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California Technical Assistance and Training

Positive Behavioral Interventions And Supports (PBIS)


Assembly Bill 86 (AB 86), the Education Omnibus Trailer Bill, Chapter 48, Statutes of 2013, repealed regulations and added state statute that addressed positive behavioral intervention plans. According to the Senate floor analysis, the intent of these changes is to modify “the Behavioral Intervention Plan mandate to align it more closely with federal law and reduce unnecessary costs, while maintaining important protections for students with disabilities.”

In accordance with Assembly Bill 110, California’s 2013–2014 budget bill, the California Department of Education (CDE) is required to provide oversight of, and technical assistance and monitoring to, local educational agencies regarding changes to the requirements related to the identification and provision of behavioral intervention services included in AB 86.

For more information, visit the California Department of Education’s Behavioral Intervention Plans Web page at

Revised: November 2013

Revised by: Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., University of Oregon


The revision of the PBIS Core Message Area was based on research and practice information provided by the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports,1 which is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). In addition, the categories of the PBIS Core Message Area are based on research-validated practices,2 which are evident in high achieving schools and have been replicated for school reform efforts. These strategies have also been found to promote the conditions that improve learning and behavior for all students and should be used to guide Individualized Education Program (IEP) decisions for Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). These include: integration of academic and behavioral supports; sustained implementation of evidence-based practices including schoolwide, classroom, common areas, individual student, and family collaboration and support systems; a focus on creating a positive, inclusive school culture; and, clear criteria for the levels and types of supports provided for individual students.

Background on Core Message Area:

A focus of past (1999 – 2013) federally funded State Personnel Development Grants (SPDG), awarded to the California Department of Education was to communicate common messages to the field about selected topics. These common, or core messages, articulate critical research findings and essential components of effective application. All core messages have been identified by experts in the field and have been approved by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division.

  1. Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support systems need to be integrated with academic support systems. 
  2. Academic failure is a major predictor of inappropriate behavior and other adjustment problems and needs to be explicitly and consistently addressed as part of an effective and comprehensive school program. As such, schools need to be accountable for improved student behavior in the same manner as they are for student achievement. Safe, effective, and supportive schools utilize ongoing school improvement processes to set measurable goals and objectives, and integrate interventions into school and district accountability and planning systems.

    Academic and behavioral support systems can be integrated by using the following principles of practice.

  • Academic and behavioral supports are based on the intensity of the student’s needs.
    • Supports are available at the universal (all students), selective (some students), and intensive (a few students) levels.
    • Each intervention has a written protocol for implementation, either from a published curriculum or a locally designed program.
  • A student’s response to intervention is used as the basis for changing, modifying, or intensifying academic and behavioral supports. Assessing response to intervention involves the regular use of data systems that are simple, reliable, and linked directly to decisions about instruction or behavioral support.
    • Schools should screen all children for behavioral adjustment on a schedule similar to that used for academic screening such as reading fluency assessments. Methods can include multiple Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) teacher nominations and rating systems (see resources) and regular review of office discipline referral patterns.
    • Once a student is identified to receive supports beyond the universal, schoolwide system then a process of regular progress monitoring needs to be established with clear decision points. These may include regular teacher ratings, points or ratings on a student self-management checklist or point card, or direct observation data (see resources).
  • Evidence-based practices are used for selecting the supports that will be used and for evaluating whether an intervention is effective and implemented with high fidelity.
  • When school and classroom prevention and intervention programs are effective, they:
    • begin early in childhood;
    • are comprehensive in nature (they address multiple risk and protective factors);
    • involve increasing positive interactions between adults and children;
    • directly teach new skills (provide practice); and,
    • are offered continuously and consistently through all the years of schooling.

Families, students, and school personnel regularly provide and receive feedback on the fidelity and acceptability of the supports provided and on the outcomes achieved for every student. This is typically achieved through the use of intervention fidelity checklists or rubrics (see resources).

  • Educators are provided a plethora of advice regarding Positive Behavioral Support Interventions, but scant help in integrating and sustaining effective practices into their ongoing practices. We recommend that selection of interventions be based upon a thorough assessment consisting of the following:
    • The school’s overall functioning, with special attention to disciplinary referral patterns (including suspensions and expulsions)
    • Systematic teacher nomination of individual student need
    • Self-reported violence perpetration and victimization (bullying and harassment)
    • Fidelity of program implementation

Thorough needs assessments in these areas (and others) can guide planning, avoid overlapping or conflicting services, and serve as the basis for evaluation of change over time.

  • The adoption and adaptation of known effective behavioral supports models present a unique set of challenges. Programs are not always implemented in the same way or with the same quality as when they were first evaluated or reported in a research study. Aspects of the program may be left out, either deliberately or inadvertently. For example, scheduling or funding constraints may curtail implementation of the full scope of the program. Similarly, implementers may not be trained sufficiently to conduct the program effectively. Without a high level of fidelity to the original evidence-based program, the positive results are less likely to be replicated.


  1. Sustained use of effective prevention and behavioral support practices must be a priority to make schools safe, effective, and supportive places to learn.

In order to establish a system of positive behavior interventions and supports, school stakeholders must prepare the groundwork by achieving the following things:

  • Establish a need and priority for improving student behavior, safety, and academic achievement.
    • Identify the change process as a top school improvement goal.
    • Secure staff and administrator commitment and leadership in the change process.
  • Develop a two- to three-year action plan with measurable goals and objectives.
  • Implement the plan and provide sustained staff development and coaching opportunities.

Next, a schoolwide leadership team should be established to guide needs assessments, set goals, and guide the change process. This team must include the principal and represent all stakeholders (teachers, paraprofessionals, related service personnel, and parents; secondary schools should include student representation). This team has a different function than those assembled to design supports for individual students.

The implementation of schoolwide, classroom, and individual student Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports should be institutionalized through the following four steps:

  • Incorporate an action plan with goals and measurable objectives for behavioral support into the school improvement process.
  • Provide regular and ongoing coaching, training, and recognition regarding school and classroom behavior and academic supports to all school personnel.
  • Respond to requests for behavior management assistance in the classroom in a timely and effective manner.
  • Establish and use multiple data sources to make decisions about changing, modifying, or intensifying academic and behavioral supports.
    • Data sources include:
      • Archival information such as office referrals, suspensions and expulsions;
      •  Progress monitoring data for individual students; and,
      • Implementation fidelity assessments.
  • All schools should record, monitor, and report on patterns of office discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions. These reports should include assessments of disproportionate representation by special education students, ethnic or cultural minority students, and by gender.
  • Conduct ongoing and regular evaluations of the improvement efforts, which include examining the change in student behavior and determining how satisfied school staff and family members are with the process.


  1. Schools that are safe, supportive, and effective have five well-organized, clearly articulated systems of intervention. They are as follows:
  • Schoolwide: At the schoolwide level:
    • Schools define and promote positive behavioral expectations (e.g., safety, respect, responsibility)
    •  Teach, practice, and review those rules regularly
    •  Recognize students for following the rules
    •  Actively supervise students in all settings
    • Use schoolwide information campaigns to promote and sustain the intervention systems.
  • Classroom: All adults in the school are trained and supported to be effective classroom managers and to support student academic success. Effective teachers design orderly physical environments, establish predictable and orderly routines, adapt instruction to ensure academic success, and minimize inappropriate behavior performance. In addition, teachers are able to get help quickly with chronically disruptive students. 
  • Common areas: Common areas such as recess fields, cafeterias, and hallways are well supervised and students are taught to follow orderly, predictable routines in these areas. Common area supervisors use active movement, high rates of positive interaction, and firm but fair corrections when inappropriate behaviors occur. Common area supervisors receive regular training and coaching on these methods.
  • Individual students: Schools systematically identify and assist students who display chronic patterns of disruptive or dangerous behavior. Positive and effective plans for these students include increased academic and positive behavioral supports. Each school building has a team of people who are well trained and prepared to support classroom teachers in building effective plans. These teams develop systematic support plans based on functional behavior assessments, set objective criteria for success, review progress monitoring data and set clear time intervals for making program change decisions. Systems for documenting adherence to the plan are also implemented.
  • Family support and collaboration: Families have a central role in socializing and supporting the academic success of their children. Therefore, schools and families must be partners in supporting and socializing students. Without parent collaboration, any gains that a school may realize in student behavior may be limited to that setting. The research is clear: parent support can significantly increase the effectiveness of any school intervention. Also, if parents are involved when things go well, it will be easier to solve problems when things do not go well. Finally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires meaningful parent participation! At a minimum, families need the following from the school:
    • To hear from the teacher at the beginning of the year (and regularly thereafter)
    • To hear good things about their child
    • To know specific expectations for the student
    • To learn about concerns before they escalate
    • To have general information about what is going on at school
  • Schools can provide a bridge to improved communication and collaboration with the following methods:

    • Provide parents with:
      • A letter of introduction,
      • General school and classroom expectations, and
      • Individual behavior expectations for their child.

    • Inform and invite parents with a:
      • Classroom calendar or newsletter,
      • Good news note,
      • Phone call home, and
      • Home-school communication sheet about behavioral and academic success.


  1. Effective schools build and maintain a positive "social culture."

Successful students are safe (don’t hurt themselves or others), respectful (follow adult requests and get along with their peers), and responsible (arrive to class on time and complete assignments). These foundational skills are essential for a safe and orderly school environment.

In addition, members of a positive social culture use “higher order” skills, such as (a) impulse control, (b) anger management, (c) conflict resolution, (d) empathy, and (e) drug and alcohol use resistance and prevention. Research studies consistently show that schools that establish a positive social culture also achieve the best academic gains.


  1. All students with chronic inappropriate behavior, whether or not they have been identified as eligible for special education, can benefit from the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
  • Research indicates that a typical school will have three relatively distinct populations of students: typically developing or non-at-risk, mildly at-risk, and high-risk or antisocial. This model includes students with and without identified disabilities.
  • Effective schools regularly conduct universal screenings to identify these students via teacher or parent/caregiver nominations or by monitoring discipline referral patterns. A continuum of supports should match the intensity of student need with adequate services. Supports may be provided in the general education environment or in “schools within schools” to decrease stigma or stress for identified students.
  • At-risk children and youth need additional supports, such as (a) self-management skills training, (b) positive reinforcement, (c) school-based mentors, (c) increased social-emotional skills training, (d) extra academic support, (e) family support and involvement in intervention, (f) personal issues counseling, and (g) alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion. 
  • Supports must be guided by an understanding of why the undesirable behavior “works” for the student and how adults and other students may promote and maintain it. The methods to achieve this are known as Functional Behavior Assessments.
  • The method and complexity of functional behavior assessments will vary, depending on the complexity, severity, and frequency of the behavior. Family members, students, and school staff members need to be involved as partners in the assessment and in the process of developing a positive behavioral intervention plan. These plans should not be focused solely on the negative consequences that will occur if the behavior continues, but rather should focus on reducing inappropriate behaviors by teaching and encouraging alternative positive replacement behaviors, and recognizing and reinforcing existing positive behaviors.