Thursday, December 10, 2009

Positive Behavior Support in Schools - New Studies Focus on Social, Academic Outcomes

By Sherry Fox

Two recent studies focused on a positive reinforcement behavioral program designed to improve social and academic outcomes in schools.1,2 School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) is a five-year, multi-institutional program funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education.
George Sugai, PhD, developed SWPBS in the early 1990s to foster positive behavior in students. Today, he is co-director with Robert Horner, PhD, and Tim Lewis, PhD, of the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports under the federal Office of Special Education Programs.

More than 9,000 schools in 44 states have implemented SWPBS or are in the process of doing so. Schools that adopted the program have experienced 20 percent to 60 percent reductions in discipline referrals, fewer suspensions and expulsions, and reduced referrals of students to special education.

"Schools become effective learning environments not only through attention to quality curriculum and instruction but also by creating a school-wide culture that is predictable, consistent, positive and safe," Dr. Horner said in a press release on the new research. "Investing in the social behavior of students is central to achieving academic gains."

He led the recent study on SWPBS that involved elementary schools in Hawaii and Illinois. Third-graders at the schools enjoyed a safer environment and increased their mastery of state reading assessments compared to their peers in control schools. The academic gains did not result just from improved behavior support, the researchers noted, but likely from the new approach being coupled with effective instruction.

A second study looked at high schools that had adopted SWPBS. K. Brigid Flannery, PhD, and Cynthia Anderson, PhD, of the University of Oregon, teamed with Dr. Sugai in surveying 43 implementation team leaders in 12 states. Only half of the faculty members were supportive of SWPBS, and actual participation was even lower on the part of teachers, who felt that appropriate behavior is expected by high school students and rewards are not necessary.

The results suggested strong buy-in and commitment from teachers, administrators and students are needed for successful implementation. A minimum of 80 percent of teachers need to support the program, previous research has indicated. "More time is needed for high schools to secure faculty support and develop strategies to break down barriers to increase support," said Dr. Flannery, who led the study. The findings are considered preliminary because of a small sample size and lack of a control group.


  1. Horner, R., Sugai, G., Smolkowski, K., et al. (2009). A randomized, wait-list controlled effectiveness trial assessing school-wide positive behavior support in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11 (3): 133-44.
  2. Flannery, K.B., Sugai, G., Anderson, C.M. (2009). School-wide positive behavior support in high school: Early lessons learned. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11 (3): 177-85.

For More Information
  • National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, online:

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