Begin problem solving with precision statements


In an earlier blog (The value of using data) we discussed the importance of using data and the particular methods and types of data that are helpful to school teams to implement SW-PBIS. We pointed out that there are many different types of data available to schools, so we advised teams to focus on data that answer two broad questions:

(1) Are we implementing SWPBIS with fidelity?

(2) Does it make a difference for the students and school climate?

In this blog we are going to discuss how to use “precision statements” as the framework for problem solving and action planning. We plan to illustrate how to develop these statements with student behavior data. In the next blog we will describe the overall problem solving process using these statements.


Readers will understand the difference between Primary and Precision statements and learn how to write a Precision Statement for their school.


                    Primary versus Precision statements

  • Primary Statements tend to be general descriptors of broad problems or status.
  • A precision statement is a concise; data based description of an existing problem and current status. Because it is based on objective data, a precision statement moves us away from talking or planning based on subjective, non-measurable problems.

 Advantage of Precision Statements

 According to the Team Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS) approach (University of Oregon) precision statements define the current status of student behavior by answering the questions of what, where, when who and why. The obvious benefits are that we use data and define the problem specifically enough that we can target our actions and resources.


 Primary and precision statements apply to student behavioral data (ODR), academic data and implementation data. We will share an example using student office referral data.


Primary Statement


Precision Statement
There were too many office referrals The most frequent referral last year was disruptive behavior (65%) answers (what) 15% of referrals occurred in morning advisory (where) from 8:15-8:45 AM (when), 35% of referrals were 9thgrade male students (who) to gain peer attention (why).

Next steps for teams

When you meet to review progress in student behavior, your team may start with some general descriptions of what’s going on in your school. Resist the urge to start planning based on these general perceptions.

Drill down into your school-wide student behavior data and answer the questions:

What               (what are the behaviors)

Where            (where are the behaviors observed)

When              (what time and what day are the behaviors observed)

Who                (who are the students exhibiting the behaviors)

Why                (what motivation seems associated with the behaviors)

Answering these 5 questions will vastly improve the quality of your planning and the value of your outcomes. Your action plan will target specific, well-defined needs and use staff time efficiently in developing solutions.

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