affect
the development of intrinsic motivation.” The PBIS framework includes
practices that provide students with feedback on the accuracy and use of
their social skills and behaviors, in the same manner that feedback is provided
for successful and accurate academic performance. When new and/or difficult
social skills are being acquired, more teacher and external feedback systems
might be used to give students information about their social behavior.
However, as students become more fluent in their use of social skills, external
feedback systems are reduced and replace by more natural environmental and/or
self-managed feedback (Akin-Little & Little, 2009; Akin-Little, Eckert,
Lovett, & Little, 2004). Although intrinsic motivation is difficult to
conceptualize and measure from a behavior analytic perspective, little evidence
exists to suggest that the use of positive reinforcement, rewards,
acknowledgements, and recognition has negative effects on academic and social
behavior achievement (Cameron, Bank, & Pierce, 2001; Cameron & Pierce,
2002; Cameron, 2005).
#3: “PBIS is something new that was designed for students with disabilities.” The phrase “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports” was first coined in
the reauthorization of the IDEA; however, the practices, principles, and
systems that characterize PBIS have been described, studied and implemented
since the early 1960s and 1970s (Carr, 2007; Carr et al., 2002; Sugai &
Horner, 2002). PBIS is a marriage of behavioral theory, behavior analysis,
positive behavior supports, and prevention and implementation science that
has been developed to improve how schools select,
organize, implement, and evaluate behavioral practices in meeting the needs of
all students (Sugai et al., 2000).
#4: “PBIS is for behavior, and RtI is for academics.” RtI is best
conceptualized as a framework for developing and implementing multi-tiered
systems of academic and behavior support, and is comprised of (a) universal
screening, (b) continuous progress monitoring, (c) continuum of evidence-based
practices, (d) team-driven data-based decision making, and (e) implementation
fidelity evaluation (Sugai & Horner, 2009). The PBIS framework is the
application of RtI principles to the improvement of social behavior outcomes
for all students. PBIS is often described as the “behavior side” of the RtI
multi-tiered continuum; however, this description misrepresents the actual
integrated implementation of behavior and academic supports (Sugai, Horner,
Fixsen, & Blase, 2010).
Akin-Little, A., & Little, S. G. (2009).The true effects of extrinsic reinforcement on “intrinsic”
motivation.In A. Akin-Little, S. G. Little, M. A.
Bray, & T. J. Kehle (Eds).Behavioral
interventions in schools: Evidence-based positive strategies (pp. 73-92). Washington DC: American Psychological
Akin-Little, K. A., Eckert, T. L., Lovett, B. J., & Little, S.
G. (2004). Extrinsic reinforcement in the classroom: Bribery or best
Psychology Review, 33, 344-362.
(1995). Translating what we know about the context of antisocial behavior in to
a lower prevalence of such behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28, 479-492.
Bradshaw, C. P.,
Koth, C. W., Bevans, K. B., Ialongo, N., & Leaf, P. J. (2008). The impact of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and
supports (PBIS) on the organizational health of elementary schools. School Psychology Quarterly,
Bradshaw, C. P.,
Koth, C. W., Thornton, L. A., & Leaf, P. J. (2009). Altering school climate
through school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports: Findings
from a group-randomized effectiveness trial. Prevention
Science, 10(2), 100-115.
Bradshaw, C. P.,
Mitchell, M. M., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Examining the effects of schoolwide
positive behavioral interventions and supports on student outcomes: Results
from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive
Behavioral Interventions, 161-179.
Bradshaw, C. P.,
Reinke, W. M., Brown, L. D., Bevans, K. B., & Leaf, P. J. (2008).
Implementation of school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
(PBIS) in elementary schools: Observations from a randomized trial. Education & Treatment of Children, 31, 1-26.
Banko, K. M., & Pierce, W. E. (2001). Pervasive negative effects of rewards
on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues. The Behavior Analyst, 24(1), 1-44.
Cameron, J. & Pierce,
W. D.(2002). Rewards
and intrinsic motivation: Resolving the controversy. Westport, CT: Bergin
Cameron, J. (2005). The detrimental effect of reward
hypothesis: Persistence of a view in the face of disconfirming evidence. In Heward, W.L., Heron, T.E., Neef, N.A.,
Peterson, S.M., Sainato, D.M., Cartledge, G., Gardner, R., Peterson, L.D.,
Hersh, S.B., & Dardig, J.C. (Eds). Focus on behavior analysis in education:
Achievements, challenges, and opportunities (pp. 304-315). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson
Merrill Prentice Hall.
G. (1964). Principles of prevention in psychiatry. New
York: Basic Books.
Carr, E. G.
(2007). The expanding vision of positive behavior support: Research perspectives on
happiness, helpfulness, and hopefulness. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 9, 3-14.
Carr, E. G., Dunlap, G.,
Horner, R. H., Koegel, R. L., Turnbull, A. P., & Sailor, W. (2002).
Positive behavior support: Evolution of an applied science. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions,
Chard, D., Harn, B., Sugai, G., & Horner, R. (2008).Core Features of Multi-Tier Systems of Academic and Behavioral
Support. In Greenwood, C. G. (Ed.), Elementary School-Wide Prevention Models: Real Models and Real Lessons Learned.
New York: Guilford.
G., Kame’enui, E. J., & Sugai, G. (1993). School-wide and classroom
management: Reconceptualizing the integration and management of students with
behavior problems in general education. Education and Treatment of Children, 16, 361-381.
L., Sugai, G., Smith, C., & Scott, T. (2002). Blending process and practice
to maximize outcomes: Wraparound and positive behavioral interventions and
supports in the schools. Journal
of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 10, 171-181.
Gordon, R. S. (1983). An operational classification of disease prevention. Public Health Reports, 48, 107-109.
F. S. (1991). Conceptualizing behavior disorders in terms of resistance to intervention. School Psychology Review, 18,
F. S. (2002). Responsiveness to intervention: an alternative approach to the identification
of learning disabilities. In R. Bradley, L. Danielson, &
D. Hallahan (Eds.).Learning
Disabilities: Research to Practice (pp. 467-519). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
R., Sugai, G., Smolkowski, K., Eber, L., Nakasato, J., Todd, A., &
Esperanza, J., (2009). A randomized, wait-list controlled effectiveness trial
assessing school-wide positive behavior support in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11, 133-145.
R. H., Sugai, G., & Anderson, C. M. (2010). Examining the evidence
base for school-wide positive behavior support. Focus on Exceptionality, 42(8), 1-14.
with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004). Public
Law 108-446 (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.).
Lewis, T. J., &
Sugai, G. (1999). Effective behavior support: A systems approach to proactive
school-wide management. Focus on
Exceptional Children, 31(6), 1-24.
Lewis-Palmer, T., Sugai,
G., & Larson, S. (1999). Using data to guide decisions about program
implementation and effectiveness. Effective School Practices, 17(4), 47-53.
Luiselli, J. K.,
Putnam, R. F., & Sunderland, M. (2002). Longitudinal
evaluation of behavior support intervention in a public middle school. Journal of Positive Behavior
Interventions, 4, 182-188.
Mayer, G. (1995).
Preventing antisocial behavior in the schools. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 287, 467-478.
Filter, K. J., Bennett, J., Ryan, C., & Sugai, G. (2010). Principles of sustainable prevention:
Designing scale-up of school-wide positive behavior support to promote durable
systems. Psychology in
the Schools, 47, 5-21.
McIntosh, K., Flannery, K. B., Sugai, G.,
Braun, D., & Cochrane, K. L. (2008). Relationships
between academics and problem behavior in the transition from middle school to
high school. Journal of Positive Behavior
Interventions, 10, 243-255.
Muscott, H. S., Mann, E.
L., & LeBrun, M. R. (2008). Positive behavioral interventions and supports
in New Hampshire: Effects of Large-Scale Implementation of Schoolwide positive
behavior support on student discipline and academic achievement. Journal of Positive Behavior
Interventions, 10, 190-205.
Nelson, J. R.,
Hurley, K. D., Synhorst, L., Epstein, M. H., Stage, S., & Buckley, J.
(2009). The child outcomes of a behavior model. Exceptional Children, 76, 7-30.
Pas, E., Bradshaw, C. P., & Mitchell, M. M. (2011). Examining the validity of office discipline referrals as an indicator of
student behavior problems. Psychology in the Schools,
Pierce, W.D., Cameron, J., Banko, K.M., & So, S. (2003). Positive effects of rewards and
performance standards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Record, 53, 561-579.
Sadler, C., & Sugai, G. (2009). Effective
behavior and instructional support: A district model for early identification
and prevention of reading and behavior problems. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions,
Simonsen, B., Eber, L., Black, A., Sugai, G.,
Lewandowski, H., Myers, D., & Sims, B. (2011). Positive behavioral
interventions and supports in Illinois: Lessons learned for large-scale
implementation. Journal of Positive Behavior
Interventions, 14, 5-16.
Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A.,
Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom
management: Considerations for research to practice. Education and Treatment of Children, 31,
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2010).
School-wide positive behavior support: Establishing a continuum of evidence
based practices. Journal
of Evidence-based Practices for Schools. 11(1), 62-83.
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2009).
Responsiveness-to-intervention and school-wide positive behavior supports:
Integration of multi-tiered approaches. Exceptionality, 17, 223-237.
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2008). What
we know and need to know about preventing problem behavior in schools. Exceptionality, 16, 67-77.
Sugai, G., &
Horner, R. H. (2002). The evolution
of discipline practices: School-wide positive behavior supports. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 24, 23-50.
Sugai, G., &
Horner, R. H. (1999). Discipline and behavioral support: Preferred processes
and practices. Effective
School Practices, 17(4), 10-22.
Horner, R. H., & Gresham, F. (2002). Behaviorally
effective school environments. In M. R. Shinn, G. Stoner, & H. M.
Walker (Eds), Interventions for academic
and behavior problems: Preventive and remedial approaches (pp. 315-350). National Association of School Psychologists. Silver Spring,
Horner, R. H., Dunlap, G. Hieneman, M., Lewis, T. J., Nelson, C. M., Scott, T.,
Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., III, Wickham, D.
Reuf, M., & Wilcox, B. (2000). Applying positive behavioral support and
functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavioral
Interventions, 2, 131-143.
Sugai, G., &
Horner, R. H., Fixsen, D., & Blase, K. (2010). Developing systems-level
capacity for RtI implementation: Current efforts and future directions. In T. A. Glover & S. Vaughn (Eds.). Response to intervention: Empowering all students to learn – A
critical account of the science and practice (pp. 286-309). New York:
Taylor-Greene, S., Brown, D., Nelson, L., Longton, J., Gassman, T.,
Cohen, J., Swartz, J., Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., & Hall, S. (1997). School-wide behavioral support: Starting the year off right. Journal of Behavioral Education, 7, 99-112.
Waasdorp, T. E., Bradshaw, C. P., & Leaf, P. J. (in press). The impact of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports on
bullying and peer rejection: A randomized control effectiveness trial. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Walker, H. M., Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J.
R., Bricker, D., & Kaufman, M. J. (1996).Integrated
approaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children
and youth. Journal
of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 4, 193-256.