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Overview of the Three-Tiered PBIS Model

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a non-curricular, universal prevention strategy that aims to alter the school environment by creating improved systems and procedures to promote positive change in staff and, consequently, student behaviors. The model draws upon behavioral, social learning, and organizational behavior principles (Lewis and Sugai 1999) that have been traditionally used with individual students and extends and applies them to the entire student body consistently across all school contexts. This whole-school strategy aims to prevent disruptive behavior and enhance the school’s organizational climate by creating and sustaining primary (universal or school-wide), secondary (selective), and tertiary (indicated) systems of support. The three-tiered prevention model follows a public health approach (Mrazek and Haggerty 1994; O’Connell, Boat, and Warner 2009), whereby two levels of selective/targeted group and indicated/individual programs are implemented to complement the universal school-wide components (for a review, see Carr, Dunlap, Horner, Koegel, Turnbull, and Sailor 2002; Horner, Sugai, Todd, and Lewis-Palmer  2005; Leaf and Keys 2005; Sugai and Horner 2002, 2006). The universal school-wide PBIS model has been widely disseminated throughout the U.S. and has been implemented in over 16,000 schools across 44 states (PBIS 2011).

Collaborative Research Projects through PBIS Maryland

Multiple research projects have been launched which take advantage of the existing network of researchers, educators, and practitioners involved in the PBIS Maryland Initiative. For example, the state-wide scale-up efforts have provided the opportunity to conduct effectiveness and translational research on PBIS, which has been supported through federal grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and some foundation grants from organizations, such as the William T. Grant Foundation. Each of the projects represents an effort to integrate PBIS with other approaches or interventions to ensure both high fidelity implementation and sustainability (Domitrovich, Bradshaw, Poduska, Hoagwood, Buckley, and Olin 2008). Some of the larger, federally-funded research projects are briefly described below.

Double Check: A Cultural Proficiency and Student Engagement Model

With funding from IES, the Double Check project builds on the PBIS model to promote data-based decision making, professional development on cultural proficiency, and coaching in culturally sensitive classroom management and student engagement. Specifically, through an iterative process, the project aims to augment and combine the data-based decision-making activities of PBIS, the Double Check cultural proficiency professional development series (Hershfeldt, Sechrest, Rosenberg, Bradshaw, and Leaf 2009), and the Classroom Check-up (Reinke, Lewis-Palmer, and Merrell  2008) classroom management coaching system to increase the use of culturally-responsive teaching and classroom management strategies, and to promote student engagement in elementary and middle schools. The goal of this work is to reduce rates of culturally and linguistically diverse students being referred for discipline problems and special education services. Consistent with the CBPR approach, this project was developed in direct response to a request from a collaborating Maryland school district, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, which is eager to address concerns related to disproportionality in referrals and disciplinary actions through PBIS.

Double Check: A Cultural Proficiency and Student Engagement Model

Double Check: Framework of Cultural Responsiveness Applied to Classroom Behavior

Maryland Safe and Supportive Schools (MDS3) Initiative: An RCT of PBIS in High Schools

There is increasing interest in the integration of the universal, school-wide PBIS model with other evidence-based selective and indicated prevention programs (Domitrovich, Bradshaw, Greenberg, Embry, Poduska, Hoagwood, Buckley, and Olin 2010). Currently, studies are being conducted in elementary schools on the integration of PBIS with social-emotional learning programs, such as the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies model and the Good Behavior Game (see Domitrovich, Bradshaw, Greenberg, Embry, Poduska, Hoagwood, Buckley, and Olin 2010). The PBIS Maryland partnership extended this work to the high schools through a 52-school RCT of PBIS combined with evidence-based prevention programs. This 13-million dollar trial was funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Supportive Schools Initiative and aims to develop and administer a statewide web-based measurement system to assess multiple aspects of school climate (e.g., school safety, student engagement, and the school environment), as reported by students, parents, and school staff.

The 31 intervention schools are being trained in the PBIS model and the use of the school climate data to determine the need for tailored evidence-based preventive interventions. The intervention schools receive training, coaching, and the necessary resources to implement a continuum (e.g., universal, selective, and indicated) of evidence-based practices, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Olweus, Limber, Flerx, Mullin, Riese, and Snyder  2007), LifeSkills training for high schools (Botvin, Griffin, and Nichols 2006), Check-In/Check-Out (Hawken and Horner2003), Check and Connect (Sinclair, Christenson,  and Thurlow 2005), and the Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (Stein, Jaycox, Kataoka, Wong, Tu, Elliott, 2003), in order to integrate them with PBIS. The 27 comparison high schools will be monitored over a period of three years using this same climate measure; they will receive training at the end of the trial. This work is also being extended through a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation, which aims to determine the program impacts on multiple classroom and non-classroom observations of setting-level factors (e.g., safety and classroom climate), to examine potential setting-level moderators of program impacts and predictors of intervention fidelity, and to explore the relationship between perceptions of school climate and setting-level measures of school climate. The findings from the MDS3 Initiative will inform our understanding of the impact of school-wide preventive interventions in high schools, and factors influencing implementation fidelity and the outcomes of those programs. This research also has important implications for Maryland’s Safe and Supportive Schools Initiative in terms of validating the state’s new MDS3 School Climate Survey in relation to the observational data.

MDS3 Project Initiative

MDS3 Climate Survey District Manual

MDS3 Climate Survey School Manual

MDS3 Email

All of the research projects reflect the input from several partners, collaborators, and stakeholders at multiple levels, and address state-wide and national priorities related to school-based prevention. Building on the interest and resources of the state and school districts, the research findings are first disseminated locally through the monthly meetings of the PBIS Maryland State Leadership Team. National dissemination occurs jointly by the PBIS Maryland Management Team through presentations at professional meetings. The prevention efforts and policies in Maryland have benefitted tremendously from conducting these effectiveness studies through the PBIS Maryland collaboration. These partnership-focused research efforts also have enabled the development and application of innovative statistical methods to determine the generalizability of findings from randomized trials to the state (Stuart et al. 2011).

Maryland State Department of Education Website

PBIS Maryland Website

Project Team Members:
Catherine Bradshaw (, Principle Investigator
Katrina Debnam (, Evaluation Manager  
Sarah Lindstrom Johnson (,  Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation
Qing Zheng (, Data Manager
Matthew Riesner (, Project Coordinator
Ashley Williams (, Research Assistant III
Sandra Hardee (, Double Check Coach
Lana Asuncion-Bates ( Double Check Coach