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A Different Approach To Student Behavior: Addressing School Discipline and Socio-Emotional Learning Through Positive Behavior Intervention Systems

A new study from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance for New Orleans provides new rigorous evidence that a data-driven approach on student behavior and discipline incidents can have a measurable impact on student outcomes.

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A Different Approach To Student Behavior: Addressing School Discipline and Socio-Emotional Learning Through Positive Behavior Intervention Systems

by Nathan Barrett, Douglas N. Harris

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School and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers are increas­ing­ly con­cerned about the rates of stu­dent sus­pen­sion and expul­sion, and dis­par­i­ties by race and income. At the same time, they are inter­est­ed in focus­ing schools on stu­dent out­comes that go beyond test scores, such as socio-emo­tion­al learn­ing. Improved behav­ioral man­age­ment has the poten­tial to accom­plish both, by reduc­ing neg­a­tive behav­iors and encour­ag­ing non-aca­d­e­m­ic behav­iors that are impor­tant to long-term life suc­cess. Pos­i­tive Behav­ior Inter­ven­tions and Sup­ports (PBIS) is one increas­ing­ly com­mon approach being used in thou­sands of schools across the country.

In this study, we pro­vide evi­dence on the effects of the PBIS soft­ware and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment plat­form called Kick­board. The soft­ware allows teach­ers to input data on a wide range of stu­dent behav­iors in real time on portable elec­tron­ic devices. School admin­is­tra­tors can track stu­dent behav­ior by stu­dent and class­room. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing basic train­ing to help all schools set up and use the soft­ware, Kick­board allows schools to pur­chase oth­er ser­vices to help prac­ti­tion­ers bet­ter use the soft­ware to change their school cultures.

In this study, we describe Kick­board usage among teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors and esti­mate the effect of Kick­board on stu­dent out­comes in Louisiana schools dur­ing the years 2011 – 2015. Sev­er­al key find­ings emerge:

  • Use of the Kick­board soft­ware varies wide­ly across teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors, and schools. Some teach­ers almost nev­er log in to the soft­ware while oth­ers log in sev­er­al times per day. 
  • In the major­i­ty of Kick­board schools, the num­ber of behav­iors marked as pos­i­tive in the sys­tem far exceeds the num­ber of neg­a­tive behav­iors, con­sis­tent with the intend­ed focus on pos­i­tive behaviors. 
  • After the adop­tion of Kick­board, the aver­age num­ber of sus­pen­sions dropped by 0.140.38 per stu­dent per year (26 – 72% from base­line) and the aver­age num­ber of sus­pen­sion days per stu­dent per year declined by 0.71.5 (at least 52% from baseline).

We designed the analy­sis to iso­late the effect of using Kick­board itself from oth­er fac­tors that may affect stu­dent out­comes. Some of the evi­dence sug­gests that the use of Kick­board caused the reduc­tion in dis­ci­pline inci­dents, but we can­not rule out that the reduc­tion was part­ly dri­ven by changes in dis­ci­pline strate­gies that accom­pa­nied Kick­board adoption.

While Kick­board aims to affect most­ly non-aca­d­e­m­ic out­comes, one pos­si­ble con­cern with a reduc­tion in the num­ber of sus­pen­sions and expul­sions is that keep­ing stu­dents with behav­ior issues in the class­room may harm the learn­ing envi­ron­ment and reduce achieve­ment for oth­er stu­dents. We see no evi­dence of a reduc­tion in achieve­ment and some lim­it­ed signs of increas­es in stan­dard­ized test scores.

These pos­i­tive find­ings are gen­er­al­ly con­sis­tent with oth­er rig­or­ous stud­ies of PBIS, which focus more on the PBIS pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment than soft­ware use. While there is still more we need to under­stand about PBIS, includ­ing Kick­board, these results are promis­ing. Track­ing stu­dent behav­ior in this way, and using the data as part of larg­er school cul­ture strat­e­gy, seems to offer a way for schools to reduce exclu­sion­ary dis­ci­pline and encour­age more pos­i­tive stu­dent behavior.

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