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Keep data clean, communicated, and in the right context to support good decision-making.

by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D., Director of Professional Learning and Community Engagement

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support is what schools implementing PBIS call the systems, practices, and data they use to support positive social, emotional, and academic outcomes for students.

  • Systems are the routines and procedures to make clear what staff are supposed to do. 
  • Practices are what individual staff do when they teach and interact with students.
  • Data is the information we use to identify problems quickly enough to intervene.

Most schools that I work with are skilled at building the systems and practices. What can be tricky is using data in ways that are helpful. And, if we’re not careful, data-based decisions can turn into data-based mistakes. Here are three common ways to make a data-based mistake:

1. Your discipline referral data are dirty.

Dirty data is data that is inaccurate. Sometimes this happens because disciplinary referrals are incomplete and are missing important information.  Other times, a teacher in one classroom writes referrals for gum chewing, while another teacher supplies gum before every test. When data seem inconsistent or incomplete, your team might consider whether the referral process is clear and think about offering additional training to staff.

2. Your data are secret.

Generally, one or two people are responsible for entering disciplinary referrals into your school’s database. Ideally, your school has a team that looks at the database frequently enough to identify any trends in unexpected behavior that need to be addressed. Then, you’d make a plan to prevent unexpected behavior, reteach positive behavior, and recognize positive behavior when you see it.

However, when staff don’t see the data that the team uses to make decisions, understanding why the team wants them to do something different, extra, or new can be hard. When your team develops an action plan based on discipline data, make sure that the data get communicated school-wide in a way that is easy to understand.

3. You picked the wrong data.

While most schools implementing PBIS use PBISApps to manage data related to social and emotional outcomes, virtually every school uses some kind of database to track disciplinary referrals. All databases have some capacity to present charts and graphs related to student behavior, and all can be easily misunderstood.

For example, take a look at this graph:

The reason for what the data looks like is more important than the graph itself.

At first, you might wonder why so much trouble happens early in the morning and be tempted to add extra supervision. But when you look deeper, the reason for most of the morning referrals are dress code violations that tend to ‘get caught’ early in the day.

Make sure to consider all possible lenses in a data set, including, who, what, when, where, and most importantly, why the behavior is occurring.

Keep your data clean, communicated, and in the right context.

Data are indispensable to effective PBIS implementation, and are typically among the easiest kinds of data to access and analyze. Take care to keep your data clean, communicated, and in the right context to support good decisions by your school’s PBIS team.

If you or your team is interested in learning more about implementing PBIS at Tier 1, 2, and 3, click here for an upcoming PBIS101 workshop.