Positive Behavior Support System

The purpose of the Positive Behavior Support System (PBSS) is to help fulfill Timothy Murphy’s core mission to help students access their education through a combination of skills acquisition, behavior management, and therapeutic treatment. The TMS Behavior System is designed with our specific student population in mind, which is typified by children who have had little academic success and a significant history of emotional and behavioral disturbance. It provides structure primarily through positive reinforcement strategies, meaning it promotes rewards for good behavior rather than punishment for bad behavior. It does this through implementation of a Level System, Token System, Milestone Rewards, and Cost Response procedures.

The Level System

Our 6-level system serves two main purposes. The first purpose is to motivate the students to avoid problematic actions and to learn new, more appropriate behaviors that can enable them to learn. This is accomplished through the use of rewards and privileges, which increase as the student attains higher levels.

Daily Rating Example

Each of the Behavior Domains (Compliance, Work Completion, and Socialization) are scored from 1-5 three times a day. It might look like this:

Session 1 (8:30-10:30)
Compliance: 1
Work Completion: 4
Socialization: 3

Session 2 (10:30-12:30)
Compliance: 2
Work Completion: 4
Socialization: 5

Session 3 (12:30-2:30)
Compliance: 5
Work Completion: 4
Socialization: 5

Total Behavior Points: 33

We then compare the total number of Behavior Points to this chart:




In this case, the Daily Rating would be a 4. This means that tomorrow’s Level will also be a 4.

So why are Daily Ratings and Levels different things? Because the Daily Rating attempts to be an accurate assessment of the day’s behavior. But sometimes the day’s Level is lower because of misbehavior. So, for instance, a student might have earned a Daily Rating of 4 the day before but is only on Level 3 today because he did not wear his school uniform. In other words, the Daily Rating is an assessment of the day while the Level determines privileges.

The second purpose of the level system is evaluative. Over time, the system allows us to look at collected behavior data to see where the student is succeeding and where he is struggling. This allows us to create personalized programs to help individual students succeed within our program. Moreover, the system allows us to determine if placement at TMS is no longer a good fit, either because we can’t serve his needs or if he might be ready for a more mainstream placement.

Every student is assessed three times daily on a scale from 1-5 in three behavior domains: compliance, work completion, and socialization.

  • Compliance measures the degree to which the students comply with the rules and expectations of the classroom and the school.
  • Work Completion measures two things: what percentage of assigned tasks were completed and how much effort went into completing them.
  • Socialization focuses on the social interactions of the students with both peers and adults.

These behavior points are then added up at the end of the day, which can fall between 9 and 45 in a full day. The total number determines that day’s Daily Rating, which can range from 1 to 6. The more points the student gets, the higher the Daily Rating. The Daily Rating then becomes the next day’s Level (e.g. a Daily Rating of 3 = Level 3).

Levels 3 and 4 are considered average for TMS students. Levels 1 or 2 indicate more significant problems or a crisis, while Levels 5 and 6 indicate outstanding behavior.

The Token Economy

As with most schools of our kind, the TMS system employs a token economy. Students earn “tokens” for good behavior throughout the course of the day that they can then use to purchase privileges, snacks, and cool stuff like toys and electronics. The main purpose is to provide positive reinforcement for new, more appropriate behaviors. It also gives the students the opportunity to learn about earning rewards and saving up for future purchases.

There are two kinds of tokens: Store Tokens and Classroom Tokens. Store Tokens are those that can be spent in only one way: in the school store, which students can access one or two times a week. Students earn Store Tokens at the end of day—we take the total Behavior Points and multiply them by the Daily Rating. In the example in the box on the right, the student would have earned 132 Store Tokens (33 Behavior Points x Daily Rating of 4).

Classroom Tokens are those that can only be spent on classroom items and privileges—they cannot be spent in the school store. These tokens are earned throughout the course of the day as rewards for good behavior. Their primary purpose is to reinforce desired behaviors, especially those related to classroom expectations and IEP goals.

Cost Response System

When students break rules, there is a consequence (or “cost”) to such behavior. The object is to encourage the student to cease problematic behaviors, such as inappropriate language, disruptive actions, or aggressive interactions. The mildest form of cost response is the verbal correction, followed then by token loss—classrooms generally have a token “fee” for certain behaviors, like curse words or leaving the classroom without permission. A more serious response is the Instant Level Drop. This can happen after more serious behaviors, like property damage, and can instantly drop a student’s Level down one or more. It’s also possible to freeze a student’s Level for a few days, regardless of what Daily Ratings they are earning. Passive rule breaking refers to behaviors that are not disruptive but nevertheless violate school rules—the most common example is not wearing the school uniform. This results in a level cap of 3, meaning they can’t get higher than a Level 3 on the days they engage in passive rule breaking.

Milestone Awards

While the day-to-day level method is effective at reinforcing new behavior patterns, there is benefit to having rewards that require extended periods of doing well. These are called Milestone Rewards. They have the added benefit of signaling when a student is expressing a more stable pattern of behavior that might indicate a change in services or placement is called for. We have two main Milestone Rewards: High Step and Merit.

High Step is achieved after a student earns a Daily Rating of 4 or higher in eight out of ten school days without any Daily Ratings of 1. A student may apply for Merit after achieving a Daily Rating of 5 or 6 in thirteen out of fifteen school days without any Daily Ratings of 1 or 2. Students on High Step get to attend our monthly High Step Lunch, while those on Merit also get to participate in the monthly Merit Outings.

Another important aspect of Merit is the chance to transition to a mainstream environment. If a student is able to maintain Merit status for at least six consecutive weeks, the IEP team may choose to meet and discuss options for a move over to a public school. If the Merit student continues to attend TMS, he can be recognized with the following Milestone awards—Bronze Eagle for six weeks on Merit; Silver Eagle for twelve weeks; and Golden Eagle for twenty four weeks.

Find out more about our programs at TMS