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Project

Efficacy Study of Foundations, School-wide Positive Discipline for Middle Schools

SRI is evaluating the impact of the Foundations program, a schoolwide intervention for promoting positive discipline policies, on perceptions of school climate and students’ behavior and academic performance in middle schools.


The Foundations program is a schoolwide intervention for promoting positive discipline policies. Foundations provides tools and strategies to help K–12 school staff establish proactive, nonpunitive school-wide discipline policies, manage student misbehavior, foster student motivation, and create a positive and productive school climate. SRI Education, in partnership with Safe & Civil Schools, is conducting a large-scale randomized study in 42 middle schools across multiple school districts in three states. SRI is evaluating the impact of Foundations on student and staff perceptions of school climate, students’ behavior and academic performance, and direct observations of common areas in the school such as hallways and the cafeteria. 

Well-designed but relatively small-scale experimental and quasi-experimental studies demonstrate the efficacy of school-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) frameworks in improving behavior and academic outcomes, but most were conducted in elementary schools. For example, several randomized controlled trials (RCT) in elementary schools demonstrated that multitiered systems can be implemented with fidelity and improve staff’s perceptions of school climate; significantly improve schools’ organizational health, staff affiliation (positive feelings about colleagues, commitment to the students), and the principals’ ability to obtain school resources; and improve staff’s perceptions of school safety. 

More than 5,000 schools across 49 states implement Foundations, a PBIS approach to creating positive and proactive school environments developed by Safe & Civil Schools. Foundations provides tools and strategies to help K–12 school staff establish proactive, nonpunitive school-wide discipline policies, manage student misbehavior, foster student motivation, and create a positive and productive school climate. A school leadership team receives direct and intensive training on the Foundations model over the course of 2 years from certified Safe & Civil SchoolsSCS trainers. That team then facilitates planning and in-service sessions to all school staff, thereby offering collegial and structural supports for continuous improvement, data-based problem-solving, capacity building, and sustainability of the model at the local level. Safe & Civil SchoolsSCS equips teams with video lectures, demonstration vignettes, reproduciblfor collecting and using data, and ongoing technical assistance to assist in their local training and support efforts.  

While there are many schools implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and SupportsPBIS approaches, rigorous evidence supporting our understanding of the change mechanisms associated with this manualized, widely disseminated PBIS intervention is scant, especially in secondary schools. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, SRI Education is conducting a high-quality RCT to assess the efficacy of Foundations under routine conditions in a diverse set of middle schools across the country and to assess critical factors that may mediate its effects on school climate and students’ behavioral and academic outcomes. Forty-two schools were randomly assigned to the Foundations condition or a business-as-usual comparison condition. The outcome data include staff and student climate surveys, School-wide Evaluation Tool ratings, direct observations of common areas (hallways, cafeteria), and extant data including state achievement test scores, attendance, office discipline referrals, and suspension and expulsion rates. SRI researchers are currently analyzing data, and the results will be disseminated as the analyses are conducted.  

The study presented here is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A160005 to SRI International. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education. 

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