Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Factors Related to Sustained Implementation of Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Factors Related to Sustained Implementation of Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support

Article excerpt

Although sustainability of evidence-based interventions is consistently noted in the literature as a critical goal for both researchers and practitioners (Adelman & Taylor, 2003; Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, Friedman, & Wallace, 2005; Gersten, Chard, & Baker, 2000), there has been little large-scale empirical research into the phenomenon since seminal work published over 30 years ago (e.g., Berman & McLaughlin, 1976). As a result, practitioners have had to rely primarily on anecdotal evidence or untested theories for guidance. With the growing research base for some interventions and proliferation of reviews of evidence-based practices (e.g.,;, attention to how these practices can be sustained is warranted.

Sustainability has been defined as "a practice's potential for durable implementation with high fidelity, when considering features of the practice, its implementation, and the context of implementation" (McIntosh & Turri, in press). Implementing systems-level school-based practices with fidelity requires a considerable amount of resources (e.g., time, external support). Moreover, each school context is dynamic, changing significantly and unpredictably across and within school years. In a review of stages of practice implementation, Fixsen and colleagues (2005) describe the sustainability stage as the process of maintaining fidelity through these inevitable changes so that the practice continues to be effective in the long term. Given the constant threat of practice abandonment (e.g., Santangelo, 2009), continued support for schools that are implementing practices is needed. However, there are an overwhelming number of aspects of the practice to target for sustainability, and limited educational resources necessitate specific and directed support. As such, it is worthwhile to identify the most important variables to support implementation most effectively (Adelman & Taylor, 2003).


Despite the dearth of large-scale research into sustainability, some articles in recent years have aimed to shed light on the phenomenon of sustainability. These articles are primarily theoretical papers, retrospective case studies, and small-scale qualitative research studies, with some notable exceptions (e.g., Coffey & Horner, 2012). From this literature, McIntosh, Horner, et al. (2009) proposed a model of sustainability of school-based practices that includes three iterative steps, four hypothesized factors, and potential mechanisms by which these factors affect sustainability. The steps are identifying valued outcomes, identifying and modifying practices, and implementing practices. Outcomes of the practices are then compared to the desired outcomes. If the practice is seen as viable for meeting those outcomes, school personnel and stakeholders may choose to continue implementing or modify the practice.

Through these steps, contextual factors act to enhance or impede sustainability. These hypothesized factors are priority, effectiveness, efficiency, and continuous regeneration. These factors are assumed to build upon each other, such that heightened priority leads to improved implementation, enhancing effectiveness and perceived efficiency, with continuous regeneration acting upon all three. Likewise, deficiencies in one factor may negatively affect the other factors, threatening sustainability.


Priority is the relative importance of the practice in comparison to other practices (McIntosh, Horner, et al., 2009). It includes general, often intangible support for the specific practice, amidst a sea of competing initiatives. Priority acts on sustainability by increasing the likelihood that school personnel will engage in implementation activities instead of competing tasks. It can be manifested at the individual, school, district, regional, and state levels and is considered to be multifaceted. …

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