ERIC Identifier: ED429420
Publication Date: 1998-11-00
Author: Fitzsimmons, Mary K.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA. ERIC/OSEP Special Project on
Interagency Information Dissemination.
Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans.
ERIC/OSEP Digest E571.
For some time, researchers and school personnel have been studying the
effects of a wide range of problem behaviors on classroom learning. Research
funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and other government
agencies corroborates educators' concerns that behavior difficulties interfere
with the learning of both the student exhibiting the behavior problem and his or
In light of this research, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA) Amendments of 1997 require that understanding the relationship between
learning and behavior must be a key ingredient in planning the individualized
education program (IEP) for a student with disabilities. Consequently, teams
charged with developing IEPs are required to address the children's behavioral
as well as learning problems. IEP teams must conduct a functional behavioral
assessment (FBA) and implement behavior intervention plans that include positive
behavioral interventions and supports.
States are responding to these new requirements speedily. As of June 1998, 35
states and territories have current plans to develop or revise written policies
and procedures or guidelines related to FBAs to be consistent with the
requirements of IDEA. Some of the IDEA requirements relate to FBAs and the
influence of behavior on learning. They include the following:
* IEP teams must explore the need for strategies and supports to address any
behavior that may impede the learning of the child with disabilities or the
learning of his or her peers.
* IEP teams must meet within 10 days of any disciplinary actions resulting in
suspension or expulsion of a student with disabilities. The meeting's purpose is
to plan a functional behavior assessment so data will be available for a
behavior plan. If such a plan already exists, the IEP team reviews and revises
it, as necessary, to ensure that it addresses the student's behavior that
precipitated the disciplinary action.
* States must address the in-service needs of education personnel in the area
of development and implementation of positive intervention strategies.
WHY CONDUCT A FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT?
The purpose of a
functional assessment is to gather information in order to understand a
student's problem behavior. However, an FBA goes beyond the "symptom" (the
problem behavior) to the student's underlying motivation to "escape," "avoid," or get something. OSEP and other government-sponsored research and educators'
and psychologists' experience have demonstrated that behavior intervention plans
stemming from the knowledge of why a student misbehaves (i.e., based on a
functional behavioral assessment) are extremely useful in addressing a wide
range of problems.
Often, the functions of a behavior are not inappropriate, rather, it is the
behavior itself that is judged appropriate or inappropriate. If the IEP team
determines through an FBA that a student is seeking attention by acting out,
they can develop a plan to teach the student more appropriate ways to gain
attention, thereby filling the student's need for attention with an alternative
or replacement behavior that serves the same function as the inappropriate
behavior. At the same time, strategies may be developed to decrease or even
eliminate opportunities for the student to engage in inappropriate behavior.
CONDUCTING A FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT
Identifying the reasons
for behavior will take many forms, and while the IDEA advises an FBA approach to
determine specific contributors to behavior, it does not require or suggest
specific techniques or strategies to use when assessing that behavior. However,
several key steps are common to most FBAs:
1. Verify the seriousness of the problem. Many classroom problems can be
eliminated by the consistent application of standard and universal discipline
strategies of proven effectiveness. Only when these strategies have not resulted
in significant improvement on the part of the student should school personnel go
forward with an FBA.
2. Define the problem behavior in concrete terms. School personnel need to
pinpoint the behavior causing learning or discipline problems and to define that
behavior in terms that are simple to measure and record. For example, a problem
behavior might be "Trish is aggressive." A concrete description is "Trish hits
other students during recess when she does not get her way."
3. Collect data on possible causes of problem behavior. The use of a variety
of techniques will lead the IEP team to a better understanding of the student
behavior. Key questions include the following: Is the problem behavior linked to
a skill deficit? Is there evidence to suggest that the student does not know how
to perform the skill? Does the student have the skill but for some reason not
perform it consistently? Also, a probing discussion with the student may yield
an enhanced understanding of what, in each context, causes problem behavior.
4. Analyze the data. A data triangulation chart is useful in identifying
possible stimulus-response patterns, predictors, maintaining consequences, and
likely function(s) of the problem behavior. A problem behavior pathway chart can
be used to sequentially arrange information on setting antecedents, the behavior
itself, and consequences of the behavior that might lead to its maintenance.
5. Formulate and test a hypothesis. After analyzing the data, school
personnel can establish a plausible explanation (hypothesis) regarding the
function of the behaviors in question. This hypothesis predicts the general
conditions under which the behavior is most and least likely to occur as well as
the consequences that maintain it. The team can then experimentally manipulate
some of the relevant conditions affecting the behavior. If the behavior remains
unchanged following this environmental manipulation, the team can reexamine the
hypothesis with a view to altering it.
BEHAVIOR INTERVENTION PLANS
The student's behavior
intervention plan should include positive strategies, programs or curricular
modifications, and supplementary aids and supports required to address the
behaviors of concern. It is helpful to use the data collected during the FBA to
develop the plan and to determine the discrepancy between the child's actual and
Intervention plans that emphasize skills needed by the student to behave in a
more appropriate manner and that provide proper motivation will be more
effective than plans that simply control behavior. Interventions based on
control often only suppress the behavior, resulting in a child manifesting
unaddressed needs in alternative, inappropriate ways. Positive plans for
behavioral intervention, on the other hand, will address both the source of the
problem and the problem itself and foster the expression of needs in appropriate
EVALUATING THE PLAN
It is good practice for IEP teams to
include two evaluation procedures in an intervention plan: one procedure
designed to monitor the consistency with which the management plan is
implemented, the other designed to measure changes in behavior.
In addition, IEP teams must determine a timeline for implementation and
reassessment and specify how much behavior change is required to meet the goal
of the intervention. Assessment completion should be within the timelines
prescribed by the IDEA. If a student already has a behavior intervention plan,
the IEP team may elect to review and modify it or they may determine that more
information is necessary and conduct an FBA. The IDEA states that a behavior
intervention plan based on an FBA should be considered when developing the IEP
if a student's behavior interferes with his or her learning or the learning of
classmates. To be meaningful, plans need to be reviewed at least annually and
revised as often as needed. However, the plan may be reviewed and reevaluated
whenever any member of the child's IEP team feels it is necessary.
This digest is based on the following sources:
Addressing Student Problem Behavior: AN IEP Team's Introduction to Functional
Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans by Mary Magee Quinn,
Robert A. Gable, Robert B. Rutherford, Jr., C. Michael Nelson, and Kenneth W.
Howell (January 1998). Available from the Center for Effective Collaboration and
Practice, 888-457-1551. E-mail: [email protected] Web Site:
"Addressing Problem Behaviors in Schools: Use of Functional Assessments and
Behavior Intervention Plans" by Robert A. Gable, Mary Magee Quinn, Robert B.
Rutherford, Jr., and Kenneth W. Howell in Preventing School Failure, Spring 1998
Functional Behavioral Assessment: State Policies and Procedures from Project
Forum at NASDSE, June 1998. Available from 703-519-3800 (voice) or 7008 (TDD).