Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Level Systems Revisited: An Important Tool for Educating Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Level Systems Revisited: An Important Tool for Educating Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt


Students who have been identified as emotionally or behaviorally disturbed are among those most difficult to teach and the least likable by those who work in educational settings (Walker, McConnell, Holmes, & Todis, Walker, & Golden, 1983). They engage in disruptive, destructive, aggressive and defiant behaviors that have been linked to teacher stress, burnout and attrition. In fact, teacher attrition is a major contributor to the special education personnel shortages. Most studies have reported survey research and attrition rates. The ability of public schools to retain qualified special education teachers is questionable. For over two decades, educators have voiced concerns about teacher attrition in special education (Boe, Cook, Bobitt, & Webber, 1995; George, George, Gersten, & Grosenick, 1995; Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff, & Harniss, 2001; Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999). In a National survey of over 1,000 special educators recently conducted by the Council for Exceptional Children (2001) they concluded: "Poor teaching conditions contribute to a high rate of special educators leaving the field, teacher burnout, and substandard quality of education for students with special needs."

Higher attrition rates among special educators are often attributed to the stress involved in working with special education populations. It is widely accepted that special educators are greatly affected by the pressures which accompany working with students who demonstrate a wide range of social and academic problems (Council for Exceptional Children, 2001). There is no surprise that teachers of students classified as E/BD, compared to teachers of other students with disabilities, report greater job dissatisfaction, feelings of depersonalization, exhaustion, and consequently are at greater risk for dropping out of the special education profession (George, George, Gersten, & Grosenick, 1995; Pullis, 1992). Thus, it is not hard to understand why teachers who work with students identified as E/BD have the highest attrition rate among special education teachers (Brownnell, Smith, & Miller, 1994; George, George, Gersten, & Grosenick, 1995; Singer, 1993; Singh & Billingsley, 1996).

Given the difficulties associated with educating students with emotional and behavioral disorders, it is imperative that teachers are provides with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to develop the most effective programs for their students. One such set of strategies involves the development of effective classroom Level systems.

Level systems are essentially an application of the principle of shaping, where the goal is self-management (i.e., developing personal responsibility for social, emotional, and academic performance. Kanfer and Zich (1974) suggested that self-management is the final outcome of a process involving self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-reinforcement, all of which are involved in level systems. A student's progress through the various levels of a Level system depends on changes in this or her measurable behavior and achievement. As the student progresses through the levels, the behavioral expectations and privileges provided for acceptable behavior are altered toward the eventual goal of self-management.

Although once very prevalent in programs for students with E/BD, Level systems have recently become less popular in school settings (Webber & Plotts (2008). Some concerns have been raised as to the appropriateness of Level systems in the context of current models of service delivery and IDEA (Scheuerman, Webber, Partin & Kneies, 1994). We believe that many of the problems that have been associated with the use of level systems can be avoided or overcome by a complete understanding of the purpose of these systems and the development of skills necessary to develop and implement effective systems with students with E/BD.

Over the past 20 years, the authors have worked extensively with students with emotional and behavioral disorders in school settings. …

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