School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (Tier 1)

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
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.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is the first tier of the three tier Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) school-wide behavioral system. In schools using SWPBIS, staff teams establish three to five positively stated behavior expectations. These expectations are taught to all students and staff and reinforced through verbal praise and student rewards such as prizes or privileges. SWPBIS teams receive external coaching and support, and use school-level behavior data to monitor implementation and identify students who would benefit from further intervention; some schools then use more intensive PBIS interventions to support these students. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is often considered an alternative to zero tolerance policies1.

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? This strategy is rated scientifically supported.

There is strong evidence that School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWBPIS) improves school-age students’ behavior2, 3. SWPBIS appears to reduce disruptive and aggressive behavior2, bullying and peer rejection4, and suspensions5. It also appears to increase students’ concentration, kindness toward others, and emotional self-control2. Effects can be stronger when children are exposed to SWPBIS at a young age2.

SWPBIS has been shown to reduce office discipline referrals (ODRs)3, 5, 6, especially for girls2. Studies of schools that implement SWPBIS have shown a statistically significant reduction in disparities between ODRs for black and white students. However, the discipline gap persists, and additional research on how to implement culturally responsive SWPBIS is needed7.

SWPBIS can increase staff’s confidence, trust, and warmth towards students8, as well as teacher’s self-efficacy9. SWPBIS can also increase students’ cooperation and interest in academic achievement8, and possibly lead to greater academic achievement10, 11, 12, 13.

Effects on student behavior3, 5, 14 and school climate8 appear strongest in schools that implement SWPBIS with high fidelity. Gains in teacher efficacy also appear greater when fidelity is higher, especially in schools with many low income students15. Implementing SWPBIS with high fidelity can increase academic achievement for students in high poverty communities and may help close the achievement gap between high and low poverty schools13.

Schools with mostly low income students appear to implement SWBPIS with lower fidelity; researchers suggest added implementation support for these schools16. Schools with unhealthy work climates can take longer to implement SWPBIS with fidelity than healthier schools, but eventually improve school climate more dramatically8.

Focus on winning staff and student buy-in, sustaining administrative support, facilitating strong teams, establishing system-level data, and aligning SWPBIS with other school initiatives appear to support SWPBIS implementation3. Statewide partnerships can also support and fund SWPBIS; researchers recommend a coalition of stakeholders that develops a shared agenda through strong relationships built over time that develops a shared agenda to meet each contributor’s needs2.

SWPBIS may also improve preschoolers’ behavior, especially when teachers receive cognitive behavioral training to help them feel able to successfully implement the intervention17.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

As of 2018, over 25,000 schools across the United States implemented PBIS18. Implementation varies considerably by state19. Currently, all states and Washington, D.C. have a state SWPBIS coordinator20.

Implementation Resources

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 Bradshaw 2013 - Bradshaw CP. Preventing bullying through positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS): A multitiered approach to prevention and integration. Theory Into Practice. 2013;52(4):288–95.

2 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.

3 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):111-24.

4 Waasdorp 2012 - Waasdorp TE, Bradshaw CP, Leaf PJ. The impact of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports on bullying and peer rejection: A randomized controlled effectiveness trial. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2012;166(2):149-156.

5 Simonsen 2012 - Simonsen B, Eber L, Black AC, Sugai G, Lewandowski H, Sims B, 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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):100–15.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 Nelson 2002 - Nelson JR, Martella RM, Marchand-Martella N. Maximizing student learning: The effects of a comprehensive school-based program for preventing problem behaviors. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. 2002;10(3):136-148.

13 McIntosh 2011 - McIntosh K, Bennett JL, Price K. Evaluation of social and academic effects of School-wide Positive Behaviour Support in a Canadian school district. Exceptionality Education International. 2011;21(1):46-60.

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

15 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):118–28.

16 Molloy 2013 - Molloy LE, Moore JE, Trail J, Van Epps JJ, Hopfer S. Understanding real-world implementation quality and “active ingredients” of PBIS. Prevention Science. 2013;14(6):593-605.

17 Steed 2013 - Steed EA, Durand VM. Optimistic teaching: Improving the capacity for teachers to reduce young children’s challenging behavior. School Mental Health. 2013;5(1):15-24.

18 PBIS-Schools using PBIS - Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS): Schools using PBIS.

19 US ED OSEP-PBIS - US Department of Education (US ED), Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS).

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

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