Over 16,000 schools around the country are using versions of a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program to help monitor and improve misbehavior of students — and a recent Johns Hopkins study found that the program does produce an improvement in student attitude and behavior after four years.
Study leader Catherine P. Bradshaw of Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said that the idea for the study came to her when she realized that even though PBIS was was embraced and widely deployed, little research exists on its actual impact.
She and her colleagues have been following 37 Maryland elementary schools that were randomly assigned to start the PBIS program or not. They found that after four years, teachers at schools with the program typically reported more positive behaviors among their students – like sharing and cooperating with each other – versus teachers at the other schools.
The teachers also reported fewer incidents of bullying and much less classroom disruption. In more concrete terms, schools that implemented PBIS cut down on the number of students being sent to the principal's office for behavior infractions by nearly a third.
The study is particularly valuable because Bradshaw and her group are completely independent. They didn't participate in PBIS design, nor was the study funded by anyone who was.
The PBIS program has three "tiers." The first tier is the basic program that is implemented school-wide. That means all students learn about what behaviors are expected of them, like "keeping your hands to yourself" when you're in the hallway or speaking up when you see another kid being bullied.
During the course of the study, teachers in targeted schools filled out questionnaires about the behavior of each of their students. The scores were combined using a mathematical formula developed by the researchers which allowed the schools to be compared to each other. In the final results, PBIS schools reported better student behavior than schools that weren't using the program.
Bradshaw pointed out that the effects could be magnified if the schools also attempted to implement the part of PBIS that deals specifically with problematic students. The schools covered in the study all used the PBIS "tier" that covered the entirety of the student body.
Bradshaw noted that the results of the study strongly suggest that many schools would benefit greatly from embracing the program — especially in light of the fact that putting it in place isn't very difficult.
As for the logistics of starting PBIS in schools, it doesn't seem too intrusive, Bradshaw said. Schools basically send a "team," consisting of a few teachers and administrators, to a two-day training session with the PBIS developers.