Prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, the traditional method of deciding whether a struggling student received extra time and support through special education was with the discrepancy model. Under the discrepancy model, action would not take place until there was a discrepancy between a student’s expected achievement and their actual achievement. Simply put, a school had to wait for a student to fail before providing the supports necessary to accelerate learning.
The introduction of IDEA allowed schools to use the Response to Intervention (RTI) framework for identification purposes, which means only after students have failed responding to a series of timely, systematic, increasingly focused, and intensive research-based interventions will a student be considered for special education services. RTI allows schools to identify the kinds of support struggling students need and provide individualized support when it’s needed.
However, when it comes to behavior, do we support students with the same series of timely, systematic, and increasingly focused interventions to support and change behavior—or do we use suspension as our only means to “teach” a student how to behave? Exclusionary discipline practices are equivalent to using the “wait to fail” approach in academics; both are reactionary, not preventive. Is behavior RTI (preventive discipline) visible on your campus? Or does your system respond to behavior today with the same approach schools responded to academics 15 years ago?
Students need to be educated in a method that addresses both their academic and behavioral needs. You cannot have one without the other if you want to see growth in the student—especially if we are pushing educators to prepare students for the competitive workforce. Students who cannot demonstrate appropriate behaviors and social skills will struggle tremendously if we only focus our efforts on academics and fail to address the critical behavioral needs of the students. We have coined this concept as common core behavior. We also tend to forget that many students who demonstrate challenging behaviors in school are either struggling academically or are bored because they already understand the content. Addressing behavioral needs should be addressed with the same level of focus as the student’s academic needs. Take the School-Wide Academic and Behavioral Goals Questionnaire from The PBIS Tier One Handbook as you begin to assess your school’s current state of connecting academic and behavior systems:
From our experience, most school administrators/staff will indicate ‘yes’ responses for many of the questions in the academic column of the questionnaire and ‘no’ for many of the responses in the behavioral column. This is not meant to be a gotcha but an indicator that the focus on behavior is not as intentional as academics in the school.
Tip: The eight questions listed on the questionnaire are basic foundational requirements for the initial setup of a system that supports both academic and behavioral needs of students. Each question can be changed to a strategy that refines the connection of academics and behavior. For example, if you answered ‘yes’ to having a team that evaluates school-wide academic data on a regular basis, the strategy would be to put together a team or use the existing team of diverse school members to also evaluate school-wide behavioral data on a regular basis. As you are building your system, go down the list of questions on the questionnaire and do the same for each.
Also, as your school team delves deeper into the school behavioral data, they will be able to identify trends, assess the needs of students, and provide additional behavioral supports similar to how it is done with academics. Once you are able to mark ‘yes’ to all academic and behavioral questions on the questionnaire, probe deeper by considering the following questions as a team:
- Can the school administration/staff articulate the importance of connecting academics and behavior when working with students?
- Are similar resources allocated to both academic and behavioral supports?
- Can the administration/staff articulate what is expected of them at the class level (Tier 1) as they are providing academic supports?
- Can the administration/staff articulate what is expected of them at the class level (Tier 1) as they are providing behavioral supports?
- Can the administration/staff articulate what is available for targeted or at risk (Tier 2) academic interventions at the school for students not responding to the classroom supports alone?
- Can the administration/staff articulate what is available for targeted or at risk (Tier 2) behavioral interventions at the school for students not responding to the classroom supports alone?
- Can the administration/staff articulate what is available for individualized (Tier 3) academic interventions (general education and special education) at the school for students not responding to the classroom level or targeted/at risk levels of intervention?
- Can the administration/staff articulate what is available for individualized (Tier 3) behavioral interventions (general education and special education) at the school for students not responding to the classroom level or targeted/at risk levels of intervention?
Having a solid, preventive tier one behavior system in place (see The PBIS Tier One Handbook) coupled with an innovative response to students who misbehave (Don’t Suspend Me: An Alternative Discipline Toolkit) will do to your behavior systems what 2004 IDEA and RTI was designed to do for your academic systems. In our next article, It’s Not PBIS That’s Not Working, we will address the top reasons for PBIS implementation failure.