Critical education program components for students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

A group of elementary students some with EBD sitting around a table while writing on pieces of paper

The reported prevalence of students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders among school age children is consistently verified as being between 6% to 10%; and yet the research suggests that students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) are underidentified and underserved (Kauffman, Mock, and Simpson, 2007) with less than 1% served within special education (US Department of Education, 2007). In our last newsletter we discussed the importance of early identification of behavioral and emotional issues in order to effectively identify and support those students who need individualized instruction and planning. Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders represent a group of students who need early identification and appropriate and effective services and instruction. Even when these students are identified and receive instruction within special education, their outcomes often fall far below other students including their cohorts receiving special education instruction for other disorders (i.e. Learning Disabilities). Students with EBD have higher dropout rates and lower graduation rates, perform poorly on state academic standards, and are more likely to receive disciplinary consequences which remove them from the instructional setting (Suspension and Expulsion), and are far more likely to be adjudicated in our criminal system than other students (NCES, 2010; Johnson, Thurlow, & Schuelka, 2012; Shippen, et al. 2012).

Elementary students working on an art projectThese students provide a considerable challenge for the teachers who provide them instruction and other educators who provide them support or services. In 2011, as part of a conference workshop, we surveyed members of Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (T-CASE). Approximately 400 members responded to the online survey. We then asked them to rate types of programming based on student disability in terms of how challenging they are to implement and 96% of these educators indicated that implementing programs for students with EBD is challenging to very challenging, while only 38% thought that implementing programming for students with Learning Disabilities is challenging to very challenging. To compound these matters, research indicates that there is a shortage in the field of teachers working in special education, particularly with teachers sufficiently trained to instruct students with EBD (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).

These issues that impact the education of students with EBD make it paramount that educational programs designed to serve these students are evidence-based, aligned with federal, state, and local policies, and include experiential “best practices” gleaned from successful teachers and educators. In this research review, we report on an article which examines the critical components of educational programs for students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (Simpson, Peterson, and Smith, 2011). This paper works from the supposition that Students with EBD require individualized educational programming based on effective methods implemented by highly qualified educators. Simpson, Peterson, and Smith, identify the essential elements of a successful program for students with EBD and propose a model of implementation which increases effectiveness and sustainability as well as providing the potential to significantly improve student outcomes. The authors identify seven essential elements to a program serving EBD students. The central component around which the other six elements are arranged is the need for qualified and committed professionals. The other constellation components are environmental support, behavior management, social skills, learning and academic supports, parental involvement, and community supports.

  • Qualified and Committed Professionals – These educators need to be well versed in the basic foundations of general and special education pedagogy along with specialized skills related to the instruction of students with EBD. This specific skill set includes knowledge and skills in assessment and evaluation, content curricula, behavioral support practices, social skills instruction methods as well as a predisposition to work effectively with family, other educators, and professionals.
  • Environmental Supports – The authors identify 10 classroom conditions which should be in place to facilitate instruction: established behavioral expectations; consistent rule monitoring; feedback and positive corrective actions; schedules and routines; appropriate physical environment; suitably designed space for learning and social activities; developmentally appropriate schedules and transition activities; appropriate classroom materials; elimination of high-traffic classroom and school areas and other predictable disruptions; and seating arrangements based on individual students needs.
  • Behavior Management Supports – Traditional methods of punitive disciplinary actions have been found to exacerbate the disruptive behaviors exhibited by students with EBD. Proactive methods that consider both group and individualized behavioral supports integrated within a system of school-wide and classroom level supports have been found to be more effective in facilitating improved student outcomes and student engagement.
  • Social Skill and Social Interaction Supports – Aligned with the positive behavioral management and support, the authors suggest the implementation of social skills instruction. Based on the educational research, they recommend that social skill curriculum include general social skills training with additional focus on social skill acquisition deficits, social performance deficits, and the appropriateness of responses. The diverse nature of the issues that need to be addressed require a use of a range of social instructional methods including direct skill instruction, coaching, peer development, and support programs including cognitive-based and problem solving oriented methods.
  • elementarystudents-thumb-340x440-485208767Learning and Academic Supports – The authors recommend that academic supports include carefully regulated instructional time, individualized academic content instruction; instruction matched to individual learning style and primary modality; precise and clear pursuit of specific instructional targets; assessment and progress monitoring; and the establishment of a positive and reinforcing learning environment characterized by appropriate academic expectations. It is also suggested that a tiered approach be used to set up individualized academic plans which then should be integrated with similar behavioral supports.
  • Parental and Family Involvement – This area is one of the most difficult components to establish. Universally, school efforts to facilitate parental involvement for any group of students have not often met with success. The authors suggest that by first focusing on what the parents might need, like emotional support, coping skill training, and stress reduction training, educators are more likely to engage parents.
  • Coordinated Community Support – Students with EBD require services and supports which go beyond the scope of what schools can provide. However schools can work to help coordinate services. Youth with EBD and their families require community-based education and information resources: affordable support, counseling, crisis intervention services, agency-based protection and advocacy services from people who understand youth with EBD, community recreation activities willing to accommodate special need youth, child care services, respite care, and economic and social support programs and agencies that can act as a gateway to other state and federal supports.

In order to accomplish such a comprehensive model of support, school districts need to take a systemic approach which not only integrates special education programming, but includes alignment to inclusionary processes within general education. Preventive tiered approaches to behavioral and academic support can provide the required infrastructure if they are implemented consistently and with integrity. However this does not address the main deficit in resources that schools and districts face which is an overall lack of highly qualified teachers. Katsiyannis et al. (2003) found that the attrition rate of teachers of students with EBD is the highest among all disability categories. For a more detailed accounting of ways to improve teacher retention see the paper by Cancio and his colleagues (2014) that provides recommendations on what school administrators can do to decrease the attrition of teachers who instruct students with EBD.


Using data can help teachers more easily manage students with EBD. Discuss data more in depth and how to use it at an upcoming interactive town hall-style webinar, Year in Review: Making the Most of Your Data, Wednesday, May 18, 11 a.m., CT.


About the Author
Chris Huzinec

Chris Huzinec

Chris Huzinec is an educational researcher, evaluator, and consultant with over 25 years of practical experience in public education. He is currently the Director of Research at Review360 in the Clinical Assessment division of Pearson. Previously, Chris was employed by the Houston Independent School District’s Department of Research and Accountability for 15 years, first as a Research and Evaluation Specialist, and then as the Manager of the Program Evaluation and the Performance Analysis Bureaus. He has produced publications and evaluation reports in the areas of Bilingual Education, Early Childhood Education, classroom and student behavior management, and Special Education.




Main Reference

Simpson, R., Peterson, R., and Smith, C. (2011). Critical Educational program Components for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Science, Policy, and Practice. Remedial and Special Education 32(3) 230-242.

Support References

Cancio, E. J., Albrecht, S., and Holden Johns, B. (2014). Combating the Attrition of Teachers of Students with EBD: What Can Administrators Do? Intervention in School and Clinic 49(5) 306–312

Kauffman, James M.; Mock, Devery R.; Simpson, Richard L. (2007) Problems Related to Underservice of Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 33 (1) 43-57

Katsiyannis, A., Zhang, D., & Conroy, M. (2003). Availability of special education teachers: Trends and issues. Remedial and Special Education, 24(4), 246–253.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Digest of education statistics, 2009. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Shippen, M. E. et al (2012) Community and School Practices to Reduce Delinquent Behavior: Intervening on the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Teacher Education and Special Education 35 (4), 296-308

U.S. Department of Education. (2007). Twenty-seventh annual report to Congress on implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (2012). Teacher shortage areas nationwide listing 1990–1991 through 2012–2013. Retrieved from http:.// about/offices/list/ope/pol/tsa.doc