Uploaded by Tracey Ogagba

Introduction to Behavior Assessment

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
The way IEP Teams are implementing this requirement is through Functional Behavioral
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
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
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
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
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
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
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) The behaviors resulted from or were a manifestation of an inappropriate placement
or educational program for the student; and
(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.