The Impact of Positive Behavior Intervention Training for Teachers on Referral Rates for Misbehavior, Special Education Evaluation and Student Reading Achievement in the Elementary Grades

Article excerpt


A professional development program which trained whole school staffs in the use of positive behavioral interventions for the purpose of reducing referral rates of students for misbehavior and special education evaluation. The program focused on training teachers and paraprofessionals in behavior management strategies to increase "high approval teaching," to develop structured and organized classroom environments, to engage in contingent teaching, and to improve the overall school climate. The findings suggest that training whole school staffs is an efficient way to reduce referrals for student misbehavior, to reduce the number of conduct-based referrals for special education evaluation and to impact positively on student achievement vis-a-vis reading performance. The data demonstrate that increasing on-task behavior in classrooms and reducing misbehavior results in increased student achievement. This work stresses the importance of teaching prosocial and proacademic behaviors to elementary grade students, how these behaviors are critical to school success, and the way in which school principals can provide leadership for this work.

Keywords: contingent teaching, pro-social behaviors, pro-academic behaviors, reciprocity of approval.


The relationship between behavior management and student achievement has long been documented in the literature. Pre-service teacher education programs especially in the elementary grades must recognize the importance of training teachers in positive behavior intervention techniques as a way to maximize student social and academic learning. All too often, novice teachers arrive at busy, urban schools lacking the techniques they need to create positive learning environments that can best meet the diverse needs of elementary level learners. Both pre-service teachers and novice in-service teachers lack the years of experience which over time informs classroom management generally and behavior intervention more specifically. As a consequence, while they may know some behavior management techniques, they clearly have not had adequate training in how to implement these techniques nor how to maintain or generalize prosocial or proacademic behaviors in students after they begin to emerge in response to intervention.

What is key for classroom teachers in elementary school settings is that teachers understand both deficit and excessive behaviors relative to developmental norms and can design whole class and individual interventions that will seek to increase deficit behaviors and decrease excessive behaviors using high frequency social approval and tangible reinforcers during behavior acquisition. Positive classroom climate and classroom organization including structure and routines are essential for at-risk children to learn how to function in school. The importance of the classroom environment has been noted by Polloway, Patton and Serna (2001), who maintain that classroom organization and management are essential "precursors to teaching." Without this basic learning, the likelihood is that many young children, who may already come from chaotic and disorganized homes, will not have the opportunity to learn behaviors which will optimize their performance in school over time.

Hence this article will address how positive behavioral intervention training can be of great importance in providing elementary school teachers with myriad techniques that can literally change school outcomes for significant numbers of children who are often referred to special education because they have not developed the prosocial and proacademic behaviors necessary for school success.

The long-term causal relationship between teachers' abilities to manage students' behavior and teachers' referrals of misbehaving students for special education was evident in a series of studies conducted in the same schools where the behavior training program being described here was conducted. …