Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Tier 1

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Potential to decrease disparities

Strategies with this rating have the potential to decrease or eliminate disparities between subgroups. Rating is suggested by evidence, expert opinion or strategy design.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Tier 1 is a school-wide behavior management system. Schools using PBIS Tier 1 work with students, families, and staff to establish three to five positively stated behavior expectations that reflect community values. These expectations are taught to all students; students meeting expectations are recognized through verbal praise and rewards such as prizes or privileges. PBIS staff teams receive external coaching and use school-level behavior data to monitor implementation and outcomes, including disaggregating data by student group. Schools may implement PBIS Tier 2 and Tier 3 practices for students who have additional support needs1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Improved youth behavior

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced bullying

  • Improved school climate

  • Improved social emotional skills

  • Increased academic achievement

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Tier 1 improves behavioral outcomes by setting clear behavior expectations and recognizing positive student behaviors2, 3, 4, 5, 6. More research is needed to examine how PBIS Tier 1 practices can be equity-focused2, 7.

PBIS Tier 1 has been shown to reduce office discipline referrals (ODRs)6, 8, 9, 10 and suspensions9, 11. Studies of schools that implement PBIS Tier 1 have shown a statistically significant reduction in disparities in ODRs and suspensions between Black and white students2. However, disparities in discipline persist across race and disability and additional research is needed on how to implement equity-focused PBIS Tier 17, 12.

PBIS Tier 1 may improve academic achievement2, 3, 13, 14, 15. PBIS Tier 1 can help increase staff’s confidence, trust, and warmth towards students16, as well as teacher self-efficacy17. Teachers in schools that use PBIS Tier 1 report increased understanding of behavior expectations in both students and staff as well as higher levels of professional trust and respect in their district18.

Effects on student behavior6, 9, 19, 20, 21, 22 and school climate16 appear strongest in schools that implement PBIS Tier 1 with high fidelity. Gains in teacher efficacy also appear greater when fidelity is higher, especially in schools with many students from low income backgrounds23. Research suggests that implementing PBIS Tier 1 with high or medium fidelity is associated with increased academic outcomes18 and that schools who have implemented PBIS Tier 1 for three or more years have higher levels of academic achievement than schools who have used PBIS for less than three years21.

Schools that integrated PBIS Tier 1 with school mental health services using the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) showed reduced office discipline referrals and in-school suspensions compared to schools that used PBIS alone or PBIS alongside school mental health services24. Research also suggests that PBIS Tier 1 combined with social-emotional learning (SEL) and character education is more effective in improving student behaviors than PBIS Tier 1 alone25.

Experts recommend integrating student voice and participation into PBIS Tier 1, especially at the middle and high school levels26. Research suggests that high school students have unique preferences for types of rewards and that administrators and staff should be responsive to student opinions in designing rewards27. Providing professional development and dedicated staff planning time as well as data infrastructure and system-level supports can strengthen PBIS Tier 1 implementation28, 29, 30.

PBIS Tier 1 in alternative education (AE) settings can reduce restraint and seclusion incidents and may also improve academic outcomes in AE settings31. Research suggests that PBIS Tier 1 implementation results in net cost savings for schools due to reduced discipline and mental health concerns alongside improved academic outcomes32.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: supported by some evidence.

There is some evidence that equity-focused Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Tier 1 has the potential to reduce disparities in school discipline between students who are Black and those who are white, as well as between students with disabilities and students without disabilities2, 36, 37, 38. Experts caution that implementing PBIS Tier 1 without an intentional focus on equity can reinforce disparities and further harm students who are already marginalized7.

Schools where staff receive equity-focused professional development and integrate learning into PBIS practices show reduced disparities in office discipline referrals (ODRs) between Black students and other groups of students when compared to schools where staff did not receive equity-focused professional development36. Another study suggests that equity-focused PBIS can both reduce ODRs for all students as well as reduce disparities in ODRs between Black and white students38.

Students with disabilities may be less likely to receive suspensions in schools that use PBIS Tier 137. Students with disabilities are also less likely to be sent to alternative education schools for behavior reasons if their school implements PBIS Tier 1 with fidelity39. More research is needed to establish how PBIS Tier 1 can more effectively support students with disabilities37. Experts suggest that focusing on how PBIS Tier 1 can benefit students with disabilities, tailoring practices to individual student needs, and including special education teachers in PBIS Tier 1 teams may increase PBIS Tier 1 effectiveness for students with disabilities40, 41, 42.

PBIS Tier 1 may also improve academic outcomes for students of color and students living in poverty, particularly if it is implemented with high fidelity2, 15.

What is the relevant historical background?

From the late 1800s to the 1950s, the U.S. education system was influenced by the eugenics movement, which seeks to control, devalue, and segregate any person deemed ‘unfit’43. Children with disabilities and children of color were segregated in separate classes or schools with minimal resources or denied education altogether43, 44. Beginning with the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the education system began slow progress towards inclusivity45. In 1975, U.S. Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)46. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) was first introduced in 1997 with a reauthorization of IDEA47. This version of IDEA emphasized that students with disabilities should have access to general curricula and classrooms and presented PBIS as a framework schools could use to support students behaviorally46.

PBIS is often understood to be an alternative to exclusionary and zero tolerance policies48. Harshly punitive school discipline policies surged in popularity in the 1990s and 2000s, fueled by federal anti-drug policy of the 1980s48, 49. Research connected zero-tolerance policies with severe harms for Black students, other students of color, and students with disabilities as well as no significant improvements in school safety50, 51. In response, the Obama Administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter in 2014 that included detailed guidance for protecting student civil rights and schools moved towards more lenient policies48, 52. Recently, schools have struggled with a sharp increase in student behavior concerns after extended school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic53 and schools have begun trending back towards stricter discipline policies48.

Equity Considerations
  • Who has a voice in PBIS Tier 1 decisions in your school or district? Whose input is not currently considered?
  • How well are the positive expectations used in PBIS Tier 1 supported by community values? How clear and consistent are behavior expectations across the school building (e.g. cafeteria, classrooms, hallways, or common areas)?
  • How present is racial bias in staff use of PBIS Tier 1 practices? How can your school community collectively address racial bias without shaming staff?
Implementation Examples

As of 2023, over 25,000 schools across the United States implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)1. Implementation varies considerably by state1. Currently, all states and Washington, D.C. have a state PBIS Tier 1 coordinator33. Statewide partnerships can support and fund PBIS Tier 1 implementation; researchers recommend creating a coalition of stakeholders that develop a shared agenda through strong relationships built over time to meet each contributor’s needs5. Some schools have also extended PBIS Tier 1 to include school buses34, 35.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

PBIS-School - Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). What is school-wide PBIS?

AIR-SSL SCI Resources - American Institutes for Research (AIR). Safe supportive learning (SSL): School climate improvement (SCI) resource package.

AIR-School climate - American Institutes for Research (AIR). School climate and safety.


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1 US ED OSEP-PBIS - U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED), Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS).

2 McDaniel 2020 - McDaniel SC, Bruhn AL, Peshak George H. Establishing the literature base of SWPBIS research in schools with large populations of underrepresented students. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth. 2020;64(4):290-300.

3 Noltemeyer 2019 - Noltemeyer A, Palmer K, James AG, Wiechman S. School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS): A synthesis of existing research. International Journal of School and Educational Psychology. 2019;7(4):253-262.

4 Gage 2018 - Gage NA, Whitford DK, Katsiyannis A. A review of schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports as a framework for reducing disciplinary exclusions. The Journal of Special Education. 2018;52(3):142-151.

5 Bradshaw 2012 - Bradshaw CP, Waasdorp TE, Leaf PJ. Effects of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports on child behavior problems. Pediatrics. 2012;130(5):e1136-e1145.

6 Flannery 2014 - Flannery KB, Fenning P, Kato MM, McIntosh K. Effects of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports and fidelity of implementation on problem behavior in high schools. School Psychology Quarterly. 2014;29(2):111-124.

7 McIntosh 2023 - McIntosh K. Schoolwide positive behavioural interventions and supports and human rights: Transforming our educational systems into levers for social justice. International Journal of Developmental Disabilities. 2023;69(1):5-12.

8 Estrapala 2021 - Estrapala S, Rila A, Bruhn AL. A systematic review of Tier 1 PBIS implementation in high schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2021;23(4):288-302.

9 Simonsen 2012 - Simonsen B, Eber L, Black AC, et al. Illinois statewide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Evolution and impact on student outcomes across years. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2012;14(1):5-16.

10 Muscott 2008 - Muscott HS, Mann EL, LeBrun MR. Positive behavioral interventions and supports in New Hampshire: Effects of large-scale implementation of schoolwide positive behavior support on student discipline and academic achievement. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2008;10(3):190-205.

11 Pas 2019 - Pas ET, Ryoo JH, Musci RJ, Bradshaw CP. A state-wide quasi-experimental effectiveness study of the scale-up of school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Journal of School Psychology. 2019;73:41-55.

12 Vincent 2011 - Vincent CG, Swain-Bradway J, Tobin TJ, May S. Disciplinary referrals for culturally and linguistically diverse students with and without disabilities: Patterns resulting from school-wide positive behavior support. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal. 2011;19(3):175-190.

13 Horner 2009 - Horner RH, Sugai G, Smolkowski K, et al. A randomized, wait-list controlled effectiveness trial assessing School-wide Positive Behavior Support in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2009;11(3):133-144.

14 Bradshaw 2010 - Bradshaw CP, Mitchell MM, Leaf PJ. Examining the effects of Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports on student outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2010;12(3):133-148.

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16 Bradshaw 2009 - Bradshaw CP, Koth CW, Thornton LA, Leaf PJ. Altering school climate through school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Findings from a group-randomized effectiveness trial. Prevention Science. 2009;10(2):100-115.

17 Kelm 2012 - Kelm JL, McIntosh K. Effects of school-wide positive behavior support on teacher self-efficacy. Psychology in the Schools. 2012;49(2):137-147.

18 Houchens 2017 - Houchens GW, Zhang J, Davis K, et al. The Impact of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports on teachers’ perceptions of teaching conditions and student achievement. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2017;19(3):168-179.

19 James 2019 - James AG, Noltemeyer A, Ritchie R, Palmer K, University M. Longitudinal disciplinary and achievement outcomes associated with school-wide PBIS implementation level. Psychology in the Schools. 2019;56(9):1512-1521.

20 Noltemeyer 2019a - Noltemeyer A, Palmer K, James AG, Petrasek M. Disciplinary and achievement outcomes associated with school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports implementation level. School Psychology Review. 2019;48(1):81-87.

21 Kim 2018b - Kim J, McIntosh K, Mercer SH, Nese RNT. Longitudinal associations between SWPBIS fidelity of implementation and behavior and academic outcomes. Behavioral Disorders. 2018;43(3):357-369.

22 Cheney 2012 - Cheney D, Jewell K. Chapter 5 positive behavior supports and students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders. 2012;23:83-106.

23 Ross 2012a - Ross SW, Romer N, Horner RH. Teacher well-being and the implementation of school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2012;14(2):118-128.

24 Weist 2022 - Weist MD, Splett JW, Halliday CA, et al. A randomized controlled trial on the interconnected systems framework for school mental health and PBIS: Focus on proximal variables and school discipline. Journal of School Psychology. 2022;94:49-65.

25 Zhang 2023 - Zhang Y, Cook CR, Smith B. PurposeFull People SEL and character education program: A cluster randomized trial in schools implementing Tier 1 PBIS with fidelity. School Mental Health. 2023;15:985-1002.

26 Lloyd 2023 - Lloyd BP, Carter EW, Hine MC, et al. Student perspectives on implementation and impact of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in their middle schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2023;25(2):131-144.

27 Tyre 2023 - Tyre A, Begay KK, Beaudoin K, Feuerborn L. Understanding middle and high school student preferences for acknowledgements in the context of schoolwide PBIS. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth. 2023.

28 Zhang 2022a - Zhang Y, Cook CR, Lyon AR. A simple matter of time? School-level analysis of the relationship between time allocation, treatment integrity, and student outcome. School Mental Health. 2022;14:73-87.

29 Tyre 2021 - Tyre AD, Feuerborn LL. Ten common misses in PBIS implementation. Beyond Behavior. 2021;30(1):41-50.

30 George 2018 - George HP, Cox KE, Minch D, Sandomierski T. District practices associated with successful SWPBIS implementation. Behavioral Disorders. 2018;43(3):393-406.

31 Grasley-Boy 2021 - Grasley-Boy NM, Reichow B, van Dijk W, Gage N. A systematic review of Tier 1 PBIS implementation in alternative education settings. Behavioral Disorders. 2021;46(4):199-213.

32 Bradshaw 2020 - Bradshaw CP, Lindstrom Johnson S, Zhu Y, Pas ET. Scaling up behavioral health promotion efforts in Maryland: The economic benefit of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. School Psychology Review. 2020;50(1):99-109.

33 PBIS-State coordinators - Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). PBIS State coordinators.

34 Kennedy 2019a - Kennedy KJ, King SA. All aboard: Using positive behavior supports on the school bus. Beyond Behavior. 2019;28(1):21-28.

35 Collins 2016a - Collins JC, Ryan JB. Extension of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports from the school to the bus: A case study. The Journal of At-Risk Issues. 2016;19(1):29-33.

36 McIntosh 2021 - McIntosh K, Girvan EJ, Falcon SF, et al. Equity-focused PBIS approach reduces racial inequities in school discipline: A randomized controlled trial. School Psychology. 2021;36(6):433-444.

37 Simonsen 2022 - Simonsen B, Freeman J, Gambino AJ, et al. An exploration of the relationship between PBIS and discipline outcomes for students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education. 2022;43(5):287-300.

38 Payno-Simmons 2021 - Payno-Simmons RL. Centering equity in school discipline: The Michigan PBIS Equity Pilot. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth. 2021;65(4):343-353.

39 Grasley-Boy 2019 - Grasley-Boy NM, Gage NA, Lombardo M. Effect of SWPBIS on disciplinary exclusions for students with and without disabilities. Exceptional Children. 2019;86(1):25-39.

40 Watkins 2023 - Watkins L, White S, McDaniel S, et al. Including students with autism within the PBIS framework: Recommendations for research and research-informed practice. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth. 2023.

41 Walker 2022 - Walker VL, Loman SL, Mickelson AM, Lyon KJ. Participation of students with extensive support needs in SWPBIS: Administrator and educator perspectives. Psychology in the Schools. 2022;59(8):1623-1642.

42 Shuster 2017 - Shuster BC, Gustafson JR, Jenkins AB, et al. Including students with disabilities in positive behavioral interventions and supports: Experiences and perspectives of special educators. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. 2017;19(3):143-157.

43 Spaulding 2015 - Spaulding LS, Pratt SM. A review and analysis of the history of special education and disability advocacy in the United States. American Educational History Journal. 2015;42(1):91-109.

44 Kyere 2020 - Kyere E, Joseph A, Wei K. Alternative to zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspensions: A multitiered centered perspective. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work. 2020;29(5):421-436.

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46 US ED-IDEA History - U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED). A history of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

47 Sugai 2020 - Sugai G, Horner RH. Sustaining and scaling positive behavioral interventions and supports: Implementation drivers, outcomes, and considerations. Exceptional Children. 2020;86(2):120-136.

48 Brookings-Perera 2023 - Perera RM, Diliberti MK. What does the research say about how to reduce misbehavior in schools? Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2023.

49 US ED-Skiba 2000 - Skiba RJ. Zero tolerance, zero evidence: An analysis of school disciplinary practice. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED), Indiana University Education Policy Center; 2000.

50 APA 2008 - American Psychological Association (APA) Zero Tolerance Task Force. Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations. American Psychologist. 2008;63(9):852-62.

51 Curran 2016 - Curran FC. Estimating the effect of state zero tolerance laws on exclusionary discipline, racial discipline gaps, and student behavior. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 2016;38(4):647-668.

52 Brookings-Perera 2023a - Perera RM, Valant J. The Biden administration’s updated school discipline guidelines fail to meet the moment. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2023.

53 Belsha 2021 - Belsha K. Stress and short tempers: Schools struggle with behavior as students return. Chalkbeat: Essential education reporting across America. 2021.