Newsletter ? Spring 2012

RSU #10 Shares What They Have Learned About PBIS Over the Past Three Years

Districts are not alone as they face issues regarding the social behavior of students.? During the past three years, RSU #10 has been using the framework of Positive Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to support ALL students K-12.? At every stage of implementation, our schools have seen positive change as well as learned a great deal during the process.? This newsletter summarizes key aspects of the work that made the initiative in our district so successful.? We hope what we have learned can help other WMEC districts.

How to Implement Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in Maine Schools

School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is currently being implemented in over 16,000 schools across the United States. Implementation is also reportedly occurring internationally in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Currently, over 100 schools in Maine are implementing SWPBIS. Recently, PBIS-Maine, a group of University of Maine System faculty (Pat Red (USM), Brian Cavanaugh (UMF), Rebekah Bickford (USM), and Jim Artesani (UMaine)), wrote and disseminated a white paper on the implementation of SWPBIS in Maine schools. This article is excerpted from that paper. Information on how to obtain a copy of the entire paper can be found at the end of this article.

Nationally, and in Maine, Schools are under increased pressure to ensure that all of their students are ready for higher education or the workforce upon completion of high school. This goal is made increasingly difficult by scarce funding and multiple, often competing, initiatives within schools. Meeting this goal requires that every student receive effective academic instruction and social behavioral support based on individual need. Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) are efficient, theoretically sound, evidence-based frameworks for providing effective academic and social behavioral support to all students in grades K-12. Recently, MTSS such as Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) have received significant attention by schools and policy makers.

Student social behavior is one of the strongest predictors of future academic success. Indeed, students with emotional and behavioral difficulties have arguably the poorest school and post-school outcomes among school age children and youth. A recent synthesis of epidemiological studies by the National Research Council estimates that between 14 and 20% of youth experience mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. Unfortunately, only 1-2% of students with EBD receive Special Education services under the federal Special Education category of Emotional Disturbance. Although many students who make up this 14-20% of youth may not meet eligibility criteria for Special Education services, this statistic indicates that many children with social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties may not be receiving adequate school-based supports.

Evidence-Based Practices and PBIS

One of the most critical features of PBIS is its evidence base. Evidence-based practices refer to practices that, through rigorous research, have a proven track record of delivering the desired effect. Schools implementing evidence-based practices can be more confident that what they are doing is working, provided it is being implemented as intended.

PBIS, MTSS and the Public Health Model of Prevention

PBIS is based on the public health model of prevention. Beyond the schoolhouse doors, such models have been used to prevent numerous deleterious outcomes in children and adults and promote positive life outcomes including smoking cessation, accident and injury prevention, substance abuse, child maltreatment, and heart disease. Within schools, the three levels of prevention have recently been conceptualized as three tiers instead of levels. Tier one practices in MTSS are designed to support the academic and social behavior of all students, preventing problems from occurring in the first place. If tier one is effectively implemented, there will be fewer students requiring tiers two and three (see below) supports. This allows for a more efficient use of resources within a school. It is expected that 80-90% of the student population will be effectively served by tier one practices. Tier two practices are designed for students who have been found to be at risk for developing academic and social behavior difficulties. Students receiving tier two services are given efficient interventions designed to ameliorate the impact of risk factors. It is expected that 10-20% of students will require tier two supports. Tier three practices are designed for students already exhibiting significant, chronic academic or behavioral difficulties. Tier three interventions are individualized based on student need. It is estimated that 1-7% of students will require tier three interventions.

PBIS is not a program or curriculum. Rather, it is a framework for providing effective behavioral supports to all students. This framework includes four core features: outcomes, systems, data, and practices. Outcomes refer to the social, academic, and behavioral outcomes that the school values and hopes all students attain (e.g., meeting academic benchmarks, reducing behavioral difficulties etc.). Systems refer to the organizational structures at the school and district level that will support the ongoing implementation of PBIS and related evidence-based practices. Practices refer to the selection of evidence-based practices (see below) that schools will adopt as part of their system of PBIS. Data refer to the information that a school will collect, summarize and analyze to ensure that the PBIS system is optimally effective for all students.

Tier one PBIS systems and practices include:

1. Establishing 3-5 schoolwide behavioral expectations: Schools implementing
PBIS with fidelity have 3-5 positively stated behavioral expectations that apply to all students, all staff, and all school settings. For example, a school may establish the expectations of “Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible.”
2. Teaching 3-5 schoolwide expectations: While developing 3-5 expectations is an important first step, research has shown that students (grades K-12) need to be directly taught the rules and expectations they are expected to follow. Thus, a school’s expectations are taught to all students in all settings in a developmentally appropriate manner.
3. Rewarding students who behave in a manner consistent with schoolwide expectations: Decades of research on school behavior indicates that systematically and consistently reinforcing and rewarding expected behavior is one of the surest ways to ensure that students will exhibit social behavior consistent with schoolwide social norms.
4. Consistently and proactively correcting problem behavior: In addition to focusing on positive expectations and rewards, PBIS includes the implementation of systems that consistently and proactively enforce rules across the school setting by employing consistent, logical consequences.
5. Using data-based decision making: PBIS schools use data systems such as the School-wide Information System ( to summarize and analyze school discipline data to make effective decisions related to their PBIS system.
6. Employing a team-based approach: PBIS is founded on the premise that effective decisions are made using a team-based approach. Schools implementing PBIS effectively rely on leadership teams that are representative of the school staff to make ongoing data-informed decisions related to their system of PBIS.
7. District support: Formal, explicit district support is an essential component for effective, sustainable systems of PBIS. Districts supportive of PBIS in schools provide resources for implementation including funding, training, coaching, and ongoing evaluation support.

District and State Roles in the Implementation of PBIS

As the discussion to this point indicates, there is good reason to be hopeful about the potential impact PBIS can have across schools in Maine. Many schools in the state are working to adopt and implement these evidence-based practices and enthusiasm for PBIS is growing. However, experience from other states across the nation tells us that active district level and state department of education support and involvement is essential for continued, durable implementation and scaling-up of PBIS. In other words, without organizational structures in place to support durable implementation, effective PBIS is unlikely to occur. This includes the development of district and state leadership teams that meet regularly to plan and implement a system of PBIS. The federally funded center on State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidence-Based Practices (, or SISEP, has partnered with the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports ( to delineate how effective implementation occurs. This work is based on the best available evidence on implementation science.


Producing graduates that are college and career ready undoubtedly means producing citizens that display appropriate, effective social behavioral skills. PBIS is the only evidence based model for improving school social behavior on a universal and state-wide scale. While considerable enthusiasm for, and expertise in, PBIS exists across Maine, it is critical that district and Maine DOE officials consider how they can provide a host environment for schools that supports the ongoing, effective implementation and scaling-up of PBIS in Maine. This includes prioritizing initiatives, identifying existing resources, and developing an efficient, effective plan for implementation.

Note: Reference citations were removed from the article to save space. Research citations can be found in the full white paper.

To obtain a copy of the entire White Paper, contact Brian Cavanaugh at Or, visit to download a copy.

This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.