The Effectiveness of PBIS on Student Behavior in Urban Schools

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 14
Words: 3912
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: PhD


This dissertation examines the effectiveness of implementing PBIS in changing the behavior problems of students in urban schools. The behavior of learners is seen as an integral aspect that plays a significant role in the promotion of academic performance. The ever-changing technological landscape has continually influenced the nature of the learning environment thereby making it impulsive. The dissertation reveals that various schools, especially in the US, are striving to improve the performance of students by managing adverse behaviors that can result in insufficient relation to the national education goals. However, it is revealed that there is inadequate evidence on the effectiveness of the interventions used for alleviating negative student behavior. Various pieces of literature included in the dissertation also show information on the presence of negative behaviors amongst students, discipline approaches, and the effectiveness of the PBIS in the alleviation of such cases.

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Managing behavior problems in an urban school can pose a touch challenge to educators. Some of the problem behaviors exhibited by urban school students can be severe and intense. More specifically, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) (2009), high school students are more likely to report gang-related behaviors than middle or rural schools. Educators, policymakers, and school administrators are responsible for improving academic excellence, increasing social competence, and providing a secure learning environment. Dealing with the disruptive behaviors of students is a challenging undertaking that has raised the concern of pedagogical stakeholders in many schools. Scholars have devised positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS) instruction tool as an appropriate model to create a safe environment that is conducive to learning environment and acceptable behavior in the classroom (Hinton & Buchanan, 2015). A behavior plan analysis was undertaken based on a three-year plan data gathered at the Blanche Ely High School to test the effectiveness of PBIS in tacking undesired student’s behaviors and outcomes. The present research proposal seeks to examine the effectiveness of PBIS in changing behavior problems in an urban setting.

Problem Statement

Students’ behavior is an integral factor that underpins academic performance. Research continues to show that the modern learning environment has increasingly become unpredictable. In the wake of web 2.0 tools including digital media, smartphones, and tablets, the spread of information has become easier than ever thought before. Urban schools stand a greater risk of witnessing negative students’ behaviors than those located in rural areas. Recent research has shown students get into dangerous behavior including radicalization, homosexuality, cyberbullying, violence, and gender-based victimization (Allodi, 2010). As such, the management of students to behaviors has gained increased attention to protecting them from indulging in dangerous groups such as terrorists, serial killers, and rape gangs.

The implementation of the school-wide positive behavior interventions and support with students has been deemed as an effective strategy to handle behavioral challenges in schools. The proposed study seeks to investigate the suitability of positive behavior interventions in addressing behavioral problems of students in an urban school. The PBIS is a tested and proven model of behavior management that scholars have praised for its effectiveness. Given the changing behavior of students due to diversity and exposure to the wave of changes witnessed in areas of technology and information sharing, educators have been obliged by the school districts and governments to adopt proactive mechanisms in containing unacceptable behaviors in learning environments. Research shows that despite maintaining safe and conducive learning environments, school educators reveal that cases of disruptive and challenging behavior among learners. Incidences of school shootings have risen in the recent past, providing an inevitable danger of negative students’ behaviors. Most learning institutions have utilized typical interventions that are described as being punitive rather than positive. Reactive and punitive behavior interventions have proved futile in many cases necessitating the need for advanced school-wide behavior intervention programs. This need led to the birth of PBIS. However, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of PBIS in managing behavior problems.

Background and Justification

Schools and districts in the United States are under building pressure to demonstrate improved students’ performance while preventing negative behaviors responsible for violence in learning institutions among other undesired behavioral practices (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). Besides, there has been an increased passage of legislation requiring districts and schools to address cases of bullying and school dropouts. Keiser and Schulte (2009) note that creating a positive school climate while building a sense of community is key component to producing a successful school environment for all stakeholders. A social-emotionally balanced school also has a positive impact on student performance (Pas, Cash, O’Brennan, Debnam, & Bradshaw, 2015)

According to Keiser and Schulte (2009), increasing academic performance, enhancing social and emotional skills, and even retaining quality teachers are all related to a positive school climate. It is important to note that PBIS has been in place in many schools (Young, Caldarella, Richardson, & Young, 2011). However, the difference in archival policies and period that these programs have been in place, presents difficulties in gathering actual information regarding discipline issues including office referrals for undesired students’ behavior (Hinton & Buchanan, 2015). Since teachers are the first handlers of students’ behavioral issues through reports or directly witnessing incidents, they form part of the respondents for the proposed study (Crone & Hawken, 2010).

The present study is an extension of a previous study that embodied the application of a behavior plan analysis conducted to test the effectiveness of PBIS on changing negative student behavior. This analysis was based on a three-year behavior referral plan from data collected at the Blanche Ely High School. From the analysis, it was realized that a positive behavior support system was effective in reducing negative behavior incidences among students. A positive behavior support system is a plan that is used in schools to provide students with the support they need to succeed in both their educational and social lives while in school.

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The analysis provides vital hindsight into the usefulness of PBIS that can be advanced by the proposed study. For example, it reveals that a workable intervention framework ought to use ideas that are applicable in a wide set of schools. With the alleviation of unruly and disruptive behavior, the school can realize a reduction in fighting and violence. In turn, this situation will provide positive results such as a safe learning and teaching environment besides fostering a sense of respect amongst the students and teachers. The support plan provides a framework for the accomplishment of the desired school objectives. Once the implementation of the plan is realized, the school stands in a better position to accomplish its vision and mission (Biglan et al., 2013).

In a study conducted by Keiser and Schulte (2009), the school climate at two elementary schools, one urban and one suburban were compared by measuring 179 fourth and fifth-grade students’ and 65 teachers’ perceptions of their schools’ ethical climate. It was also noted that while students from both schools reported positive perceptions of school culture, the perceptions of school culture amongst urban teachers were significantly less positive as compared to their suburban counterparts in student to teacher/learning environment and student-to-student interactions, and significantly less positive as compared to their urban students.

According to Biglan et al. (2013), a positive behavior support plan can address the schools’ expectations of what constitutes positive behavior. In addition, the teachers are motivated to teach well-behaved and obedient students. Furthermore, they can monitor and acknowledge students whenever they engage in the desired behavioral patterns. Moreover, the school can correct the problem using a well-laid plan whereby they collect information with a view of using it to analyze each student’s behavior. This plan helps them guide their decision-making skills (Yukl, 2012). Besides, the students benefit from the acquisition of various leadership positions in the school administration. Such positions are assigned to some students due to positive behavior developed by the support plan.

PBIS has been shown to result in positive behavioral changes as well as improve the entire school atmosphere with regard to the Blanche Ely High School. The sustenance plan has created positive actions as far as student-teacher relationships are concerned (Crone & Hawken, 2010). This state of affairs shows that a positive behavior support plan minimizes unruly and disobedient behavior among students. At the same time, it introduces a positive behavior culture in the schools. Further research, should be conducted to test the effectiveness of PBIS in an urban setting, which is the focus of the proposed study.

Deficiencies in the Evidence

Many educators have praised the use of PBIS to model student behavior. However, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of the intervention strategy. Numerous articles reveal mention the potential benefit of utilizing positive behavior interventions, but only a few provide substantial evidence on its application where it resulted intangible results. Nevertheless, a growing body of evidence shows that school administrators, the state, school districts, and other stakeholders show their confidence in the effectiveness of PBIS.


The proposed study involves various stakeholders including teachers, school administrators, and the students who are the principal participants. The effect of PBIS is expected to be felt by the state, the surrounding community, the school district, educators, and teachers among other stakeholders. Most importantly, the study will provide information to the district regarding the school’s position in the implementation of the PBIS as a mechanism for addressing behavioral challenges as required by the State’s legislation.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed study is to investigate the effectiveness of positive behavior interventions in addressing negative behaviors of students in an urban school. The successful implementation of PBIS in high schools is underpinned by several factors. First, it is important to win the buy-in of teachers, who are the principal stakeholders since they are closer to the students as compared to any other people in the school ecosystem. Thereby, teachers’ perceptions and their support of the PBIS are very critical for the successful use of PBIS. Second, the study will take special consideration on the support given by the school administrators for the successful application of PBIS. Resources must be availed to ensure that specialists have all they require to provide adequate training to the teachers on the successful application of PBIS. The proposed study will look into these and many other factors that are likely to boost the workability of the intervention. In addition, the study will delve into the challenges that are likely to face the implementation of PBIS in an urban high school.

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Definition of Terms

Cyberbullying: This is a newly coined concept that embodies the use of digital technology including social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and Google+ among others to molest others (Juvonen & Gross, 2008). Students use these social media sites to share confidential information about targeted colleagues to mock them publicly. These acts have devastating effects on the target individuals. The electronic devices utilized for cyberbullying include computers, cell phones, and the Internet.

Effective PBIS: Tiered instructional tools used as interventions programs aimed at addressing negative students’ behaviors including cyberbullying, violence, victimization, and stereotyping (Gorgueiro, 2008). The implementation of the interventions as part of the school’s PBIS aims at achieving the desired behavior outcomes of students.

Fidelity of Implementation: This is a planned and consistent implementation of evidence-based instructional designs coupled with the teachers’ integrity (Juvonen & Gross, 2008). Fidelity of implementation is a proactive team-based mechanism that addresses student problems such as dropouts, bullying, victimization, and anti-social behavior among others (Sugai & Horner, 2002).

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS): These are school-based processes aimed at creating safe learning environments and building positive school culture and climate through establishing school-wide expectations (Wright & McCurdy, 2011). The programs use specific interventions to deal with and prevent undesired behaviors among students.

Students Outcomes: These are the anticipated behavioral changes in the context of a learning environment. Reduction in negative behaviors such as cyberbullying, and disruptive practices in the classroom is the desired outcome for PBIS (McIntosh, Filter, Bennett, Ryan, & Sugai, 2010). In addition, reducing disciplinary actions stemming from office referrals and school suspension and/or expulsion, and dropouts are vital for students’ outcomes. The overall desired outcomes include increased school attendance and improved academic performance (Wright & McCurdy, 2011).

Office Discipline Referral (ODR): This is a document in the form of writing provided to school administrators regarding undesired student behavior of students (McIntosh & Frank, 2010). The submission calls for action in response to the negative behaviors. Office referrals serve the purpose of data reporting on the occurrence of negative behavior and related problems in schools.

Literature Review

This chapter will examine existing literature regarding the effectiveness of PBIS in tackling behavioral problems. The world is witnessing major changes that have significant impacts on students’ behavior (Simonsen & Sugai, 2013). Students are not shielded from the influence of technological changes such as the revolution of digital media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr among others. The emergence of these social media sites has heightened the spread of diverse cultures globally. For instance, the practice of cyberbullying, which is a negative students behavior takes place online. Students have been shown to use social media avenues to spread rumors and share multimedia of their colleagues as a means of bullying them. A growing body of research shows that cyberbullying has the potential to harm student lives as some end up committing suicide following the humiliation that accompanies the practice (Eber, Sugai, Smith, & Scott, 2002). Additional negative student behavioral practices include physical bullying, violence, female student victimization, stereotyping, and school dropouts. Individual students, the school at large, districts, and the nation can feel the impact of negative behaviors. Individual student effects include suspension and/or expulsion from school, teacher’s demotivation and stress (Simonsen & Sugai, 2013). The school administrators face the challenge of handling office discipline referrals as making decisions to justify the suspension of students exhibiting negative behaviors consumes time among other resources.

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When cases of undesired behaviors escalate, the school administrators can easily attract criticisms and reputation compromise (Simonsen & Sugai, 2013). The States’ legislation requires that schools apply whatever strategies deemed effective to uphold positive behavior of learners besides creating a safe learning environment. The heightened awareness of practices such as cyberbullying and violence amongst the students has compelled pedagogical experts to devise school-wide positive behavioral interventions and support (SWPBIS) tools in an attempt to resolve the challenge (McIntosh et al., 2013).

PIBS refers to the school-based application of behavioral approaches and interventions aimed at effecting behavior change in learning environments (Curtis, Van Horne, Robertson, & Karvonen, 2010). It is a noncurricular model flexible enough to be adopted in varied school contexts including elementary, high school, and higher learning levels (Hinton & Buchanan, 2015). The model applies a three-tiered, public health system-wide structure to implement a continuum that integrates academic programs and behavioral change strategies. The universal (Tier 1), selective (Tier 2), and indicated (Tier 3) systems are utilized to enhance outcomes for students (Hinton & Buchanan, 2015). These outcomes include the abandonment of negative behaviors (positive behavior change), and the reduction of office discipline referrals as well as reducing of the number of suspended students out of the negative behavior.

A growing body of literature suggests that PBIS has brought positive changes within all school levels including elementary, middle, high schools across the United States. Nevertheless, researchers have identified several challenges affecting the successful implementation of PBIS in schools. According to Hinton & Buchanan (2015), two challenges emerged including the mobilization of teacher perceptions and behavior and managing the resources required for sustaining the programs (Young et al., 2011). These challenges have been cited as important earmarks of the critical stages of PBIS implementation (Swain-Bradway, Pinkney, & Flannery, 2015).

Mobilizing how teachers align with and incorporate their tasks and roles is one of the identified challenges affecting the workability of PBIS (Osher, Bear, Sprague, & Doyle, 2010). Hinton & Buchanan (2015) reveal that changing teachers from isolated content to integrated implementation is a tough task. In this regard, scholars call for the use of systems that promote widespread adoption and sustainability of new practices such as PBIS programs (Swain-Bradway et al., 2015). Failure to utilize systems that ensure continued commitment to the program, the staff members can easily revert to traditional intervention strategies approaches (Hinton & Buchanan, 2015).

An outstanding challenge facing fidelity implementation lies in the system utilized in most schools. Some learning institutions have been shown to operate in discrete systems that are likely to bar staff members from forming an accurate view of the entirety of the culture and climate prevailing in the institutions. As such, the view of student behavior may be limited to small groups in which the teachers are affiliated or campus location. Therefore, due to the discrete nature of most schools, teachers may not be in a viable position to gather accurate data regarding the widespread behavioral practices among students. Hence, gauging the prevailing school climate that warrants the use of PBIS is not easy for the staff members (Swain-Bradway et al., 2015).

According to Osher et al. (2010), it is an extension of the classroom behavior management to the school-wide, environmental, and school climate change affecting students and staff members. Educational experts supporting the adoption of PBIS argue that positive behavior frameworks should be geared towards reducing problem behaviors portrayed by individual students or occurring in classroom contexts and the school-wide environment (Keiser & Schulte, 2009). Integrating assimilated support systems that involve all the stakeholders including families, the school, classrooms, and communities can help to elude behavior problems that arise within learning settings (Osher et al., 2010).

The underlying goal of using PBIS is to guide teachers in modeling students to become positive and form a responsible society through the instruction of socially desired behavioral practices. For PBIS to yield desired outcomes, Osher et al. (2010) outline three core elements including prevention, multi-tiered support, and databased decision-making. Other scholars identify key aspects that are standard prerequisites for the successful implementation of PBIS (Snyder et al., 2011). These core concepts include integrated practices, databased systems pointing out desired outcomes, and most importantly a seamless combination of these elements and procedures across all environments within the learning institution setting.

The school culture forms the focal point of student behaviors and community perceptions (Bradshaw, Mitchell, & Leaf, 2010). Therefore, PBIS should focus on the social and academic breakthrough based on the entire school’s climate as it emphasizes solving the problem behaviors of students. The implementation of PBIS is achieved with the use of several vital tools in a bid to prevent undesirable behavior problems that can impede academic growth and success (Dutton, Varjas, Meyers, & Collins, 2010). These tools put student needs at the center. Thus, all frameworks of PBIS implementation tools must be measurable to determine the level of appropriateness. The most common tool utilized in PBIS implementation is the School Evaluation Tool (SET) (Wheatley et al., 2009). SET is used to measure the fidelity implementation of all the PBIS frameworks. With the use of data gathered from some sources, SET determines the level of success of PBIS frameworks. The data can be obtained through staff and students’ interviews, evaluation observations, and a comprehensive review of other data sources. A research-validated implement evaluates the features of PBIS programs in a school. The evaluation is used to determine several aspects regarding the PBIS including the level of implementation in a school setting, its effect, the level of training, and technical assistance efforts offered directly to the fidelity implementation. Besides, it helps to assess if the PBIS correlates with positive behavior change and school culture (Wheatley et al., 2009).

Research shows that a school-wide behavior support system correlates positively with the reduction of office disciplinary referrals. A study conducted in various high schools by Flannery, Sugai, and Anderson (2009) shows that the schools implementing PBIS first focused on addressing discipline and establishing cooperation and dedication amongst the staff before implementation. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics (2009), schools that supported PBIS fidelity implementation for over 3 years reported over a 20% reduction in ODRs. Researchers suggest that further research should be carried out to determine if setting teacher expectations and acknowledging behaviors as crucial elements of initial stages of PBIS implementation could lead to a decrease in ODR patterns thereby resulting in additional instructional time (Thompson & Webber, 2010). The SET is a suitable tool for measuring the need for teacher training and assessing the impact of employee development tasked with the PBIS implementation (Wright & McCurdy, 2011).

Additionally, the SET approach is useful in measuring the sustained use of PBIS procedures in urban high schools as well as establishing local strategies for setting up the school-wide PBS outcomes. Given that PBIS is a data-dependent framework, teachers who have limited skills in data management can have negative perceptions of the program (Sherrod, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009). In this vein, providing adequate training on data collection and other handling techniques to the teachers can help build positive perceptions. In effect, positive perceptions will easily correlate with positive behavioral outcomes owing to teacher commitment to fidelity implementation (Feuerborn, Tyre, & King, 2015). The core team members of PBIS including the staff members must possess adequate knowledge of all features and elements to allow for fidelity implementation across the continuum (Scherer, 2003). Teachers must be competent on how to handle school data, teaching and rewarding acceptable behaviors exhibited by students (Feuerborn et al., 2015). In addition, Fallon, McCarthy, and Sanetti (2014) maintain that plans should be devised on how to support staff’s efforts geared towards behavior change management, which forms a critical step in the exploration phase of the PBIS implementation.

For desirable outcomes of PBS in urban high schools, teachers must receive adequate training on its components. Teachers must be given examples of classroom examples lesson plans, information on both classroom and office management behaviors, and a rationale for posting expectations. The core team members of PBIS including the staff members must possess adequate knowledge on all features and elements to allow for fidelity implementation across the continuum (Scherer, 2003). Teachers must be competent on how to handle school data, teaching and rewarding acceptable behaviors exhibited by students. Furthermore, Fallon et al. (2014) posit that plans should be devised on how to support staff’s efforts geared toward behavior change management, which forms a critical step in the exploration phase of PBIS implementation.


The school educators need to be aware that PBS can be implemented in diverse settings including urban high schools (Flannery et al., 2009). To achieve this objective, the stakeholders need to take note of several factors. According to Bradshaw et al. (2010), these contingent factors include direct teaching of anticipated behavior, recognizing those behaviors through a reward system, and employing measures at the building phase to increase the students’ outcomes. Moreover, team readiness, leadership distribution across the PBIS personnel, and intensive professional development for the entire staff regarding the vital components of PBIS.

Research Questions

The present study will be guided by the following research questions:

  1. What impact do positive behavior interventions have on students’ problem behaviors?
  2. What are the major problem behaviors prevalent in urban schools that can be addressed by PBIS?
  3. What challenges are likely to face the fidelity implementation phase of PBIS?
  4. What role do teachers play in the integration of PBIS while guiding on learning activities of students?
  5. What are vital components of school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports that underpin the fidelity implementation?

Reference List

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Crone, D., & Hawken, L. (2010). Responding to Problem Behavior in Schools: The behavior Education Program. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Curtis, R., Van Horne, J., Robertson, P., & Karvonen, M. (2010). Outcomes of a school-wide positive behavioral support program. Professional School Counseling, 13(3), 159-164.

Dutton, A., Varjas, K., Meyers, J., & Collins, A. (2010). General education teachers’ perceptions of behavior management and intervention strategies. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 12(2), 86-102.

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