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Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) in Elementary Schools and in Impoverished Settings
Extensive research has been carried out examining the design and implementation of Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) programs in schools, districts, and on even larger state scales. The research is highly consistent in finding positive effects on behavior and learning through the successful implementation of PBIS programs, however there are significant variations found in implementation schemes and in the environmental effects on the success of PBIS programs and interventions. Less research specifically pertaining to the implementation of PBIS on Title I elementary schools is available, however the literature that has been produced in this area clearly suggests difficulties in implementation but some measure of success when programs can be successfully designed and carried out.
There are currently approximately ten-thousand or more schools that have implemented PBIS programs (based on the latest data available and ongoing growth trends in the prevalence of these programs), which exist as school-wide and universal staff behavioral programs meant to encourage and elicit desired behaviors from students (Bradshaw et al., 2008; Bradshaw et al., 2010). Organizational health, a metric that includes assessments of resource influence, staff affiliation, and other elements, has been found to be a strong mediating factor in the degree of success found in the implementation of PBIS programs in elementary schools (Bradshaw et al., 2008). This could have significant negative effects for impoverished schools.
Program fidelity has been identified as a specific issue in the successful implementation of PBIS programs in schools, with a lack of staff/instructor fidelity to the specific tasks and approaches recommended by program leading to reduced positive outcomes or effects at all (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Using a longitudinal study of disciplinary measures such as student suspensions and office discipline referrals as means of determining how effectively behavior in the student population had been modified by PBIS programs, and what the relationship between program fidelity and program effectiveness is, it has been demonstrated that high fidelity is associated with less disciplinary action required, and with staff training an essential part of achieving high fidelity (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Again, Title I schools would be at a disadvantage with fewer resources to commit to training programs for instructors and instructors that tend to be more overworked (Barnes, 2002).
Looking beyond simple program fidelity confirms the conclusion that training is of utmost importance in achieving the benefits of PBIS programs, which is encouraging in that it provides concrete means for implementing these programs but discouraging from a resource point-of-view (Bradshaw et al., 2008a). More specifically, training and behavior support in the area of developing strategies for defining goals and teaching expectations has been shown to be effective in producing positive outcomes largely independently from issues of response to violations and discipline (Bradshaw et al., 2008a). While still requiring additional resources this does provide some suggestion as to how limited resources can best be allocated.
Rolling out training on a state-wide basis has also been shown to be highly effective in terms of achieving high levels of PBIS program implementation, adherence, and benefit, and can be far more resource efficient than a school-by-school implementation and training program (Horner et al., 2009). Though PBIS programs must be implemented at the institutional level and require full-school but not necessarily system-wide adoption and implementation, system-wide PBIS initiatives show a great deal of overall and institution-specific success (Horner et al., 2009). Lower disciplinary action needs and a universal increase in PBIS practices and expected outcomes was observed in two states, Hawaii and Illinois, that implemented system-wide PBIS programs (Honer et al., 2009). Greater resource efficiency on a state-wide level and the state provision of training personnel and resources would have an enormous impact on the ability of Title I schools to effectively implement PBS programs.
Maryland has also implemented a largely successful and comprehensively researched PBIS program, though it has not been implemented on a truly state-wide basis as of yet (Bradshaw & Pas, 2011). The extensive study conducted on this program and its effects have allowed provided a great deal of insight into the specific situation in the state and broader implications for general PBIS program implementation. Distinctions between certain district- and school-level factors influencing the level of program adoption and success have been identified, with implementation quality apparently tied only to school-level issues (Bradshaw & Pas, 2011). This, again, does not bode well for specific resource-strapped institutions.
Initially, the Maryland program seemed to show greater promise, with a higher level of implementation than witnessed in subsequent years and a more consistent level of program fidelity and quality from institution to institution, but PBIS adoption declined over the course of several years and quality levels fell in some schools, as well (Barrett et al., 2008; Bradshaw & Pas, 2011). Assessments of the program's structure and efficacy during its first years were quite optimistic, suggesting that the school-level issues and factors noted in subsequent research might be the primary cause of ultimate adoption/rejection decisions and program quality when it comes to PBIS programs (Barrett et al., 2008; Bradshaw & Pas, 2011). State resources might not be as effective in schools with lower levels of resources and serving lower-income communities even if programs are well designed, then.
In an attempt to address certain of the issues and problems identified in the Maryland PBIS implementation program, researchers have looked into the basic impetus and foundation of the program, namely a partnership between the Maryland State Department of Education, Sheppard Pratt Health System, and Johns Hopkins University (Bradshaw et al., 2012). Though there were certain complications that might have adversely affected the program, on balance the partnership was seen as largely successful, and effectively promoted significant adoption of the PBIS initiative through clear evidenced-based practices and adequate training processes (Bradshaw et al., 2012). How such partnerships can better drive institution-specific success is not examined, however, providing no assistance to schools facing specific troubles.
Specific institutional needs and the requirements of at-risk student populations have been identified as problematic in other literature on the topic, as well (Debnam et al., 2012). While most schools involved in a large-scale system-wide PBIS program showed large levels of compliance and the expected effects of successful program implementation, no schools achieved Tier 1 performance targets, and schools with more intensive needs were found to show far lower levels of successful adoption or the effects of program implementation in those schools that were able to achieve some degree of operational success with the PBIS program (Debnam et al., 2012). Demographic analysis specifically showed that schools serving impoverished communities and populations are at a severe detriment when it comes to the implementation and proper success of PBIS programs (Debnam et al., 2012).
Bradshaw et al. (2009) have also identified a somewhat cyclical and an unquestionably co-influential relationship between organizational health and PBIS adoption and success, with similar implications for schools serving at-risk and low-income communities. High levels of initial organizational health have been recognized as strong indicators of successful PBIS program implementation, and low-organizational health is associated both with increased difficulty in implementation and lower success rates (Bradhshaw et al., 2009). This research also showed, however, that organizations are able to improve organizational health through the implementation of PBIS programs, and especially so for organizations that begin with lower than typical organizational health (Bradshaw et al., 2009).
While major improvements in discipline and behavioral issues have been seen in every piece of research examining successful PBIS implementations, there has not been success in all desired levels of school and environmental change with the adoption of these programs (Ryoo & Hong, 2011). Accountability for instructors and for schools was hypothesized by many to be positively influenced by PBIS implementation, however empirical examinations of schools before and after successful PBIS adoption shows no statistical difference in measurable levels of accountability for either individual staff members or institutions as a whole (Ryoo & Hong, 2011). Accountability also does not appear to have an impact on PBIS implementation success, so the additional oversight and accountability associated with many Title I schools serving impoverished communities will not serve to in any way to balance the disadvantages these schools experience in terms of pure resource control (Ryoo & Hong, 2011).
Schools at a resource disadvantage that also serve significant populations of students with emotional or behavioral disorders are faced with an especially difficult challenge when it comes to successful PBIS program implementation (Lewis et al., 2010). Though PBIS programs have been demonstrated to be effective in dealing with emotional and behavioral disorders in a proactive and preemptive fashion that reduces disciplinary interruptions and enhances the learning environment, program design and adoption is made difficult by both political and financial constraints (Lewis et al., 2010). Achieving real success in this regard involves a series of abstract and concrete obstacles, then, all of which increase for schools in poorer communities.
Examining the issue of impoverished schools and PBIS program implementation from a more positive perspective, the literature shows…[continue]
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