Functional behavioral assessment in Pennsylvania's public schools.
Authors: Sloand-Armstrong, Janet
Dell, Lynn
Milchick, Sherry L.
Pub Date: 03/22/2000
Publication: Name: The Behavior Analyst Today Publisher: Behavior Analyst Online Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2000 Behavior Analyst Online ISSN: 1539-4352
Issue: Date: Spring, 2000 Source Volume: 1 Source Issue: 2
Accession Number: 170112839
Full Text: The Pennsylvania Department of Education addressed the need for a competency-based program for trained staff in applied behavior analysis by initiating the credentialing process in behavior analysis. As a result, the development of a training program designed around Functional Behavioral Assessment in public school settings has emerged. A practical tool for school teams, the Functional Behavioral Assessment Worksheet, has been developed using Applied Behavior Analysis principles and procedures. Educational consultants at the Central Instructional Support Center have developed the tool and are currently training Intermediate Unit staff, school district staff, and individual IEP teams in the use of the worksheet within effective behavior assessment procedures and educational programming.

The worksheet describes the rationale for functional behavioral assessment and includes an explanation of IDEA requirements for completion of the assessment process for disciplinary changes in placement. The worksheet contains a team interview section, a section on direct observation with data analysis, and a summary section that includes hypothesis formulation. The step-by-step process provides a procedural framework that ensures that the team will conduct systematic and effective assessment. Use of this tool guarantees that teams focus on data collection and analysis and base their decisions on this information. This is a more scientific approach than the sole reliance on informant methods currently in use in public school settings.

The worksheet appears below. Appendix A and Appendix B consist of basic data collection materials. For copies of the complete Functional Behavioral Assessment Worksheet, please contact the Central Instructional Support Center.

Functional Behavioral

Assessment Worksheet Purpose

Individualized Functional Behavioral Assessment is typically used only in instances where behavior interferes significantly with the student's learning or that of his/her peers. Effective classroom management approaches embedded within effective instructional design and delivery appropriately address the majority of behavioral issues occurring in classrooms.


A functional behavioral assessment is a process consisting of information-gathering procedures that result in a hypothesis about the function(s) that the behavior is serving for the student as well as ecological events and the consequences that are maintaining the behavior.

First, information must be gathered indirectly through interview(s) of person(s) who has observed the behavior of the student for an extended period of time in a variety of settings and conditions. The purpose of the interview(s) is to review a large number of potential variables and narrow the focus to those variables that are of particular importance to the individual.

Information must also be gathered through direct observation of the behavior across settings and times with consideration of a variety of other environmental factors (i.e. other persons present, task demands, changing conditions). Information that was gathered during the interview portion of the functional behavioral assessment is used to narrow the focus of data collection during direct observations. A graphic analysis of the data collected during direct observations together with the interview information results in the following:

1. Development of a specific, clear, description of the behavior of concern

2. Identification of the physical and environmental factors that correspond with occurrences of the behavior

3. Identification of the potential function of the behavior in terms of its maintaining consequences.

This information then serves as the basis for the development of a Behavior Intervention Plan that manipulates environmental factors and consequences while providing instruction in the acquisition of new, more appropriate behaviors. Throughout the baseline and intervention phases, data is collected and evaluated, and decisions are made based upon analyses of the data. Ongoing revisions to the Behavior Intervention Plan are data-driven throughout the intervention phase.



The IEP team, including a person or persons who have observed the behavior of the student for an extended period of time in a variety of settings and conditions, completes the interview questions focusing on antecedents, behaviors, and consequences.


Direct observation in the student's natural environment provides objective data to support or refute the interview information; thus leading to more accurate hypothesis formation. The parameters of the observations and the data collection methods are determined by information gathered during the interview phase (STEP 1).


The IEP team summarizes the interview information with the data collected during direct observation to form a hypothesis identifying the function the behavior is serving for the student. The IEP team uses this information to build an Effective Behavior Support Plan. Ongoing data collected during the intervention phase of the Behavior Support Plan guides the team in making progress and making necessary revisions.


Step 1: Functional Assessment Interview

Instructions: Interview a person (or persons) who has observed the behavior of the student for an extended period of time in a variety of settings and conditions. When the answer is YES, add details on the line provided.

I. Description of Behavior of Concern (specifically describe what the behavior looks like):--

II. Physiological and Medical Factors:

1. Could the behavior be a result of a medical condition or any form of physical discomfort?



2. Could the behavior be related to a side effect of medication?



3. Could the behavior be the result of some physical deprivation condition (thirst, hunger, lack of rest, etc.)?



III. Antecedents and Establishing Operations:

1. Are there circumstances in which the behavior ALWAYS occurs?



2. Are there circumstances in which the behavior NEVER occurs?



3. Does the behavior occur only (or more often) during particular activities?



4. Does the behavior occur only with (or more likely with) certain people?



5. Does the behavior occur in response to certain stimuli? (demands, termination of preferred activities, tone of voice, noise level, ignoring, change in routine,transitions, number of people in the room, etc.)



6. Could the behavior be related to any skill deficits?

a. Communication. Examples: The student appears "off track" and loses his/her train of thought. The student's volume and/or tone of voice are inappropriate. The student has difficulty getting messages across successfully and/or lacks the social skills to function productively in group activities. The student doesn't use active listening habits such as eye contact, head nods, asking, clarifying, or verifying questions.

b. Sensory processing. Examples: The student has difficulty interpreting sensory information (i.e., sights, sounds, movements, touch, tastes, smells) and/or organizing multiple sensory information. The student seems unable to ignore irrelevant sensory information and/or to focus on relevant sensory information.

c. Task requirements are too difficult.


--YES *

* If YES, please refer for further assessment (i.e., Speech & Language evaluation, Occupational Therapy evaluation, curriculum-based assessments).

IV. Consequence Factors:

1. Does the behavior allow the student to gain anything?

Preferred activities or items?

Indicators: The behavior often occurs when you take a particular item away from the student or when you terminate a preferred activity. The behavior often occurs when you inform the student that s/he cannot have a certain item or cannot engage in a particular activity. The behavior rarely occurs when you give the student free access to his or her favorite items or activities.



Peer or adult attention?

Indicators: The student frequently approaches you or others. The student frequently initiates social interaction. When the behavior occurs, you or others usually respond by interacting with the student in some way (i.e. verbal reprimand, redirection, comforting statements). The behavior rarely occurs when the student is receiving lots of attention.



2. Does the behavior allow the student to postpone, avoid, or escape anything (demands, social interaction, etc.)?

Indicators: The behavior often occurs when you place demands on the student. The behavior often occurs when the immediate environment is very noisy or crowded. The behavior rarely occurs when you place few demands on the student or when you leave the student alone. The student is often noncompliant when asked to complete tasks.



3. Does the behavior provide stimulation activity (an alternative to a lack of active engagement in activities)?

Indicators: The behavior occurs frequently when the student is alone or unoccupied. The student seems to have few known reinforcers or rarely engages in appropriate object manipulation or "play" behavior. The student is generally unresponsive to social stimulation. When the student engages in the behavior, you and others usually respond by not attending to the behavior.




A. At the completion of the interview (indirect) portion of the FBA, the team will have a measurable description of the behavior of concern and information which leads to more focused observation and assessment methods.

Direct observation with data collection and subsequent analysis:

* Serves to more clearly define the behavior

* Supports or refutes interview information

* Allows for assessment of the behavior in the student's natural environment

* Leads to a more accurate hypothesis regarding the function of the student's behavior of concern

* Serves as a baseline measure to evaluate and monitor intervention results

* Provides information that is necessary to build a behavior support plan

B. Appendix A contains sample data collection tools for use during direct observation followed by a graphic (visual) representation of the data to facilitate data analysis.

C. Appendix B contains blank data collection forms for you to use directly or adapt to fit your needs.

Step 3: Summary

History of interventions for current behavior of concern

Antecedent (prevention) strategies:

Consequence strategies:

Observation data summary (attach graphic summary of observation data collected)

1. How often does the behavior of concern occur?--

2. How long does the behavior of concern last when it occurs?--

Antecedent and Consequence Factors

1. What antecedents (see pg. 4 and data collection) are present when the behavior of concern occurs?--

2. What consequences (see pg. 5 and data collection) appear to be maintaining the behavior of concern?--

Hypothesis Regarding Function of the Behavior of concern

[] To get attention from--

[] To get access to (items or activities)--

[] To escape, avoid, or delay--

[] To provide stimulation activity (describe)--

Janet Sloand-Armstrong, Lynn Dell, & Sherry L. Milchick

Central Instructional Support Center
Student Name:--   Date:--
School:--     Grade:--   DOB:--

Educational Program description:--
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