Data-based Decision Making

Paper with bar charts on a table with a pen
A defining feature of PBIS is continuous improvement driven by data. Teams collect and analyze data to diagnose problems or gaps and select strategies to address these challenges. Data tell us which strategies are most effective so we continue to include them in our repertoire.

What Is Data-Based Decision Making?

Data are an integral part of PBIS implementation, woven throughout every practice and system across every tier. School teams who use data to make decisions about student challenges are more effective and efficient than teams who don’t include data in their process. In PBIS, the data used most frequently fall into three categories: implementation fidelity, student outcomes, and screening. The first step to using data to make decisions is to figure out which questions teams want to answer. Once they have these questions, they can figure out which data to collect.

Implementation Fidelity Data

Teams rely on fidelity data to assess and monitor how closely adults implement practices the way they were intended to be implemented, and whether the systems supporting these practices are in place.When used in conjunction with student outcome data, implementation data also inform teams whether practices match student needs.

Student Outcome Data

Most schools and districts implementing PBIS focus on outcomes such as office discipline referrals, suspensions, school climate (as reported by staff, students, and parents), attendance, and academic performance. The student outcome data teams use will depend on the questions they look to answer.

Screening Data

Screening data help schools identify which students could benefit from additional supports. Universal screeners give a school-wide picture of how all students are doing – which students are progressing and which students are having more difficulty. Additional assessments and progress monitoring help teams pinpoint a students’ risk and choose solutions that match with students’ needs.

Why Use Data to Make Decisions?

Data provide educators with an objective way to assess how well they are improving student outcomes. Data help everyone identify strengths to build upon for increasing success. For all students to achieve social and academic success, teams must create systems that address equity and build cultural knowledge.

Foundational Elements of Data-Based Decisions

While there are many ways to incorporate data into a decision-making process, there are two foundational elements required:

  • Decision-focused data systems
  • Team-focused decision making

Decision-focused Data Systems

Collecting data isn’t hard. Finding efficient ways to report the data collected is more important. Entering data into systems with a focus on decision-making helps teams take advantage of their most limited resource:time.

Implementation Fidelity Data Systems

Teams assess their PBIS implementation fidelity regularly to be sure they continue to do what they said they would do. Teams can take these surveys on paper and manage the calculations on their own, or they can enter and report these data online in PBIS Assessment, a free, online application to do just that. Teams log in to PBIS Assessment and launch the survey they are scheduled to take. Once a team member or coordinator enters the data, they are immediately available to view in reports.

Discipline Data Systems

When it comes to making decisions about student behavior,office discipline referrals (ODR) are one piece of outcome data schools regularly collect. When it comes to ODRs, there are many data collection options available. As teams make decisions about which option will work best for them, there are a few recommendations to look for in a data system:

  • Every referral entered includes the following data:
    • Date and time
    • Student name
    • Referring staff name
    • Student grade level
    • Location
    • Behavior
    • Perceived motivation
    • Others involved
    • Action taken
  • Data can be easily disaggregated by race and ethnicity
  • Efficient, up-to-date, accessible reports allow teams to create precision problem statements described in the team-based decision process below.

Team-based Decision Process

It’s possible to analyze data on your own, looking for trends, and implementing solutions. However, when tackled alone, you get a singular view of the data without some of the nuance. A team-based approach incorporates multiple perspectives and generates complete solutions.

An image of a lightbulb is used to symbolize the team-initiated problem solving process.  The point of connection between the bulb and the electrical current consists of important meeting foundations like agenda and logstics. The light bulb is illuminated by the problem solving process which has the collection and use of data at the center of it.
A TIPS process centered on data.

Team Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS)

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TIPS is a research-validated framework to use during any team meeting focused on data-driven decision making. In the TIPS model, every team needs a minute taker , a facilitator, a data analyst, and at least one additional person available to be a backup to these roles if anyone is absent.

Identify the Problem with Precision

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Teams looking at data are likely to come across discrepancies between expected performance and actual performance. To identify precisely what problem the team needs to solve, it needs to include:

  • What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Disruptions? Reading fluency?
  • Where is the problem happening?
  • When is the problem likely to occur?
  • Who contributes to the problem most often? A few students? A specific grade level?
  • Why does the problem seem to keep happening?

Identify a Goal

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With a problem defined with precision, teams describe how they’ll know when a problem is resolved. What does success look like? When do you expect to see the problem resolved? Goals should be measurable so that teams will be able to say with clarity whether the problem persists.

Identify Solutions and Create a Plan

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Based on the data teams have available, they next answer the question: What are we going to do? Solutions should fit the context of the problem. Solutions should include ideas for:

  • Prevention strategies
  • Teaching approaches
  • Opportunities to recognize desired behaviors
  • Ways to stop unwanted behaviors
  • Strategies to deliver consequences for unwanted behaviors

Whatever the solution teams identify, they need to document who will implement specific components, by when, and how to monitor its effectiveness over time.

Implement the Solution

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Teams continually go back to the plan they created and checkoff the steps they said they would complete. This helps monitor the fidelity of the solution’s implementation. Some solutions may have associated assessments or checklists. Whatever teams do, they should know where they are in the implementation plan at all times.

Monitor the Solution’s Impact

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In this phase of decision making, teams look to answer the question: Did it work? Teams go back to the data they collected to check whether they have met the goal, showed progress, or gotten worse. Measuring the impact ties directly back to the measurable goal teams set in the first decision-making steps.

Decide What to Do Next

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At this point, teams need to determine how to proceed. Do they continue working toward the goal? Are there modifications they need to make to be more successful? Do we need to revise our goal to make it measurable or feasible? This is a refining step where teams make decisions together on how to move forward.

Tiers of Data-Based Decision Making

Common measures inform data-based decision making across all three tiers. Teams at each tier need to consider different levels of analysis (e.g., building level, classroom level, student level).

Tier 1

Tier 1 Teams review school-level data monthly to monitor the impact Tier 1 practices have on students. Based on these data, teams make adjustments as needed. Although district evaluation plans vary, many Tier 1Teams complete the Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI) one to three times per year and obtain yearly input and satisfaction information from students, families, and school personnel.

Tier 2

With Tier 1 systems in place, school teams should draft decision rules for identifying students who need additional supports. Data used as part of the identification process may include:

  • Office discipline referrals
  • Suspensions
  • Classroom minor behaviors
  • Instructional time lost
  • Academic performance
  • Attendance and/or tardies

Teacher referrals and systemic school-wide screening can also be used. Once students receive Tier 2 supports, teams review data every other week to monitor student progress. Additionally, schools can conduct the TFI to evaluateTier 2 systems fidelity.

Tier 3

Similar to Tier 2 considerations and decision rule strategies, data-based decision rules should be established to identify students who require Tier 3 supports. Likewise, data should be used to progress-monitor individual student plans. Annually, teams can conduct a TFI to assess Tier3 systems fidelity.

Get Started Using Data to Make Decisions

Adopt a Discipline Data Collection System

Schools and districts should use an electronic discipline data management system with the capacity to enter data, and to report data based on the team’s identified questions.

Useful discipline referral fields include:

  • Date and time
  • Student name
  • Referring staff name
  • Student grade level
  • Location
  • Behavior
  • Perceived motivation
  • Others involved
  • Action taken

Data can be easily disaggregated by race and ethnicity.

Collect Fidelity Data

Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI) — There are many tools available to assess a school’s overall PBIS implementation. The Center on PBIS recommend staking the Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI), a research-validated measure to assess how closely school personnel apply the core features of PBIS. The TFI includes three separate surveys – one for assessing each tier. Use each survey separately or in combination with one another. Schools at every stage of implementation may use the TFI to assess anytier.

Additional surveys include:

Create a Standardized Team Meeting Agenda Template

Agendas for team meetings need to incorporate a data-based decision making process to address implementation priorities. Within the TIPS framework, the meeting minute worksheet serves this purpose. An example template is available to download and adapt to fit your team needs.

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Resources in this section include assessments, blueprints, examples, and materials to aid in implementing PBIS.


Publications listed below include every eBook, monograph, brief, and guide written by the PBIS Technical Assistance Center.


Presentations about their experiences, published research, and best practices from recent sessions, webinars, and trainings


Recordings here include keynotes and presentations about PBIS concepts as well tips for implementation.