Introduction to Behavior Assessment Student behavior that is considered challenging is nothing new in education. Educators have experiences these challenges for decades and as they have gained experience, have usually gained some skill in managing these challenges. Either independently or with the support of colleagues, most veteran teachers are able to find a successful solution to the problem. However, as schools have become more inclusive there has been an increase of students with significant behavioral challenges in classrooms across the country. In recognition of the negative effect that student misbehavior can have on the teaching and learning process, the 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to take various steps to address behavior that prevents students from learning and other inappropriate classroom behavior. The 1997 Amendments put emphasis not only on ensuring access to the "least restrictive environment," but also on promoting positive educational results for students with disabilities. They highlighted the roles of the regular education teacher, the general curriculum, and appropriate classroom placement in helping students advance academically and behaviorally. This was an acknowledgement of the fact that behavior can significantly impact student learning The IDEA maintains that teams must: • Consider, when appropriate, strategies-including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports-to address that behavior through the IEP process (see 614(d)(3)(B)(i)). The way IEP Teams are implementing this requirement is through Functional Behavioral Assessments. Functional Behavior Assessments: FBA Behaviorists (well before IDEA '97) were using applied behavioral analysis to study behavior and to develop and assess behavior interventions. In its most basic form, behaviorists focus on the "ABCs" of behavior, where "ABC" stands for "Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences." Some may remember this concept from an Introduction to Phycology class—it has its roots in classical conditioning (remember Pavlov and his dog? This is a real-world application of his theory of classical conditioning). Essentially, we look at what was going on before the behavior occurred (the antecedent conditions), what the behavior looked like (including its form and how long it lasted), and what happened after the behavior occurred (the responses of those in the environment, any consequences, etc.). As with many things, conducting an ABC analysis of behavior may sound simple but be complex to do well. If an ABC analysis is done correctly, with enough observations over days, you should get some sense of what conditions lead to or are correlated with the occurrence of the behavior and what consequences might be maintaining the behavior. Those hypotheses will lead to possible interventions. What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment? Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a process for collecting information. The data the team collects are used to help determine why problem behaviors occur. The data will also help identify ways to address the behaviors. Functional behavioral assessment data are used to develop a positive behavioral intervention plan. What is important to note is that there are many reasons why a child may misbehave. Some have to do with the nature of the child, such as allergies to dust, foods, or plants. A sinus infection, headache, or toothache can also lead to problem behaviors. Some children have a medical diagnosis, such as bipolar disorder or attention-deficit/hyper- activity disorder that affects behavior. The team's responsibility is to collect data to help it understand why a child has problem behaviors. Behaviors are Context-Related Most behaviors are related to their context—this means that behaviors often result from the interaction between the student and their environment. These are just a few of the factors that may lead to problem behaviors: • A disagreement between the student and their peers • Adjustments to medication • How challenging or difficult school work may be • A disagreement between the student and the teacher Other things, such as who is present and what their expectations are, also affect behaviors. Behaviors may also be a problem when a child is emotionally upset and cannot handle the demands of the environment (they may lack coping skills). Behaviors Serves Some Function Problem behaviors usually serve a function, or purpose, for the students. Maybe there's a substitute teacher in the classroom and the student is "showing off" for their peers. That may be how the behavior is described (as "showing off") but perhaps it's because the student really likes the regular teacher and they're not there that day. Maybe the student is anxious about the expectations of the substitute and cannot manage not knowing what they expect. Again, the explanation that the student is simply "showing off" doesn't explain the function that the behavior is serving for the student. Unfortunately, consequences that improve the behaviors of most students do not work with all. Sending a child to the principal's office, for example, can be ineffective if the consequence does not address the complex function of a student's behavior. In fact, all you would do is to reinforce the behavior which may lead to more challenging behaviors in the days and weeks to follow. If the function of the behavior is to remove the student from the demand, let's say, and you send them to the principal—you've unknowingly reinforced the behavior. What the student does (the behavior) and why the student does it (the function) may be unrelated. Skipping school and getting good grades are two very different behaviors. Yet they may serve the same function for different children - gaining attention from adults in their lives. Behaviors are influenced by Environment What is happening in the classroom environment affects the student's behavior. For example, a teacher's lack of discipline or control of the class may be an antecedent to the student's challenging behavior. When we discuss behavior it is important to consider what leads to both positive and challenging behaviors. If we can understand the conditions that lead to challenging behaviors, then by changing the conditions in the environment we may reduce the need for the challenging behaviors to present themselves. Now, let's break down the steps to conducting a thorough FBA. Step One: Identifying the Problem Behavior Before a functional behavioral assessment can be implemented, it is necessary to pinpoint the behavior causing the classroom challenges, and to define that behavior in concrete terms that are easy to communicate and simple to measure and record. If descriptions of behaviors are vague (e.g., disrespectful), it is difficult to determine appropriate interventions. This is perhaps the most important part of the process—determining what we're actually focusing on. For example, it has been my experience that teachers tend to describe student behavior in terms of how it made them feel or how they interpreted the behavior. Let's say a student was asked to complete a worksheet, verbally refused, swore at the teacher, flipped a desk, and bolted from the room. It would not be uncommon for the teacher to describe this as "explosive" or "disrespectful". However, neither word really captures what happened—they are merely adjectives to describe how the teacher internalized the behavior. The first step of an effective FBA is to operationally define what we mean. Let's look at some examples: Problem Behavior Student is aggressive. Operational Definition Student's right hand makes physical contact with any part of a peer's body. Student is disruptive. During direct instruction, the student makes irrelevant and/or inaccurate comments out loud. Student leaves their assigned area without permission. Student is distractible and hyperactive. Student blurts out answers to teacher prompts without raising their hand. You get the idea. The first step is to truly "unpack" the adjectives and define the behavior as closely and carefully as possible. I recommend objectively observing the student's behavior in different settings and during different types of activities, and to conduct interviews with school staff and parents, in order to truly pinpoint the specific characteristics of the behavior. It's not that you don't believe the reports—it's that in your role you have responsibility to develop an effective assessment and behavior plan and need to fully understand the concerns. Once the problem behavior/s has been defined concretely, the team can begin to devise a plan for conducting a functional behavioral assessment to determine functions of the behavior. Behaviors are influenced by Environment (cont'd) Step Two: Location, Location, Location Once you've operationally defined the behaviors, you'll want to begin to think about the location/s where the behaviors occur. First, look at places where the student finds success— what is unique about those places? By asking yourself why the behaviors don't occur there may provide some insight into the student's challenging behaviors. Some questions to ask yourself may be: • What is different in the places where the problem behaviors do occur? • Could they be related to how the child and teacher get along? • Does the number of other students or the work a child is asked to do cause the problem? • Could the time of day or a child's mood affect the behaviors? • Was there a bus problem or a disagreement in the hallway? • Are the behaviors likely to occur in a specific set of circumstances or a specific setting? • What events seem to support the problem behaviors? Behaviors are influenced by Environment (cont'd) Step Three: Collect Data Once you've operationally defined the challenging behaviors and begun to question why they behaviors occur across various locations, you now begin to collect data. Indirect vs. Direct Assessment Indirect assessment uses structured interviews with the student, parent, teacher/s, and other adults who have direct responsibility for the student. During your interviews, you'll want to understand how the different stakeholders view the behavior and how they deal with the behavior. Some questions you may consider including are: • In what settings do you observe the challenging behavior? • Are there times when the behavior doesn't occur? • Who is usually present when the behavior occurs? • What happens immediately before the behavior occurs? • What usually happens during the behavior? • What usually happens after the behavior occurs? • What would be a more acceptable form of behavior? Interviews with the student may be useful in identifying how they perceived the situation and what caused them to react or act in the way they did. When interviewing the student, you may consider the following questions: • What were you thinking when <insert the behavior> occurred? • How did you feel when <insert the behavior> occurred? • How is your relationship with <insert name of individual with whom the behavior occurred>? • What are some other ways you could react next time? • What happens after <insert the behavior> occurs? You can also use commercially available questionnaires, motivational scales, and checklists to structure your indirect assessment. Direct assessment involves observing and recording situational factors surrounding a problem behavior (e.g., antecedent and consequent events). An evaluator may observe the behavior in the setting that it is likely to occur, and record data using an Antecedent-BehaviorConsequence (ABC) form. You then establish an observation data collection plan detailing the staff that will be collecting the data (e.g., classroom teacher, paraprofessional, etc.) and the timing of the data collection. Remember, training these people in the operational definitions used for the student will be helpful and will yield the most reliable results. The data collection will be useful in identifying possible environmental factors (e.g., seating arrangements), activities (e.g., independent work), or temporal factors (e.g., mornings) that may influence the behavior. Observations and data collected consistently across time and situations, and that reflects both quantitative and qualitative measures of the behavior in question, will prove to be most useful. Behaviors are influenced by Environment (cont'd) Step Four: Analyze Data & Hypothesize Once you've operationally defined the challenging behaviors and begun to question why they behaviors occur across various locations, you now begin to collect data. Now that you have operationally defined the challenging behavior, and collected data based on what you found, you will analyze the data looking for trends and/or patterns that may present themselves. Drawing upon information that emerges from the analysis, you can begin to establish a hypothesis regarding the function of the behaviors in question. Your hypothesis predicts the general conditions under which the behavior is most and least likely to occur (antecedents), as well as the probable consequences that serve to maintain it. For example, should a teacher report that a student calls out during instruction, a functional behavioral assessment might reveal the function of the behavior is to gain attention (e.g., verbal approval of classmates), avoid instruction (e.g., difficult assignment), seek excitement (i.e., external stimulation), or both to gain attention and avoid a low-interest subject. Only when the relevance of the behavior is known is it possible to speculate the true function of the behavior and establish an individual behavior intervention plan. In other words, before any plan is set in motion, the team needs to formulate a plausible explanation (hypothesis) for the student's behavior. Now, once we have a hypothesis in place, we work to manipulate various conditions to verify the hypothesis regarding the function of the behavior. Using our example of the student who calls out during class, we ask the teacher to make some slight adjustments to their practice to ensure that the student gets the peer attention as a consequence of appropriate, rather than inappropriate behaviors. If this adjustment changes the student's behavior, you can assume your hypothesis was correct. Likewise, if the behavior remains unchanged following the adjustment, a new hypothesis needs to be formulated using data collected during the data collection phase. Once you have completed these steps, and effectively tested your hypotheses, we are ready to put the information together into a Behavior Intervention Plan. Behavior Intervention Plan: Development and Implementation An effective behavior intervention plan (often called a behavior support plan or positive intervention plan) is used to teach or reinforce positive behaviors. Typically, a student's IEP team develops the plan (and, let's be honest, that usually means the Special Education Teacher develops the base and uses the team to adjust based on feedback). A well-developed plan generally includes: • The specific skills training needed to increase appropriate behavior; • Changes/accommodations that will be made in classrooms or other environments to reduce or eliminate problem behaviors; • Strategies to replace problem behaviors with appropriate behaviors that serve the same function for the student; • Supports for the child to use the appropriate behaviors A positive behavior intervention plan is not a plan to determine what happens to a student who violates a rule or code of conduct - that would be more appropriately called a discipline plan or a punishment plan. It is critical to remember that the input of the general education teacher is essential. The teacher will need to relay to the team not only their behavioral expectations, but also valuable information about how the existing classroom environment and/or general education curriculum can be modified to support the student. Once developed, the Behavior Intervention Plan is attached to the IEP and must be followed by all individuals working with the student. Students with Disabilities and Discipline Students identified as receiving Special Education and/or related services expected to meet the requirements for behavior as set forth in the Student-Parent Handbook. The regulations in 603, CMR 28.00 pursuant to MGLc.69 Section 1B and Chapter 71B, Section 3 require that additional provisions be made for students who have been found eligible for special education by an evaluation team. The following are these additional requirements: • The IEP for each student with special education needs will indicate if the student's disability requires a modification of the discipline code. • The principal must notify the Administrator of Special Education in writing within one school working day of the suspendable offense of any special needs student whose IEP does not reflect the need for modifications of the regular education discipline code. A record must be kept of such notices. No single area in State or Federal Regulations has changed with as much frequency as the area of discipline. It is therefore advisable to stay abreast of the most recent advisories. Discipline is the responsibility of the school principal and all authority for discipline rests with him/her. Any questions around procedures regarding the discipline of students with special education needs or students who have been referred for an evaluation or even students who may be suspected as having a disability should be addressed to the district's Special Education Director. As special education teachers, you must be up-to-date on the discipline procedures of your school/district relative to the behavior of students with disabilities. Generally, students with disabilities are disciplined the same way as their non-disabled peers. However, what you need to keep in mind is that eligible students have an entitlement to FAPE. Therefore, there are only so many days the student can be removed from their school setting before it becomes a change in placement. The magic number is 10 school days. If the student did something that resulted in disciplinary action for less than 10 days, nothing needs to occur. However, if the student's behavior has resulted in disciplinary action that resulted in their removal from school for more than 10 days, the team must convene to hold a manifestation determination. What's important to note here is the 10-day limit can happen all at once (e.g., suspended for 20 days) or can happen cumulatively over a school year (e.g., 2 days for one infraction, 1 day, for another infraction, 5 days for another, and 3 days for yet another). The student has, by the end of the last suspension, been out of school for a total of 11 days. Any removal more than 10 days constitutes a change in placement and, under IDEA, only an IEP team can change a placement. It should also be noted that "in-school" suspensions where the student sits in a conference room and completes work is considered out of school because the student is not receiving access the IEP services. Manifestation Determinations Manifest determination hearings follow disciplinary actions by the school that result in expulsion or a possible change in placement. If a disciplinary action involves a request for a suspension or other actions involving removal from a program for more that ten days, the IEP team must meet to determine whether the misconduct resulted from the disability. This is referred to as a manifest determination hearing, review or IEP meeting. A manifest determination for a student with disability involves a review of the student's misconduct, the student's disability, and the services provided to determine if: 1. (1) The behaviors resulted from or were a manifestation of an inappropriate placement or educational program for the student; and 2. (2) If the misconduct resulted from the student's disability. If the answer to either of these questions is "yes," the student will cannot be removed but a student's placement can be changed. If the answers to both questions are "no," the school can proceed with the recommendation of discipline as recommended. The manifest determination hearing, or IEP team meeting, occurs after a child with a documented disability is recommended for suspension. Most often student suspension results when a student carries a weapon to school or to a school function, or if a child knowingly possesses or uses illegal drugs or sells or solicits the sale of such drugs. School officials can also request and alternative educational setting (AES). For example, did a student who lifted a pair of blunt end paper scissors to scare another child do so because he was impulsive due to ADHD or did he due so simply as an act of aggression? A manifest determination hearing must occur within ten (10) days after the date on which the decision was made to recommend a suspension or expulsion. If the student's parents disagree with the manifest determination meeting decision, a due process hearing can be requested from the Bureau of Special Education Appeals.