Student Engagement
This website was created and is maintained by the Student Engagement Project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, under the guidance of Dr. Reece Peterson. Below are frequently asked questions regarding the materials that are available on the site.

List of Questions - Click any Question to Jump Straight to the Answer

What is the purpose of this website and these materials?

These materials were created in order to provide structured methods for administrators and school based teams to address and prevent problems in school related to discipline and dropout. Collectively these materials provide ideas and information about evidence-based practices that could be integrated into school improvement planning. When implemented, these strategies may reduce the likelihood for students needing to be excluded for discipline and the likelihood that students will drop out of school.

Specifically our purposes are to:

Assist schools in taking actions to reduce school dropout rates and increase graduation.

Assist schools to reduce the use of suspension and expulsion as disciplinary consequences, and to identify and implement other non-exclusionary consequences. Assist schools in improving student behavior in school generally and in increasing student engagement in school, especially for at-risk students.

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Who should use these materials?

These materials are intended to be used by building administrators and school based teams of educators who are interested in making improvements in their schools related to reducing the use of exclusionary discipline practices, and reducing the likelihood that their students will drop out from school. The planning process and materials will assist schools to identify and implement evidence-based strategies related to these topics. Materials are intended to be useful with minimal outside training, support or resources to develop local improvement plans. The planning process is in accord with the Dropout Prevention Intervention Framework of the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities, and also the Framework of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

The planning process suggested could be a part of a school's "School Improvement" or Nebraska's "Improving Learning for Children with Disabilities (ILCD)" district planning process. These materials also support local and state efforts to address federal monitoring indicators (Barb B, SPP indicators #2 and #4) in the areas of "Suspension and Expulsion" and of "Dropout/Graduation" for students with disabilities.

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How much do these materials cost?

The materials are free for use by schools. The development of project website and materials is supported by Nebraska Department of Education Project 94-2810-248-1B1-13 (USDE Grant #HO27A110079). Contents do not necessarily represent the policy of NDE or USDE, and no endorsement should be assumed. Permission to duplicate is granted for non-commercial use by school personnel working in school settings.

Materials focus both on students with disabilities and for all students

Although we are particularly interested in these goals for students with disabilities, we recognize that virtually all of the strategies we present should apply to all students!

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What level are these materials intended for - the classroom, the whole school, or the whole district?

These materials and our discussion of them focus on their use as a part of a school-wide planning process. Such a school-wide view is critical to making progress on goals such as discipline and dropout which may cut across individual classrooms and teachers. Many of the strategies and goals could not be accomplished entirely at the classroom level. However, we clearly understand that an individual teacher might use and adapt many of the strategies described in order to improve outcomes for teachers and students at the classroom level. Simalarly, these same strategies and activities could be undertaken at a district-wide level. While support for these goals at the district level would be very desirable, there would likely still be lots of variations from school to school and most of the actual implementation would occur in individual school.

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What age group are they intended for?

These strategies and materials could potentially apply to almost any level of schooling. However since both discipline/behavior and graduation/dropout become bigger issues for schools as students become older, it is most likely that secondary schools would find these materials most useful. Some of the behavior strategies and programs would however work well in elementary and even in preschool settings. We will attempt to label any strategies that are specifically related to only one age or grade level.

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What is "student engagement" and why is it important?

"Student engagement" seems to be a useful umbrella term for the overall goal of keeping students appropriately involved in school and learning. It is a core element to successfully reducing behavior and discipline problems, as well as being a core element of preventing students from dropping out of school. While engagement is our umbrella goal, a variety of strategies may be employed by school teams to achieve that goal.

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What is "prevention" and why is it important?

As teachers and administrators, we strive to maintain a safe and supportive learning environment, while attempting to educate students who possess an incredibly wide range of academic and social abilities. We are also acutely aware that a proportion of our students have difficulty keeping up with their peers or meeting standards for learning or behavior. Once they are behind in school it becomes more and more difficult for these students to "catch up". This leads to more and more serious academic and behavior problems and an increased likelihood that these students will drop out of school or need to be excluded from school or have other negative outcomes.

Most of us tend to want to continue our normal educational routine, and then deal with problems and crises as they occur. We also tend to grasp at any solution which would seem to "fix" the immediate problem so that we can get back to our normal routine. However, as we all know, this "getting by" approach over time leads to an increasing rate of various types of problems and crises occurring, usually with an increasing intensity. Sometimes these crises spiral out of control and consume all of our energy and resources. Administrators in particular feel that their entire day is spent dealing with the latest crisis.

Whether it relates to student academics, behavior, or safety, it is often difficult to maintain a focus on how that crisis circumstance could have been prevented or averted. That is compounded by the fact that effective efforts to prevent problems or crises are often hard to document. It is virtually impossible to document the costs, time consumed, problems created and after-effects of problems which did not occur! Kauffman (1999) has documented many of these types of issues related to the prevention of in an article in which he identified many of the factors that "prevent" an emphasis on "prevention".

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What is a prevention framework?

A framework as used here is a way to organize and prioritize actions schools can take to improve their effectiveness. In our case the three tiered "prevention" framework permits schools to identify and focus interventions on students based on their levels of need – certain prevention oriented interventions for all students; more focused interventions for selected or targeted students who are at risk or showing signs of difficulty; and finally, intense intervention for students who are clearly having chronic difficulty.

While this framework may require consistent basic core elements such as those on the PBIS elements listed below, it also permits other interventions to be included within the overall plan by identifying the appropriate tier, and how it would have impact on the students in that tier.

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How does prevention relate to PBIS and RTI?

This same framework for identifying and organizing interventions is the basis of both the Response to Intervention (RTI) and the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) initiatives. These systems are most often graphically displayed in a familiar triangle with horizontal lines breaking the triangle into the three tiers. The base or largest part of the pyramid represents primary level interventions focusing on all students, the smaller midsection represents secondary interventions for at-risk students, and the top of the pyramid is the tertiary level interventions for the most challenging students. The same content is also sometimes displayed graphically in concentric circles. The PBIS and RTI framework provides a foundation for preventing behavior or academic problems at school, as well as focusing extra intervention for those who are having difficulties.

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Why is PBIS particularly important?

PBIS (See the Strategy Brief on PBIS) is a program for preventing, reducing, and replacing problem behaviors employing a three tiered framework as described above. PBIS is based on problem-solving models and grounded in differentiated instruction based on tiers of intervention derived from student need. The key elements include:

  • Tiered approach to interventions for all students, for students at risk, and for student who are already having serious problems- the prevention framework described earlier.
  • School-wide focus on the importance of a student's environment and the role it plays in encouraging or discouraging behavior and retention in school.
  • Team-oriented approach to planning and implementation of interventions based on the framework.
  • Clear set of behavioral expectations and goals for students and staff (e.g., "Be safe, be respectful, be responsible").
  • Direct, explicit teaching of appropriate student behavior expectations for specific locations in the school based on the behavioral expectations (e.g. classroom, cafeteria, playground, etc.).
  • Consistent use of data collection and data analysis to facilitate decision making and to continuously modify school procedures as may be suggested by the data.
  • Consistent effort to reinforce positive student behavior, and aggressively reinforce positive appropriate student behavior whenever it occurs.

These elements represent foundational elements on which other strategies can be built to support improvements in both student behavior and dropout prevention.

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What are "tiers"?

In medicine, mental health, and now in education, there are three generally accepted levels of prevention for various disorders or problems. Each of these levels represents ways that professionals can intervene in order to diminish problems in their clients. Here we will describe each level without technical jargon, and relate them to our purpose in schools, particularly focusing on student behavior.

Tier 1. The first level of intervention, called primary or universal prevention, is often called Tier 1 intervention in schools. Primary level interventions are delivered to all students, and attempt to undertake modifications in the environment or system which prevent behavior or mental health problems from developing. Tier 1 interventions are for all students in school.

Tier 2. The Secondary level of interventions in schools (now commonly called Tier 2) focuses on specific students who show initial signs or symptoms of difficulty. Data from these students is then used to provide targeted specific interventions to those "at-risk" students based on their specific needs and symptoms.

Tier 3. Tertiary level interventions (Tier 3) focus on rehabilitation and minimizing the risk of recurrence of mental health problems or behavioral episodes for students who have already experienced one or more behavioral crises.

These three Tiers of prevention oriented interventions in schools represent a useful framework for understanding how we can prevent behavioral crisis and make schools safer. Implementation of effective interventions at each of these three Tiers would also prevent or diminish the need for physical restraint and seclusion.

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What are "strategies"?

Strategies are methods or plans used to accomplish a goal. In our case strategies represent categories of possible actions or interventions which might be useful to organize school improvement related to discipline and dropout prevention. These strategies represent sub-components of an overall plan to address a need or problem. More than one strategy may be used concurrently, but too many different strategies all at once would probably be confusing. As a result we recommend that a school trying to improve identify just a few (2-4) strategies to work on at any one time. Strategies can be chosen based on needs identified in school data and also matched to interests and culture of a particular school.

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What activities can result from strategies?

Each strategy might engender many different activities, programs, practices or interventions, which also might vary from school to school even among schools working on the same strategy. For example if a school was focusing on the strategy of "Parent Involvement" specific activities might include—parent information sessions at school, family fun nights, requests for parent tutors; regular email to parents on student progress; newsletters to parents, and many more. Each school might choose to implement some of these specific activities based on local circumstances and available resources. In a school, some may already be in place, some could be improved, and others might need to be started new based on the decisions of a school based team or building leadership.

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How do you begin?

It would be extremely unlikely that a school would not already have in place some activities or programs designed to assist students to be successful. One of the first steps in developing plans related to discipline or dropout is to assess what problems and interventions might already be in place, to identify which tier of intervention they represent, and to identify any data about their current effectiveness.

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How do you measure strategy impact?

It is critical to monitor and gather data about the implementation and effects of any particular strategy. To that end data tools are developed for each strategy to assess implementation and fidelity to the strategy. Additional overarching impact data on rates of discipline or dropout would ultimately be used to measure the impact of each strategy.

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