Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Sustainability of Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Sustainability of Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

Article excerpt

Education research has made important advances in defining practices that are effective, or evidence-based, in improving students' academic and social outcomes (Slavin, Holmes, Madden, Chamberlain, & Cheung, 2010). Using evidence-based practices with fidelity is more important than ever as schools, districts, and state departments of education strive to close the gaps between the achievement of students with disabilities and their peers. Practitioners cannot afford to "experiment" on students with practices that have not been proven effective. Instead, students need to be given the best possible chance for succeeding by receiving instruction and supports that have an evidence base. Although the content of the evidence-based practice, or innovation, is critical, it is insufficient to ensure academic or behavioral success (Damow, 2005). How the innovation is executed (i.e., its implementation) is an underemphasized component necessary for transforming the "promise" of an effective innovation into the outcome of improved student achievement (Buzhardt, Greenwood, Abbott, & Tapia, 2006; Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, Friedman, & Wallace, 2005).

Unfortunately, sustained use of an innovation is not guaranteed even when full and effective implementation occurs. The history of the field of education is littered with the detritus of successful programs that fell out of favor or were just forgotten over time, as evidenced by dusty kits, books, and teachers' guides safely tucked away in school closets all over the United States. In education, reinvention of the wheel occurs on a regular basis. Education systems do not have the funding or manpower to continually replace practices, nor can students "wait" for the education system to get it right; fully implemented evidence-based practices are needed now.


A review of the literature on sustainability of educational practices produces a large number of conceptual models and recommendations, but few empirical analyses. Existing conceptual models consistently emphasize the following variables as critical features that affect sustainability of an implemented practice:

* A Contextually Appropriate Innovation. A strong model of implementation for sustainability begins with an innovation that is aligned to state education agency (SEA) and local education agency (LEA) standards and requirements (Mihalic, Irwin, Fagan, Ballard, & Elliott, 2004). Furney and colleagues' longitudinal policy analysis of four schools found that state and federal policy initiatives can influence outcomes for all students but will not be wholly effective unless contextually appropriate implementation is considered (Furney, Hasazi, Clark, & Keefe-Harmett, 2003; Mihalic et al., 2004). Damow (2005) found in her study of the sustainability of comprehensive school reform models that changing district and state contexts affected the sustainability of these models, but that the effects were tempered by the schools' strategies for dealing with change, demonstrating that each level of the school system should be considered when determining the contextual appropriateness of an innovation.

* Staff Buy-In. It has been recommended that 80% of staff "buy in" before a decision is made by the school to implement an innovation (DeStefano, Dailey, Berman, & Mclnerney, 2001). Buy-in is defined as verbal statements supporting change and the overt nonverbal behaviors necessary for change to take place (Boyce & Roman, 2002).

* A Shared Vision. A shared vision is an agreement between school personnel about the core components of the innovation and what implementation of those core components will look like, as well as the teachers' desired outcomes for the innovation. A shared vision becomes tangible in a plan detailing how implementation and sustainability will be programmed; vague or tentative plans typically end in unsuccessful implementation (Elias, Zins, Graczyk, & Weissberg, 2003; Fullan, 2005). …

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