Implementing a Combined RTI/PBS Model: SWPBS Becomes Behavior RTI

One of our favorite diagrams from the school-wide positive behavior support literature emphasizes the need for four integrated elements within a systems approach (see below). The first element represents the desired outcomes of SWPBS and RTI models: social competence and academic achievement. In order to obtain these outcomes, schools need (a) practices to support student behavior, (b) data to support decision making, and (c) systems to support staff behavior.



Figure 1: Four Positive Behavioral Supports Elements
Source:  What is School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports? OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports,  U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

As we began our first year of implementation, we found that practices for supporting student behavior were already in place to some degree. Efforts to work on this key element focused more on refining existing practices and increasing consistency across staff. The greatest impact we have seen has related more to the data and systems elements. While data was being collected, the process of collecting data efficiently and using it to make decisions — not just about individual students but on a school-wide level — has greatly enhanced the school's ability to implement effective and efficient practices. Working with Silver Sage Elementary to develop and implement consistent and effective systems that support staff behavior may be the component that is making the biggest difference and producing the greatest change. The systems perspective seems to be a relatively new way of thinking about the school and about meeting students' needs.

Recently, a principal from a middle school in the same district who has also been focusing on Tier 1 implementation this year commented on the systems component of SWPBS. Her comment suggested that while implementation focused on all four elements (outcomes, practices, data, and systems) has required her school to move slower than implementation focused on practices alone, the time and effort has been worth it. She reported that with previous initiatives she has felt as though her school had to start over at the beginning of each year.  After a year of implementing SWPBS, she feels that her school is already set up and in year 2 they can focus on refining the systems they established, rather than backtracking and beginning anew.

Implementing Tier 1 for behavior has required a substantial amount of work in our first year. Because Silver Sage Elementary did not previously have a systems approach to behavior support, they developed a lot of new systems this year. They defined their school-wide expectations to include: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Cooperative, and Be Safe. They have systematically taught their expectations across settings in their school and have set up a Wednesday morning meeting where students present skits reviewing the expectations in various settings. They have built an acknowledgement system for students using their school mascot (Stallion pride tickets) and have also defined a consistent system for responding to problem behaviors. And, they have built a system for tracking office discipline referrals, reviewing data, and making decisions. Most recently, they identified "no touch" violations on the playground as a concern for their school. They have developed an intervention focused on three areas (1) increasing active supervision among staff, (2) increasing consistency in responding to challenging behavior (they are developing a continuum of responses that are specific to the playground and training both staff and students), and (3) creating a reinforcement system for students that is function-based (since referral data show that student behavior is maintained by peer attention, they are developing a plan where students can earn extra recess time for not receiving office discipline referrals). This use of data for decision-making represents a real shift in the perception of data from that of a four-letter word to that of a useful tool for guiding implementation.

Our first year of implementation has focused almost exclusively on Tier 1 practices, data, and systems for both SWPBS and RTI models. Although our implementation thus far has been more parallel than comprehensive, we really have come a long way. With Tier 1 firmly in place and enhanced understanding of the process of implementation, we are ready to move into our second year looking to refine implementation rather than backtrack and begin anew.

As the end of the year rapidly approaches, we are working on developing a handbook for the school. This handbook will focus not on a SWPBS or academic RTI models but will be a handbook for RTI: academics and behavior. As we develop the handbook, we are both acknowledging the unique features of academics and behavior and identifying key areas for truly creating a comprehensive model that addresses the four integrated elements of a systems approach.


The specific practices that support students academically and behaviorally are different, but our ultimate goal is the same: to improve competencies for students. For both academics and behavior, the focus is on the use of a continuum of evidence-based practices to meet the needs of students at different levels. At Tier 1, key features of core programs for both academics and behavior include: 1) clear goals and expected outcomes, 2) appropriate instruction, 3) monitoring, 4) feedback and encouragement, and 5) error correction (see the series by Bohanon, Goodman & McIntosh in the Learn About RTI section of RTI for a more detailed explanation). Tier 2 focuses on providing readily available targeted interventions for students who do not respond to Tier 1 supports. At Tier 3, intensive individualized interventions are developed for students who do not respond to Tier 1 and Tier 2 practices. Our handbook will address key features that cross academics and behavior as well as clear and consistent descriptions of practices at each tier. While the specific practices at each tier are different, the components that define Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 practices are consistent.


Our description of systems within a comprehensive model will focus on two primary considerations:

1) team structure and functions, and 2) procedures. As we head into our second year with a focus on refining Tier 1 implementation and building Tier 2, we foresee the opportunity to integrate our academic and behavior teams. Our team structure will focus not on academics or behavior but on the function of the team. Our goal in our second year of implementation is to have three functional teams: 1) a Tier 1 team or RTI team that will focus on refining Tier 1 implementation and monitoring school-wide data for both academics and behavior, 2) a Tier 2 team that will focus on matching students with Tier 2 interventions and monitoring progress of both Tier 2 and Tier 3 academic and behavioral interventions, and 3) Tier 3 teams or student focused teams that will focus on developing and modifying individualized academic and behavior interventions. In regards to procedures, we are working to define procedures for conducting universal screening, for meeting agendas and outcomes, and for communication across school teams. Since we will have separate teams for each Tier within the model, it will become imperative that these teams have consistent communication to support fluid movement of students between tiers (including moving back down tiers!). These procedures will be consistent for both academics and behavior.


While the specific data that is collected for academic or behavior RTI are different, the decisions are similar. Our handbook will address two primary data considerations: 1) identifying students who need varying levels of support and what support they need, and 2) monitoring progress. The consistency across academic and behavior RTI focuses on having defined decision-rules, regular cycles for data collection and analysis, and following a decision-making model.

As we head quickly toward our second year we are excited by the possibilities for creating a more comprehensive model that focuses not on academic RTI and SWPBS but on RTI for both academics and behavior. Despite our excitement, however, as we move toward our second year and a new focus on Tier 2 and Tier 3, we have not forgotten the necessary considerations for teacher change. In our next blog, we will discuss the acceptability of this model and teachers' perceptions of the process at Silver Sage Elementary. We welcome questions, comments and suggestions from schools that are looking to implement (or already are implementing) a comprehensive model of RTI.

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