Critical Features Predicting Sustained Implementation of School-wide Positive Behavior Support

Chris Huzinec Chris Huzinec   |   December 17, 2018

Across the nation, many schools are implementing PBIS as a means to prevent challenging behavior at the school level down to the individual student level.  While there are many positive outcomes of PBIS, such as decreased office discipline referrals and decreased suspensions for students, it additionally showed outcomes of improvements in the proportions of students meeting the state reading standards and improvements in school climate, including improved staff affiliation and academic emphasis (Bradshaw et al., 2008; Horner et al., 2009).

While these outcomes are promising to schools, achieving this level of PBIS implementation and sustaining it does not come without overcoming some barriers.  This study evaluated the different PBIS systems (school-wide, nonclassroom, classroom, individual) on the levels of overall PBIS implementation and problem behavior 3 years later as it was predicted using a self-report measure of fidelity of implementation.  This is especially helpful to schools in identifying which aspects of PBIS are more predictive of sustainability so these could receive more resources to maximize further implementation.

According to the 261 schools across the United States that completed the self-assessments, results indicated that self-reported fidelity of implementation of Classrooms Systems significantly predicted sustained implementation and student outcomes (Office Discipline Referrals).

Within Classroom Systems, regular acknowledgment of expected behaviors, matching instruction to student ability, and access to additional support were the strongest predictors of sustained implementation. The finding that the Classroom Systems subscale was a stronger predictor of school-wide implementation and student outcomes (ODRs) than the School-Wide and Nonclassroom Systems subscales may be somewhat surprising, but is supported by the theory that the actions of individual teachers are most important to sustainability (Han & Weiss, 2005).

In another study, schools were asked the critical barrier to the success of school-wide PBIS implementation, and the most common response was issues of staff buy-in; where as the major facilitator of SWPBS was district support (Kincaid, Childs, Blasé, Wallace, 2007).  These issues of staff buy-in are addressed with implementing at the classroom level because each teacher is the main person responsible for implementation at that level.

Newcomber (2009) states that a crucial setting for primary systems of support is the classroom; however, supports at the classroom level often receive the least amount of attention and present the greatest inconsistencies in implementation. If schools are to maximize efforts at the primary level, universal systems of support in the classroom must be addressed. This is important for districts and schools to assist classroom teachers with training and support so they are able to take these practices of PBIS and incorporate them into their everyday classroom teaching practices and routines.  This may help schools to improve fidelity of implementation as well as student outcomes, which in turn both enhance sustainability.


Mathews, S., McIntosh, K., Frank, J. L., & May, S. (2013). Critical features predicting sustained implementation of school-wide positive behavior support. Journal of Positive Behaviour Interventions.

Bradshaw, C., Koth, C., Bevans, K., Ialongo, N., & Leaf, P. (2008). The impact of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) on the organizational health of elementary schools. School Psychology Quarterly, 23, 462–473.

Han, S. S., & Weiss, B. (2005). Sustainability of teacher implementation of  school-based mental health programs. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 665–679.

Horner, R., Sugai, G., Smolkowski, K., Eber, L., Nakasato, J., Todd, A., & Esperanza, J., (2009). A randomized, wait-list controlled effectiveness trial assessing school-wide positive behavior support in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11, 133-145.

Kincaid, D., Childs, K., Blasé, K., & Wallace, F. (2007). Identifying barriers and facilitators in implementing school-wide positive behavior support. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 9(3), 174-184.

Newcomer, L. (2009). Universal positive behavior support for the classroom. Vol 4 (4), [electronic newsletter], OSEP Technical Assistance Center for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Available: [2009, February]