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 ExampleEach 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.


The day-by-day method of determining Levels is an effective way to administer classroom privileges and reinforce positive behaviors. However, it is also important to recognize when a student is maintaining appropriate behavior over an extended period of time. We do this with Milestone Rewards. The key TMS award is Merit.

The purpose of Merit is to celebrate a regular and sustained effort at excellence that mirrors acceptable mainstream behavior. The rules for Merit are these:

  • The student needs to earn Daily Ratings of 4, 5, or 6 over fifteen consecutive days.
  • He can earn two Daily Ratings of 2 or 3 in the fifteen-day cycle. However, the final day must be a 4, 5, or 6.
  • He cannot earn any Daily Ratings of 1.

Each teacher can also apply further reasonable requirements in each classroom. For instance, the student must also follow the dress code, follow protocols for personal electronics, and so on. However, the extra requirements need to be clear, concrete, and measurable, and they must be communicated to the students before they expect to be on Merit.

These things can happen to knock a student off of Merit:

  • If the student earns a Daily Rating of 1.
  • If he earns three Daily Ratings of 2-3 in a two week (10-school day) period.
  • If the student engages in significant aggression, property destruction, theft, or other major infraction.

There are two main benefits to Merit. The first is the ability to attend the monthly Merit Outings. These are day-trips that involve fun activities like eating out or attending a movie.

The second main benefit is more significant. If a student maintains Merit for at least six consecutive weeks, his IEP team can choose to meet and discuss the possibility of transitioning to a mainstream setting. This is not automatic—there are cases where a student is able to maintain Merit for many months and still not be a good fit for a public school. However, six weeks on Merit is necessary for the conversation to start.
A student can earn special status awards by staying on Merit for an extended time:

  • 6 weeks: Bronze Eagle
  • 12 weeks: Silver Eagle
  • 24 weeks: Golden Eagle

The following list is to be presented to the students outlining all they need to do to transition to a public school:

  • Regularly following the school rules, including wearing the uniform every day and dealing with personal electronics responsibly.
  • Coming to school regularly and staying in assigned areas—
no AWOLs or ODAs.
  • Treating others with respect without resorting to threats, insults, or violence. No bullying or sexually acting out.
  • Following through on promises and obligations, admitting to mistakes, and accepting consequences for actions.
  • Doing one’s best to complete classwork and participate in school activities.
  • Responding to strong emotions by using coping skills without disrupting the classroom, putting anyone else at risk of harm, or causing property damage.
  • Using appropriate language.
  • Maintaining good personal hygiene.

Find out more about our programs at TMS