USC Rossier School of Education - Online Master of Arts in Teaching in Special Education
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George Mason University - Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
The Functional Behavior Assessment
Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a part of the positive behavioral support (PBS) mandated by IDEA 2004. Good classroom management and structured classroom discipline stop most disruptive behavior, but some students will continue to disrupt. These students need more help so that they can stay in class and succeed.
FBA is a process which describes a student’s disruptive behaviors, looks for the reasons behind the behaviors and offers interventions that teach new behaviors to replace the undesired ones. Not all disruptions merit an FBA, which is usually reserved for behaviors that interfere with learning; however, FBAs are available to all students, especially those receiving interventions associated with tier two or tier three of the response to intervention (RTI) framework. For students with disabilities, a FBA may be part of an individualized education program (IEP).
To start the FBA process, the FBA team (not defined in IDEA, but typically consists of the student’s teachers, and other professionals who have directly observed the child, as well as, the parent) use both direct and indirect means to assess the problematic behavior. Direct assessment typically tracks the frequency of disruptive behaviors and the time of day, often teams will utilize a scatter plot to show clearly the behavior pattern. In addition, the observers track antecedent behavior, which is behavior that precedes the behavior and may indicate the trigger for that behavior. One tool that is used is an antecedent behavioral consequences chart (ABC). An observation note example could be: “The teacher asked the class to get their math books out of their desks. Rick threw his math book. The class was disrupted.”
Recording the entire cycle of disruption can provide clues to the trigger or the benefit that the student reaps from the behavior. For our example, you might include on the ABC chart that Jill became more agitated as she tried to work on long division problems, and then shouted at you and stormed out of the room. The ultimate result was she did not complete the assignment. Additionally, when you spoke to her later, Jill reminded you that she could not have finished the long division assignment, since she was in the office without her books. Recording the entire cycle of the behavior from beginning to end can help you understand the reasons that Jill is behaving in this way, as well as provide clues to the function of this behavior (i.e., seeking attention or trying to escape an undesired situation).
Indirect assessment involves interviewing teachers, parents and other adults who have contact with the student, asking questions about the behavior and when and where it occurs. For example, how often does the behavior occur? Who is usually present? Are there times when it doesn’t occur? These questions can help the FBA team determine if the issue at hand is due to a performance deficit (the student won’t do what is asked of him or her) or a skills deficit (the student cannot do what is asked of him or her). In some cases, it can also be beneficial to interview the student in an informal matter. More than likely the team will collect both types of data in order to get a clear picture of the child’s behavioral pattern. If an FBA does not discuss the antecedents, frequency and time of behavior and other trigger patterns, the assessment should be questioned.
In general, all behaviors serve some function. Although you can’t always know exactly what function a particular behavior serves, you can often uncover the meaning behind it by examining the information collected through the assessments and asking strategic questions. Building on the previous example, was Jill getting attention from her peers through her behavior? Was she able to get out of a difficult assignment? Does she know how to do long division? Answering questions like these helps to determine if the behavior is linked to a difficulty in learning, like being unable to perform a skill (long division) or to some other reason, such as being embarrassed that she doesn’t understand a skill that may seem easy for other students.
After the data is gathered from the ABC chart, scatter plot and interviews, this information can be condensed and recorded on a data triangulation chart. This chart can give clues to the function of the behavior and will be used in the FBA meeting. Note that these specific tools are being used here as examples of what a quality FBA will consider; there is no provision in the law that requires a school or school district to use them.
As the FBA team discusses the data that’s been collected, it forms a hypothesis about possible deficits and causes for the behavior. It then puts this hypothesis to the test by creating variations in the learning requirements and environment to see if and how the student responds.
For our example, you may help Jill develop an indiscreet way to signal her teacher when she is frustrated with her work and needs help. If Jill’s disruptive behavior stops after using this intervention, nothing more needs to be done; however, if Jill’s disruptive behavior does not subside or even intensifies, the team may create a behavior intervention plan (BIP).
The Behavior Intervention Plan
The BIP targets one to three of a student’s undesirable behaviors with interventions that are linked to the functions of the behavior; each intervention specifically addresses a measurable, clearly-stated targeted behavior. A BIP can include prevention strategies, which stop the behavior before it begins, as well as replacement behaviors, which achieve the same function as the disruptive behavior without causing disruption. The environment is considered, and the FBA/BIP team may determine that a change in a student’s schedule or in the arrangement of is or her classroom is called for. In addition, the BIP provides a plan for responding to the old behavior that is being replaced and promoting the new behavior.
For students without disabilities, the BIP can be adjusted as the student improves without another meeting; however, frequent monitoring is still required. For students with disabilities, the BIP is a legal document that is a part of an individualized education program (IEP). It must be followed both inside and outside of the classroom and it can’t be adjusted without calling a meeting of the admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committee. (Not every state refers to this team as an ARD; a number of states simply call it an IEP team. These terms are generally interchangeable.) This committee reviews the BIP each year and can change it at that time. An ARD meeting can also be called by a teacher or parent any time there is a concern. If the disruptive behavior leads to a student being removed from class a total of 10 or more days, the law requires that the IEP or ARD team meet and conduct a manifestation determination (determining if the behavior being disciplined is a part of the child’s disability or not), which may require a change in the BIP.