Social-Emotional Learning

PBIS Positively Impacts Student Discipline

A new study from Tulane University found that following a data-driven approach to student behavior correlated with a decrease in disciplinary incidents by as much as a quarter to almost three-quarters. The focus of the study specifically examined the use of Kickboard, a combination of software and professional development, based in positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) and social-emotional learning. A big part of PBIS is to encourage teachers to focus less attention on punishing bad behavior and more on "teaching, recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors." The Kickstart platform focuses on the collection of data about student behavior and teacher responses to those behaviors.

PBIS Positively Impacts Student Discipline

The number of suspensions in Kickboard-using schools dropped in the year that schools adopted the software, compared to a comparison group of schools. Source: "A Different Approach to Student Behavior: Addressing School Discipline and Socioemotional Learning through Positive Behavior Intervention Systems" from Tulane University's Education Research Alliance

The company was formed in New Orleans in 2009, after Hurricane Katrina struck and the city handed over many of its schools to non-profit charter school operators to run. Tulane researchers Nathan Barrett and Douglas Harris chose to study the use of Kickboard in 70 Louisiana schools, primarily elementary and middle schools, the majority in New Orleans, and all of which began using the platform sometime between 2009 and 2015.

According to a project brief, students attending a school using Kickboard tended to do worse on standardized tests and were more likely to be suspended and to serve more total days of suspension than the average student attending other schools.

Teachers use the software by entering information on a number of student behaviors in real time on mobile devices. School administrators can track student behavior by student and classroom. The software comes with basic training, and the company also sells additional professional development to help educators use the software more effectively as part of changing their school cultures.

The study used anonymized school data from the years 2011-2015 about behavior, both positive and negative, provided by the company along with data from the state's Department of Education.

The analysis uncovered several findings:

  • Use of the software varied widely among teachers, administrators and schools. While some teachers logged in several times a day, others hardly used the software at all.
  • In the majority of Kickboard schools, the number of behaviors marked as positive in the system far exceeded the number of negative behaviors, consistent with the intended emphasis on positive behaviors.
  • After schools adopted Kickboard, the average number of suspensions per student they imposed dropped by between 26 and 72 percent from the baseline (the two years prior to Kickboard adoption). The average number of suspension days per student per year declined by more than half (52 percent) from the baseline.

The researchers acknowledged that simply adopting Kickboard didn't necessarily lead to the benefits. "We cannot completely rule out that Kickboard schools were also adopting changes in their discipline policies at the same time and that these changes led to reduced suspensions," the brief noted. However, they also attempted to isolate the effect of Kickboard usage from other factors with two additional tests, one that restricted their analysis to suspensions due to violent behavior (such as fighting and bringing weapons to school) and the other by examining schools that didn't use Kickboard "intensively." In both cases, they concluded that the results pointed back to the use of Kickboard as being the primary driver for success.

Calling the outcomes "promising," the researchers concluded that tracking student behavior and using the data as part of a "larger school culture strategy" offered a way for schools "to reduce exclusionary discipline and encourage more positive student behavior."

The evaluation brief is available through Tulane's Education Research Alliance website, along with a technical report that describes the project in more detail.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.