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Research Connections
Fall 1997

State Initiatives Support School-Wide Behavioral Systems


Pennsylvania Initiative
Systems Change in Utah
States traditionally have been concerned with identifying effective practices that lead to improved educational results for children. Utah and Pennsylvania are exploring school-wide behavioral supports.

Pennsylvania Initiative

In 1995, the state of Pennsylvania published guidelines for effective behavioral support. The challenge was to balance the rights of all students to a safe learning environment while providing effective programs for students with chronic behavioral problems. Since then, the state has provided training in the development of behavioral support plans (see below).


Support Plan Process

Step 1--Conduct a functional assessment.

Step 2--Develop hypothesis concerning the function of the challenging behavior.

Step 3--Design and implement the behavioral support plan.

Step 4--Evaluate effectiveness.

Step 5--Modify the support plan as needed.


Tim Knoster, who directs the Pennsylvania Statewide Support Initiative, points out that schools can enhance individual students' performance by setting up support systems across different contexts:
  • School-wide systems (i.e., discipline code). While most school systems have district-wide policies concerning student conduct, it is not unusual to find unclear policies and inconsistent understanding of them by staff and students.

    Guidelines, rules, and consequences for behavior in specific settings such as hallways, on the playground, etc.

  • Consistent management practices across classrooms in a building. Staff from within each building need to be engaged in the reflective process of the search for a system of best fit for their building.
The key, Knoster emphasizes, is not for every school to look the same. Rather, school staff need to make informed decisions about how they can best support all children, adopt validated models, and provide training.

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Systems Change in Utah

Originally funded by OSEP as a systems change project, the Behavioral and Educational Strategies for Teachers (BEST) project is now part of a statewide effort in Utah focused on bringing effective practices into classrooms and schools. Over the years, BEST has trained teams of teachers who conduct staff development for their colleagues. Model sites located throughout the state provide good examples of how BEST strategies look in practice. BEST targets five areas for school-wide behavioral support:

  • Student motivation.
  • Social skills instruction.
  • Discipline plans that have consistent rules and consequences.
  • Research-validated interventions for students with chronic behavioral challenges.
  • Positive family relationships.
According to Deb Andrews, Project Coordinator, districts or schools that want to implement a school-wide model need to commit about 5 years to the project. "School-wide approaches are not a quick fix...they require consistent leadership and must be implemented one step at a time." Andrews recommends starting with the development of a discipline committee. As part of the BEST approach, schools complete a preassessment that includes a section on school-wide behavioral management (see box). The committee then receives training in BEST strategies, comes up with a draft plan, and takes that plan to the building faculty for review and discussion.

Because each school will have different needs, it is critical that the faculty identify which validated research techniques they wish to utilize, rather than a particular one being imposed on them. Eventually, an action plan is developed for whole school involvement.


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School Preassessment
  • Is there a school-wide behavior management program in place and was it started at the beginning of the year?
  • Is there a high rate of positive feedback?
  • Does the administrator use preplanned positive and reductive consequences?
  • Are consequences based on school rules?
  • Is there a plan for serious behaviors?
  • Are staff visible throughout the school campus?
  • Do staff anticipate problem behaviors and intervene early?
  • Do parents participate in the school-wide behavior management system?
  • Are there special behavior management programs for recess, lunchroom, etc.?

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