Point and Level Systems

What are point and level systems?

Point and level systems are a behavioral management approach that have been commonly recommended by educators, used in programs for students that exhibit challenging behavior, and discussed in the literature. They are designed to be an organizational framework for managing student behavior where “students access greater independences and more privileges as they demonstrate increased behavioral control” (Heward, p. 306, 2003). Students learn appropriate behavior through clearly defined behavioral expectations and rewards, privileges, and consequences linked to those expectations. There are specific criteria for advancement to the next level where the student(s) enjoy more desirable contingencies. It is intended that students who proceed through the levels are more able to self-manage, capable of handling more responsibility and therefore enjoy greater independence. There are four main goals of point and level systems: 1) increasing appropriate behavior; 2) promoting academic achievement; 3) fostering a student’s improvement through self-management; and 4) developing personal responsibility for social emotional and academic performance (Farrell, Smith & Brownell, 1998).

There are many different examples of point and level systems that have been used to manage challenging student behavior in a variety of settings (Algozzine, 1990; Barbetta, 1990a, 1990b; Bauer & Shea, 1988; Bauer, Shea, & Keppler, 1986; Cruz & Cullinan, 2001; Kerr & Nelson, 1989). The example given here is one type of point and level system developed and used by the authors for over ten years in an elementary program for students with behavioral challenges in a public school setting. The system has been used and adapted in several other school districts at all grade levels with reported effectiveness. This system is described in detail to provide one example of how point and level systems might be used and combined with other strategies (e.g. token economies, positive reinforcement, self-management). However, we recommend that teachers considering the use of a point and level system look at many examples and design a system that meets the needs of their specific group of students.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of point and level systems?

The primary advantage of level systems is that it specifies a hierarchy of skills that are needed to be successful in the educational setting. Teachers generally have found point and level systems to be effective in increasing appropriate behavior and academic achievement. Our experience supports the conclusion that point and level systems can be effective. However, there is little empirical evidence that the use of these systems result in the generalization and maintenance of behavior changes independent of extrinsic teacher control. In addition, concern has been raised that level systems may violate the basic principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when implemented in a uniform, standardized fashion for all students in a give classroom or school. Although we do recommend the use of point and level systems as one tool of effective behavioral management, teachers should be careful to design the system to accommodate the specific goals of each student or each group of students with regards to initial level placement, use of rewards and consequences, and criteria for progressing through the system.

References/Recommended Resources

Algozzine, R. (1990). Problem behavior management: Educator’s resource
service. Rockville, MD: Aspen.
Barbetta, P. (1990a) GOALS: A group-oriented adapted levels systems for
children with behavior disorders. Academic Thearpy, 25, 645-656.
Barbetta, P. (1990b). Red-light-green-light: A classwide management
system for students with behavior disorders primary grades. Preventing
School Failure, 34(4), 14-19.
Bauer, A.M. & Shea, T.M. (1988). Structuring classrooms through level
systems. Focus on Exceptional Children, 21(3), 1-12.
Bauer, A.M., Shea, T.M., & Keppler, R. (1986). Level systems: A
framework for the individualization of behavior management. Behavioral
Disorders, 12, 28-35.
Cruz, L. & Cullinan, D. (2001). Awarding points, using levels to help
children improve behavior. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(3), 16-23.
Farrell, D.T., Smith, S.W., & Brownell, M.T. (1998). Teacher perceptions of level
system effectiveness on the behavior of students with emotional or behavioral
disorders. The Journal of Special Education, 32(2), 89-98.
Heward, W.L. (2003). Exceptional children: An introduction to special education. Upper
Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kerr, M. & Nelson, C. M. (1989). Strategies for managing behavior problems in the
classroom (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Additional Recommended Resources (Point and Level Systems)

Farrell, D.T., & Smith, S.W. (1993). Level system use in special education: Classroom
intervention with prima facie appeal. Behavioral Disorders, 18(4), 251-264.