RTI Action Network

Implementing a Combined RTI/PBS Model: Getting Started

By: Evelyn S. Johnson, Ed.D., Deborah R. Carter, Ph.D., and Juli Pool, Ph.D.Published: March 3, 2010
Topics: Behavior Supports, Implementation Planning and Evaluation, K-5

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Because RTI and PBS share many common attributes, it seems quite natural that they should be combined into a comprehensive model of tiered service delivery that addresses both academics and behavior. After all, many students who have difficulty in one area have difficulty in the other, and so a model in which instruction, intervention and assessment target both would seem to have a high chance of success in improving student outcomes. So, how does a school get started with such a system? In this blog series we are describing how one school, working collaboratively with university faculty under a state-funded project undertook this daunting project.

Schoolwide PBS (SW-PBS) has a developed model for implementation complete with checklists, established criteria for determining the success of implementation, fidelity tools, forms and evaluation procedures. Implementation of SW-PBS follows a well articulated sequence in order to ensure consistency of implementation as SW-PBS is brought to scale (Sugai et al., 2005). Within the SW-PBS implementation blueprints, George Sugai and others describe the SW-PBS model as a preventive approach that relies on: a) primary prevention to reduce new cases of problem behaviors by focusing on all students across all settings; b) secondary prevention to respond to small groups of students with at-risk behavior; and c) tertiary prevention to deliver specialized, individualized support for students with high-risk behaviors (Sugai et al., 2005).

Similarly, RTI has developed models for implementation complete with implementation checklists and guidelines for decision making, fidelity tools, forms and evaluation procedures. Unlike SW-PBS however, RTI tools have been developed by a variety of stakeholder groups, each with variations on the particular focus of the model and its use. Therefore, the consistency with which SW-PBS has been described and documented has yet to be achieved for RTI. However, like SW-PBS, RTI is described as a preventive approach that relies on: a) primary prevention to ensure that all students have access to high quality, evidence-based instruction; b) secondary prevention to provide targeted, intensive small group support to students who are at-risk for not meeting grade-level performance benchmarks; and c) tertiary prevention to deliver specialized, intensive and individualized instruction for the small percentage of students who will not make adequate progress even with secondary prevention (Johnson, Mellard, Fuchs & McKnight, 2006).

So, we have two models that are conceptually similar except that one focuses on academics and the other on behavior. Our thinking was, “Let’s get started with implementation!” But, the implicit how in “let’s get started” is where we quickly became overwhelmed. Depending on a school’s initial starting point, both SW-PBS and RTI as separate initiatives can require a significant overhaul in a school’s day-to-day operations. As a comprehensive model, we were suddenly confronted with changing the school’s system of behavioral support and trying to implement data-based decision making to inform instruction and evaluating the efficacy of the general education program and determining which students required more intense support and well, you probably get the picture by now.

Fortunately, before we became too overwhelmed, the words of Calvin Coolidge came to mind: “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.” Okay, so we don’t really have quotes by former presidents coming to mind as we work, but Deborah Carter, who serves as the SW-PBS lead on this project, continually reminded us that because a preventive model is predicated on the development and sustainment of a solid primary prevention system, we had to focus our initial implementation efforts on developing such a system. And so we have worked with Silver Sage Elementary to focus exclusively on Tier 1 (primary prevention) implementation in our first year. But not in a way that reflects an integration of the SW-PBS and RTI models, instead we’ve gotten started with what is probably most accurately described as a parallel model, which we plan to develop into a comprehensive model.

At Silver Sage Elementary, we’ve created two teams for initial implementation, one that is focused on RTI and the other that is focused on SW-PBS. Because it is a small school, there is overlap on the makeup of the teams. However, one is exclusively focused on guiding and evaluating the SW-PBS implementation efforts in the Tier 1 program, and the other team is exclusively focused on guiding and evaluating the RTI implementation efforts in Tier 1 instruction. Both teams meet twice a month with one meeting focused on school-wide data reviews, and the other meeting focused on individual students. For the first year of implementation, we (BSU faculty) attend only the school-wide meetings to emphasize that the main focus of initial implementation is on improving the Tier 1 program. The school has implemented data collection procedures to evaluate their Tier 1 efforts and both teams evaluate school-wide data at their meetings. On the academic side, they have implemented the use of CBM for screening and are working on evaluating and refining decision rules for determining which students are not meeting benchmarks. According to the most recent data review, the school is moving steadily towards a Tier 1 instructional system under which most (> 80%) of their students are able to meet grade level performance benchmarks in reading and math. Similarly, behavioral data indicates a high level of implementation of primary prevention practices (above 80% on the Team Implementation Checklist (TIC) and approximately 90% of students receiving 0 to 1 office discipline referrals).

We are actively working on developing this parallel model into a comprehensive one. In order to do so, we are undertaking the following steps:

  1. Allowing the respective teams to increase their technical capacity with the primary prevention instruction, measures and data evaluation process. Parallel implementation allows each team to develop more in-depth understandings of the tiered service delivery and data-based decision making process, so that when it is time to combine the models, the understanding of one should greatly facilitate the understanding of the other.
  2. Developing the infrastructure to collect, analyze and evaluate data under one system. The district in which the school is located is working on the adoption of a student data based system that will support the school level comprehensive implementation, but it is currently beyond the school’s resources to create such a system. Related to this, we continue to work with the team to develop their technical capacity to make data-based decisions.
  3. Creating a standard-operating procedure manual that describes the comprehensive model and to the extent possible, streamlines the forms, policies and procedures for implementing a tiered model of service delivery for academics and behavior.

The process of getting started may look different across different settings. In this blog we’ve described a process that seems to be working well at Silver Sage Elementary. If your school or district has followed a different path, we hope you’ll take the time to comment and share it. In our next entries, we will discuss in greater detail our experiences with SW-PBS implementation.


Johnson, E., Mellard, D.F., Fuchs, D., & McKnight, M.A. (2006). Responsiveness to intervention: How to do it. Lawrence, KS: National Research Center on Learning Disabilities.

Sugai, G., Horner, R.H., Sailor, W., Dunlap, G., Eber, L., Lewis, T., Kinciad, D., Scott, T., Barrett, S., Algozzine, R., Putnam, R., Massanari, C., & Nelson, M. (2005). School-wide positive behavior support: Implementers’ blueprint and self-assessment. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon.

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