Since the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 1997) through the current reauthorization (IDEA 2004), disciplinary procedures and functional behavioral assessment (FBA) have been widely used in school districts to assist in the prevention and amelioration of problem behaviors. Although researchers have documented the effectiveness of FBA strategies in identifying environmental factors that contribute to and maintain problem behavior, less is known about how personnel in school districts are actually using FBA procedures. This survey examined district-level administrators' perspectives regarding their district's use of FBA procedures across two southern states (Florida and South Carolina). Major findings indicate that conducting FBA procedures was mostly useful for dealing with chronic problem behavior, followed by verbal aggression and physical aggression. The FBA procedures were least useful in dealing with drug-related behaviors, weapon-related behaviors, and truancy. However, respondents indicated that chronic behaviors and verbal aggression were more likely to result in an FBA if they occurred at the high-intensity and moderate-intensity level, respectively, whereas physical aggression was more likely to lead to the initiation of an FBA at the low-intensity level. Also, respondents indicated that they were likely to use indirect FBA strategies, rather than direct measures, and to use a team of professionals when conducting FBA. Implications of these findings are discussed.
Disciplinary provisions outlined in the Individuals With Disabilities Act Amendments (IDEA; 1997, 2004; Yell, Shriner, & Katsiyannis, 2006) include specific techniques, such as functional behavioral assessment (FBA), implementation guidelines for manifestation determination hearings, and specific criteria for governing placements in interim alternative education settings (IAES). In fact, IDEA (1997, 2004) outlines specific disciplinary actions that trigger the need for an FBA or the review of an FBA or behavioral intervention plan (BIP) if they are already in place (for BIP-related legal and practice considerations, see Maag & Katsiyannis, 2006). Specifically, IDEA (2004) amendments and related regulations require that school districts provide educational services when seeking a change in a students' placement that would exceed 10 school days for violations of the school code or placement in an appropriate interim alternative educational setting for not more than 45 school days in conjunction with misconduct involving weapons, illegal drugs, or inflection of serious bodily injury (20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1) (C), (D), and (G)). In these instances, the student regardless of whether the behavior is determined to be a manifestation of his or her disability - will continue to receive educational services and, "as appropriate, a functional behavioral assessment, behavioral intervention services and modifications that are designed to address the behavior violation so that it does not reoccur" (20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(D)). If a student's behavior is determined to be a manifestation of his or her disability, the individualized education plan (IEP) team is required to conduct an FBA and implement a BIP for the student unless one exists (because of school code violations or in connection with misconduct involving weapons or illegal drugs or inflection of serious bodily injury; 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(F)(i) and (M)). Also, under the section titled "Consideration of Special Factors" related to the development of an IEP, IDEA (2004) states that the "IEP Team shall in the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning or that of others, consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior" (§1414 (d)(3)(B) (i)). Certainly, the use of FBA should be an important component of designing these positive behavioral interventions.
Beginning with IDEA (1997), the use of FBA has become common practice in school districts across the nation. In the research literature, FBA has been described as a process for identifying the environmental factors that motivate students to engage in problem behaviors (O'Neill et al., 1997). Most often, this process includes four phases. First, a descriptive assessment phase is conducted that typically includes the following steps: (a) operationally defining the target problem behavior; (b) administration of indirect assessments (e.g., teacher, student, or parent interviews; rating scales) to identify potential setting events, antecedents, and consequences surrounding the target behavior; and (c) direct observation of the target behavior during naturally occurring activities. During the second phase, the results of the descriptive assessment phase are reviewed and hypotheses are developed that target potential setting events, antecedents, and consequences that may be contributing to or maintaining the target problem behavior. In the third phase, an experimental analysis is conducted, manipulating targeted antecedents and consequences and validating or confirming the hypotheses. In the fourth and final phase, interventions are developed, implemented, and evaluated aimed at manipulating antecedents and consequences that will decrease problem behaviors while increasing appropriate, replacement behaviors.
Initially, FBA was investigated as a tool for use in clinical settings to determine the functions of aberrant behaviors of individuals with severe developmental disabilities (Conroy, Alter, & Scott, in press; Fox, Conroy, & Heckaman, 1998; Sasso, Conroy, Stichter, & Fox, 2001). However, with the legal initiatives of IDEA, researchers have expanded the investigation of FBA procedures with students who are at risk for or who have high-incidence disabilities (e.g., emotional/behavioral disorders, mild mental retardation, learning disabilities) and into educational settings (e.g., special and general education classroom settings). Ervin et al. (2001) identified more than 100 articles that investigated the use of FBA procedures across all disability labels in school settings. Clearly, the literature base investigating the use of FBA with individuals with all disabilities in school settings has substantially increased; however, when a close review of this research is conducted, the research outlining specific strategies to direct teachers' use of FBA in educational settings remains limited (Scott et al., 2004; Scott & Kamps, 2007; Van Acker, Boreson, Gable, & Potterton, 2005).
Overall, FBA is seen by many in the field as a positive and influential step for ameliorating problem behaviors of students with disabilities in school settings. However, implementation of FBA strategies in real-life situations in schools has not always been as successful as the implementation of FBA practices during research studies. Some have suggested that when practices are legally mandated, as in the case of FBA, there is a tendency for practitioners in school settings to use legal requirements to direct practice, rather than implement strategies outlined in the literature that might be considered recommended practice (Conroy et al., in press; Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999; Scott, Meers, & Nelson, 2000). Compounding this potential problem is the lack of evidence and even consensus among researchers regarding the FBA practices that are evidence based, necessary, and sufficient for use with students in school settings (Conroy et al., in press; Scott et al., 2000; Scott & Kamps, 2007). Because FBA practices in school settings are determined by local and state policies and guidelines (and not always by recommended practices as outlined and researched in the literature), there is a need to gather information on how school districts are using FBA. By gathering information on the implementation of FBA strategies within school settings, researchers may be able to identify variables to drive the implementation of recommended practice in this area. Consequently, the purpose of this study was to examine the use of FBA practices across and within school districts, from the perspective of the district-level personnel. Particularly, issues related to the nature of behaviors most likely to be addressed by FBA, the type and usefulness of FBA procedures most frequently used, and typical individuals involved in the FPA process were explored.
This study included special education district-level administrators (i.e., special education directors or supervisors) in all school districts in Florida (n = 67) and South Carolina (n = 87). These two states were chosen to capitalize on the connection of the authors with school districts in their respective states and to ensure higher rates of return. The special education district-level administrators' names were obtained through lists generated by the state departments of education. The actual participants included 75 school district directors/supervisors who completed and submitted the survey form. These participants represented 48.7% of the original sample. Among them, 39 (52%) were from Florida and 36 (48%) were from South Carolina. Fortyseven (62.7%) of the respondents reported that they reside in a rural area, 15 (20%) in an urban area, and 1 1 (1 4.7%) in a suburban area; 2 (2.7%) did not provide this information. These school districts varied greatly in size of special education populations. Of the 60 school districts that reported the information, the number of special education students ranged from 200 to 28,000, with an average of 3,904 (SD = 5,635.77). The percentage of special education students in these districts ranged from 10.68% to 29.13% (M = 18.91, SD = 3.61 ). A total of 44 respondents reported the percentage of special education students from minority backgrounds in their school districts. These numbers ranged from 5% to 99% (M = 44.18, SD = 27.79).
Instrument and Data Collection Procedures
A two-page, 16-item survey, "Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavioral Intervention Plans for Secondary Students," was used to collect data for this study. This survey was adapted from a previous study (Conroy, Katsiyannis, Clark, Gable, & Fox, 2002). In addition to items collecting demographic information about the districts, the survey contained two sections. The first section was labeled "Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIP)." This section contained 13 items collecting information regarding (a) the most problematic behaviors, (b) most likely initial disciplinary actions for that behavior, (c) behaviors that are most likely to lead to an FBA being conducted, (d) the extent to which certain problem behaviors may result in an initiation of FBA, (e) the frequency that each FBA procedure was used, (f) FBA procedures that were most useful for a list of problem behaviors, (g) identification of problem behaviors for which FBA procedures were mostly useful, (h) procedures that the school district used as part of its process for conducting an FBA, (i) instruments that the district used as part of its process for conducting an FBA, (j) district personnel who were normally involved in conducting the FBA, (k) whether the FBA process was conducted by a team or by an individual, (I) identifications of effective interventions for a list of problem behaviors, and (m) how frequently the district used each of 1 2 intervention strategies. To maximize completion and efficiency, survey items for the first section were forced choice, with either a menu of responses from which to choose or yes-no responses. The second section was labeled "Overall Comments" and consisted of a request for respondents to rate the extent to which FBA contributes to the effectiveness of interventions that reduce the challenging behaviors of secondary-aged students and two open-ended questions. These questions requested the listing of the top three FBA procedures and intervention strategies that have been found to be most effective and the three least effective for identifying and decreasing problem behaviors when working with secondary students with challenging behaviors. The length and design of the survey were consistent with guidelines outlined by Fink and Kosecoff (1998) and a review of the recommended practices as outlined in the literature.
Data Collection and Analysis
Data were collected through mail-in surveys. In the initial mailing, 154 surveys were sent to all school districts' special education district-level administrators in the two states: 67 in Florida and 87 in South Carolina. The district-level administrators were asked to complete the survey and return it within a 1month period in a self-addressed stamped envelope included with the survey. At the conclusion of the 1-month window, follow-up letters were mailed out to each of the original survey recipients who had not responded to encourage follow through with participation. Returned surveys were coded and entered into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences for analyses. Three types of statistical analyses were conducted. First, frequencies were calculated for all forced-choice items on the survey. Second, descriptive statistics (mean, range, and standard deviation) were calculated for all numerical variables and for variables that required ratings. Third, inferential analyses, including multivariate analysis of variance, paired-sample f tests, and one-sample t tests, were conducted to examine whether ratings to some survey items were statistically significant and whether there were any significant state variations.
Identification of Problematic Behaviors and Likely Initial Disciplinary Actions
Respondents were asked to identify problematic behaviors for school personnel by rank ordering a list of behaviors. The ranking scale ranged from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most problematic behavior and 5 being the least problematic behavior. A total of 74 respondents provided their rank orders. Mean ratings on these behaviors are 1.42 for chronic classroom problem behaviors, 1.93 for verbally aggressive behaviors, 2.36 for physically aggressive behavior, 2.32 for weapon-related behaviors, 2.62 for self-abuse, 2.73 for social isolation/withdrawal, 2.95 for property destruction, 2.86 for truancy, and 2.50 for drugrelated behaviors. To test the significances of these means, one-sample f tests were conducted to compare these means to an expected value of 2.5, which is the midpoint on the ranking scale. Results of the f tests indicate that chronic classroom problem behaviors were ranked as the most problematic behaviors and were significantly different from the midpoint (t = -8.67, df = 73, p < .001). Verbal aggression was ranked as the second most problematic behavior and was significantly different from the midpoint (t = -4.53, df = 73, p < .001). The third ranked behavior was physical aggression, which was also significantly different from the midpoint (t = -0.82, df = 73, p = .41). Another behavior that was significantly different form the midpoint was weapon-related behaviors (t = -0.76, df = 73, p = .45), which was in the fourth rank. Property destruction (t = 2.08, df = 73, p < .05) and truancy (t = 2.19, df = 73, p < .05) were also significantly different from the midpoint, meaning that respondents believe that these behaviors are significantly less problematic. To examine variations across states, Pearson chi-square statistics were calculated, and the results did not reveal any statistically significant variations between the two states in the rankings of these behaviors.
The participants were given a list of disciplinary actions and were asked to check which action or actions schools were likely to use for dealing with each of the above behaviors. For each behavior, respondents could check one or more actions that they believed the schools would take to deal with the particular behavior. The listed disciplinary actions included parent notification, removal of student from class, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, placement in an interim alternative educational setting, and other. Parent notification was identified as a likely action for all problem behaviors. Removal of the student from the classroom seemed to be another likely action that school staff would initially take to deal with problem behaviors. Participants also identified out-of-school suspension as a likely action for initially dealing with five behaviors (chronic problem behaviors, verbal aggression, property destruction, weapon-related behavior, and drug-related behavior). In-school suspension was identified as an initial action for dealing with four behaviors (chronic problem behaviors, verbal aggression, property destruction, and truancy).
Behaviors That Lead to the Initiation of FBA
Respondents were asked to check which of the previously listed problem behaviors were likely to lead to an FBA being conducted. Among all the behaviors, physical aggression was identified by 74 (98.7%) participants, followed by chronic problem behaviors (n = 72, 96.0%), verbal aggression (n = 69, 92.0%), weapon-related behaviors (n = 42, 56%), and drug-related behaviors (n = 41, 54.7%). Other behaviors were checked by fewer than half of the respondents: property destruction (n = 36, 48.0%), self-abuse (n = 26, 34.7%), truancy (n = 19, 25.3%), and social isolation/withdrawal (n = 12, 16.0%).
Survey respondents also rated the intensity of each problem behavior that would result in the initiation of a FBA. The rating scales were 1 to 6, with 1 being mild intensity and 6 being severe intensity. Means of these ratings were 3.98 for social isolation/withdrawal, 3.17 for property destruction, 3.48 for self-abuse, 4.07 for truancy, 3.77 for chronic problem behaviors, 2.56 for drug-related behaviors, 3.63 for verbal aggression, and 3.14 for physical aggression. To test the significances of these ratings, one-sample t tests were conducted to compare the means to an expected value of 3.5, which is the midpoint of the intensity scale representing moderate intensity. Results of the t tests indicate that drug-related behaviors (t = -4.36, df = 60, p < .001) and physical aggression (t = -2.33, df = 73, p < .05) would result in the initiation of FBA even when the intensity of these behaviors was significantly below the midpoint of 3.5 on the intensity scale. On the other hand, truancy (t = 3.12, df = 57, p < .005), chronic problem behaviors (t = 2.32, df = 74, p < .05), and social isolation/withdrawal (t = 2.21, df = 64, p < .05) would lead to the initiation of FBA procedures when the intensity of these behaviors was significantly higher than the midpoint of 3.5 on the intensity scale. Property destruction (t = -1.83, df = 62, p = .072), self-abuse (t = -0.08, df = 65, p = .934), and verbal aggression (t = 1.07, df = 74, p = .287) would lead to the initiation of FBA procedures when the intensity of these behaviors was at the moderate level. To test whether these intensity variations were statistically significant and to examine state variations, a multivariate analysis of variance was conducted. Based on the means listed of these items, four variables were chosen to be dependent variables for this analysis. These included drug-related behaviors (the lowest intensity), physical aggression (the second lowest intensity was chosen because this behavior was 0.58 points higher than drug-related behaviors), self-abuse (the closest to the midpoint), and truancy (the highest intensity). State (Florida versus South Carolina) was the independent variable for this analysis. The multivariate F statistics yielded from this analysis revealed significant variations related to the four intensity variables (F = 248.81, p < .001, effect size = .96, observed power = 1.00). The differences between states was not statistically significant [F= 1.21, p = .32). To further examine which pairs of the intensity variables were statistically different from each other, a paired-sample f test was conducted, and a significant difference was detected between drug-related behaviors and physical aggression (t = -2.85, p < .01, df = 60). Because the intensity rating of drugrelated behaviors was significantly different from the second lowest rating, it was safe to assume that the difference between this behavior and other intensity variables would be more significant. Therefore, there was no need to run more paired-sample f tests between this variable and other variables. The second paired-sample f test was conducted between physical aggression (i.e., the second lowest intensity) and self-abuse (i.e., the midpoint intensity); the yielded f value of -1.40 was not statistically significant at the p < .05 level (df = 65). The next paired-sample t test was conducted between physical aggression (the second lowest intensity) and truancy (the highest intensity rating), and the result was statistically significant (t = -3.22, p < .01, df = 57). The final paired-sample f test was conducted between self-abuse (the midpoint) and truancy (the highest intensity rating), and the result showed no statistically significant variations at the .05 level of significance (t = -1.92, p= .06, df= 57).
Respondents' FBA Practices
Respondents were asked to rate how often they used each of eight FBA procedures listed on the survey. The rating scales ranged from 1 to 6, with 1 being infrequently and 6 being frequently. To test the significances of these means, one-sample t tests were conducted to compare these means to an expected value of 3.5, which was the midpoint of the rating scale. Means and results of these t tests are included in Table 1. The most frequently used FBA procedure was teacher interviews, followed by informal direct observations, parent interviews, and student interviews. These four procedures were used significantly more often than the midpoint (i.e., moderate frequency). Analog probe assessments and manipulation of instructional variables, however, were used significantly less frequently than the midpoint (i.e., moderate frequency). Structured direct observations and rating scales were used moderately.
Respondents also identified, from a list, useful FBA procedures for dealing with each problem behavior. The top four most useful FBA procedures for each problem behavior are listed in Table 2. Student interviews, teacher interviews, and parent interviews were rated as most useful for all problem behaviors. Informal direct observations and rating scales were also rated as useful for some problem behaviors listed. In addition, respondents rated how useful it was to conduct an FBA for dealing with each problem behavior using a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being most useful and 5 being least useful. The means of these ratings are shown in Table 3. In addition, one-sample f tests were conducted to test the significances of these means by comparing them to an expected value of 3, which was the midpoint on the usefulness rating scale and represented moderately useful (see Table 3). As shown, respondents indicated that conducting FBA procedures was mostly useful for dealing with chronic problem behavior, followed by verbal aggression and physical aggression. FBA procedures were least useful in dealing with drugrelated behaviors, weapon-related behaviors, and truancy. The FBA procedures were rated as moderately useful with social isolation/withdrawal, property destruction, and self-abuse. To examine whether the means were significantly different from each other and whether there were any significant state variations, a multivariate analysis of variance was conducted. Dependent variables for this analysis included drug-related behaviors (FBA practices most useful), chronic problem behavior (FBA practices least useful), social isolation/withdrawal (the midpoint), and verbal aggression (FBA procedures second most useful, but a 0.28point difference from chronic problem behaviors). The independent variable was state (Florida versus South Carolina). Results of the analysis showed a significant difference among the usefulness of FBA procedures on the four behaviors (F = 211.89, p < .001, effect size = .95, observed power = 1.00). A paired-sample t test was conducted to compare the means for drug-related behavior and for social isolation/ withdrawal, and the result showed a statistically significant difference (t = 4.06, p < .001, df = 51). This finding indicated that the participants believed FBA procedures were more useful for dealing with social isolation/withdrawal than for dealing with drug-related behaviors. Based on this result, it is obvious that the usefulness ratings for self-abuse, physical aggression, and verbal aggression were all significantly lower than the rating for drug-related behaviors, meaning that the participants indicated FBA procedures were more useful for dealing with these behaviors than for dealing with drugrelated behaviors. The next paired-sample f test was conducted between social isolation/withdrawal and verbal aggression, and the result yielded a f value of 2.80, which was statistically significant at the p < .01 level (df = 60). This result means that FBA procedures were reportedly more useful for dealing with verbal aggression than for dealing with social isolation/withdrawal. Based on this finding, FBA procedures would be more useful for dealing with chronic problem behaviors than for dealing with social isolation/withdrawal and other behaviors that received a higher mean rating than 2.92. The overall difference on the four behaviors between the two states was not statistically significant at the .05 level of significance. However, significant state differences (South Carolina versus Florida) did exist on chronic problem behaviors (mean difference = 0.83, p < .05) and verbal aggression (mean difference = 0.78, p < .05). In both cases, participants from Florida reported FBA as being more useful than participants from South Carolina.
District FBA Practices
In a list of five FBA components, respondents checked those that their district used as part of conducting an FBA. "Identifying the consequences that maintain the behavior" was the procedure checked the most by the respondents (n = 73, 97.3%), followed by "developing hypotheses about the function of the behavior" (n = 72, 96.0%), "specifying the most and least likely times behavior occurs" (n = 69, 92.0%) and "operationally defining behaviors" (n = 66, 88.0%). Only 39 (52.0%) of the respondents identified "validating hypotheses prior to intervention" as a component of their district's FBA process.
In response to specific instruments the school district used when conducting an FBA, respondents identified indirect techniques (i.e., interviews, rating scales) as most frequently used (n = 73, 97.3%). Other techniques were checked less frequently, including direct measures (e.g., scatterplot, ABC analysis, analog assessment; n = 42, 56.0%), school districts' self-developed measures (n = 34, 45.3%), commercially available measures/forms (n = 28, 37.3%), and state developed measures/ forms (n = 23, 30.7%). The majority of the respondents overwhelmingly identified special education teachers as the personnel who are responsible for conducting an FBA (n = 71, 94.7%). Other personnel who were identified included the school psychologist (n = 57, 76.0%), general education teachers (n = 49, 65.3%), guidance counselors (n = 47, 62.7%), administrators (n = 43, 57.3%), others (n = 30, 40.0%), and consultants (n = 19, 25.3%). When asked if the FBA process was mostly conducted by a team or by an individual teacher/behavioral specialist, 51 (68.0%) indicated that a team conducted an FBA, 20 (26.7%) indicated an individual teacher/behavioral specialist conducted an FBA, and 4 (5.3%) of the respondents did not provide an answer.
Intervention Strategies for Problem Behaviors
Respondents were asked to check from a list of intervention strategies those that were likely to be effective in managing each of nine behaviors indicated. These behaviors and the top four identified intervention strategies for each behavior are shown in Table 4. Behavioral contracts, instruction of replacement behaviors, and schoolwide discipline procedures were frequently identified as effective interventions for some of the problem behaviors. In addition, respondents were requested to rate how frequently they used each of 12 listed intervention strategies by responding to a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 6, with 1 being infrequently and 6 being frequently (see Table 5 for means of these ratings). To test which of these strategies were used more frequently than the midpoint of 3.5 (moderately frequent), one-sample f tests were conducted to compare mean ratings of these 12 strategies to the expected value of 3.5. Results of these t tests indicated that behavioral contracts, in-school suspension, and schoolwide discipline procedures were rated significantly higher than the midpoint, which indicated that these three strategies were used very frequently (see Table 5). Instruction of replacement behaviors was also used more frequently. On the other hand, expulsion, placement in an IAES, and response cost were rated significantly lower than the midpoint, which indicated that these were used quite infrequently. Another strategy that was used less frequently was differential reinforcement of other behaviors.
Overall Evaluation of FBA Process
Respondents rated the overall effectiveness of the FBA process in helping reduce problem behaviors on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being not effective and 6 being very effective. A total of 30 (40.0%) respondents did not provide an answer to this item. Of those 45 individuals who provided an answer, 12 (26.7%) indicated a rating of 1 or 2 (not effective), 17 (37.8%) rated this item a 3 (moderately effective), and 16 (35.6%) rated the item a 4, 5, or 6 (effective to very effective). A one-sample f test was conducted to compare the group mean to an expected value of 3.5, which was the midpoint of the scale (moderately effective). The test yielded a group mean of 3.20 and a f value of -1.679, which was not significantly different from 3.5 (p = .100, df = 44). This finding means that the participants evaluated FBA procedures as moderately effective. Student interview, teacher interview, and parent interview were identified as the three most effective FBA procedures overall, whereas a rating scale was identified as the least effective FBA procedure. Behavioral contacts and instruction of replacement behaviors were identified as the two most effective intervention strategies; in-school and out-of-school suspensions were identified as the two least effective intervention strategies.
The purpose of this study was to examine and describe practices related to the implementation of FBA in two southern states. Specifically, this study emphasized the nature of behaviors most likely addressed through an FBA, the types of FBA procedures used, and the individuals conducting an FBA. Although the findings presented significantly contribute to our understanding of how FBA procedures are being implemented in school districts, the current study has several limitations that should be considered when examining and interpreting the findings. First, the survey was conducted across only two states, the return rate of the survey was lower than we had expected, and not all respondents answered each question. Therefore, the findings have geographical and response limitations. In addition, the participants who responded to the survey were district-level administrators, not teachers in schools. Although district-level administrators have an overall knowledge of educational practices in their school district, their responses may not be representative of those personnel in school districts who are directly responsible for administering an FBA with students. As in most surveys, the results reflect the respondents' opinions regarding these practices, and they may have incentives to respond in a certain way. Unfortunately, we did not collect performance measures on the degree to which the respondents actually practiced what they reported. For example, we did not obtain data on the actual versus reported FBA procedures used by school districts. Although we drew from the available literature and carefully constructed questions to increase the reliability and validity of the information provided in the survey, survey questions were subject to interpretation and therefore should be viewed with caution. Future research with larger sample sizes that include wider geographical locations is needed to investigate district-level policies and practices in conducting an FBA. Research is also needed to target frontline school personnel who are responsible for conducting an FBA. Empirical and longitudinal studies are needed to investigate the short- and long-term effects an FBA has on students' behavior and academic achievement.
As indicated by our findings, the most problematic behaviors indicated by respondents included chronic problem behaviors followed by verbal and physical aggression. This finding is not only understandable but is logical because these behaviors are often seriously disruptive to a classroom and/or injure others. Given the nature of social isolation and the relatively low impact this behavior has on the classroom, it is not surprising that social isolation was identified as less problematic. In addition, behaviors involving weapons, drugs, and truancy were also identified as less problematic in comparison to chronic problem behaviors and verbal or physical aggression. At first this finding may seem counterintuitive because these behaviors are extremely serious and can have severe implications for children, teachers, and schools. However, because of their low frequency of occurrence or location in which they most likely occur (e.g., outside the classroom), they may be less likely to directly disrupt a classroom lesson or affect the classroom teacher while teaching in comparison with other behaviors such as disruption or aggression. In addition, behaviors involving weapons, drugs, and truancy are not always easily observed and may be difficult to evaluate through an FBA (Conroy et al., in press; Sasso et al., 2001). For these reasons, school districts may have rated these behaviors as less problematic.
Parent notification and removal from class were identified as the two most frequently used initial disciplinary actions for problem behaviors overall, whereas in-school and outof-school suspension, expulsion, and removal to an IAES were listed as less frequently used initial disciplinary actions. Given that parental notification and removal from class are less severe consequences and in many schools are prerequisites for suspension, expulsion, and removal to IAES, this finding is logical, especially because chronic problem behaviors were indicated as the most highly occurring offensive behavior. This finding may indicate that the disciplinary action taken by school districts may be related to behavioral intensity and topography. For example, given zerotolerance policies, it seems likely that a student who brings a weapon to school is more likely to be expelled than a student who is truant.
Respondents indicated that drug-related behaviors and physical aggression would result in the initiation of FBA, even when these behaviors were at the low-intensity level. In contrast, truancy, chronic problem behaviors, and social isolation/withdrawal would lead to the initiation of FBA procedures when these behaviors were at the high-intensity level. Similarly, property destruction, self-abuse, and verbal aggression would lead to the initiation of FBA procedures when these behaviors were at the moderate level. These findings are surprising because they indicate that all behaviors must occur at least at the moderate level of intensity prior to initiating an FBA, with the exception of drug-related behaviors and physical aggression. Consequently, these findings suggest that an FBA is not being conducted proactively with behaviors such as chronic problem behaviors, property destruction, self-abuse, and verbal aggression; rather, school districts may be waiting until these behaviors become moderately problematic prior to initiating an FBA, a potentially problematic practice. One of the primary purposes of FBA is to assess the variables that contribute to or maintain problem behaviors to prevent and remediate those behaviors (Conroy, Clark, Fox, & Gable, 2000; Scott & Kamps, 2007). If schools districts are postponing the implementation of FBA until problem behaviors become moderately intense, they are losing out on critical opportunities for proactively addressing the problem behavior and preventing future occurrences.
When asked about the various FBA practices used, school districts indicated that they most frequently used an FBA to identify consequences that maintained behaviors or the functions of those behaviors. In addition, most school districts indicated that they obtained this information through indirect measures (i.e., interviews). Unfortunately, only a little more than half of the school districts use direct measures and validate their FBA outcomes prior to implementing an intervention. As defined in the literature, an FBA includes (a) operationally defining the problem behavior, (b) conducting indirect and direct assessments to identify factors related to the occurrence and maintaining the problem behavior, (c) developing hypotheses, (d) validating hypotheses, and (e) implementing a function-based intervention (for a discussion, see Dunlap & Kern, 1993). One of the most critical steps in the FBA process is validating hypotheses prior to implementing an intervention (Sasso et al., 2001). This is a critical step for developing an effective and efficient function-based intervention. Without validating hypotheses derived from indirect and direct assessments, one runs the risk of developing an intervention that may not address the true function of the behavior and as a result may be ineffective or even contraindicated. Although conducting direct observational assessments and validating hypotheses may not be as easy to implement as indirect measures, the usefulness of incorporating these FBA components is more likely to outweigh the difficulty teachers may have in implementing them. We highly recommend the use of direct observational assessments and validation of hypotheses as an integral part of the FBA process; however, there are some behaviors that do not necessarily lend themselves to conducting these techniques (e.g., truancy, weapon-related behaviors, and drugrelated behaviors). As indicated in our findings, school districts were less likely to use direct observational assessment procedures for these behaviors in comparison to behaviors that are more easily observed (e.g., verbal and physical aggression). For these behaviors, school districts may want to consider using at least three various indirect assessment procedures and triangulate their findings to determine the most likely variables contributing to the behavior.
One encouraging finding is that the majority of the participants indicated that FBAs were more likely to be conducted by a team of individuals as opposed to a single person. Even though special education teachers were the most likely personnel to be responsible for conducting the FBA, this finding suggests that schools may be approaching the prevention and intervention of problem behaviors from a team perspective across the school, rather than relying on a single special educator or general education teacher.
Several important findings were reported related to the use and implementation of proactive interventions. First, respondents indicated that conducting FBA procedures was mostly useful for dealing with chronic problem behavior, followed by verbal aggression and physical aggression. The FBA procedures were least useful in dealing with drug-related behaviors, weapon-related behaviors, and truancy. The FBA procedures were rated as moderately useful with social isolation/withdrawal, property destruction, and self-abuse. Second, participants identified proactive interventions (e.g., behavioral contracts, instruction of replacement behaviors, and schoolwide discipline) as highly effective in comparison to other types of interventions and were frequently implemented (e.g., expulsion). Findings also indicated that reactive interventions, such as in-school suspension, were frequently used. In addition, intervention strategies such as self-management, differential reinforcement, token economy, and conflict-resolution strategies were all reported to be used within the moderate range. Given that the survey focused on FBA, these findings may be of concern. Because the purpose of FBA is to implement interventions that are linked to the function of behavior, it is surprising that intervention strategies, such as differential reinforcement, would not have ranked higher. This finding may be a reflection of limitations of the survey; that is, the survey did not explicitly ask respondents if the interventions they choose were linked to the functions of behavior. Alternatively, these findings may reflect the disconnect that occurs frequently between the implementation of traditional FBA in schools and the resulting interventions (for further discussion, see Conroy et al., in press).
Approximately two-thirds of the participants who responded to the question regarding the overall effectiveness of the FBA process indicated that FBA was moderately to very effective. This finding is encouraging because it lends credibility to the social validity of the FBA process. If teachers and school staff do not find FBA useful, they will be less likely to use FBA in their classrooms and schools (Reid & Nelson, 2002; Scott et al., 2004). As suggested by Scott and colleagues (2004), it is imperative for us to help make FBA useful for teachers and schools as well as effective in reducing problem behaviors.
Since the reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 (and most recently in 2004), FBA is widely being used in school districts to assist in the prevention and amelioration of problem behaviors. This survey examined the use of disciplinary provisions and FBA procedures by school district personnel in school districts across two states. The findings indicate that conducting FBA procedures was mostly useful for dealing with chronic problem behavior, followed by verbal aggression and physical aggression. FBA procedures were least useful in dealing with drug-related behaviors, weapon-related behaviors, and truancy. However, respondents indicated that chronic behaviors and verbal aggression were likely to result in an FBA if they occurred at the high-intensity and moderate-intensity level, respectively, whereas physical aggression would lead to the initiation of FBA at the low-intensity level. Also, school districts are most likely to use indirect measures when conducting an FBA rather than direct measures. Another important finding is that an FBA was more likely to be conducted by a team in the school. Finally, the majority of the participants reported that they found the FBA process to be effective.
Although the findings of this study should be viewed with caution because of the limitations discussed above, we believe they help shed some light on how school districts are approaching the task of implementing the mandate of FBA. An FBA can be a valuable tool for school district personnel to use when dealing with students' problem behaviors. However, if implemented poorly or incompletely, an FBA has the potential to become nothing more than a meaningless mandate and additional paperwork for teachers and other school staff. Fortunately, the results of our survey indicated that many respondents have found FBA to be useful. The results also indicate that there is room for further developing the application of FBA in school settings (see Reid & Nelson, 2002). The challenge for researchers and professionals over the next several years will be to assist school districts in developing and implementing FBA that is not only meaningful for children and youth with behavioral disorders but also socially valid for the teachers and related staff in schools.
Conroy, M. A., Alter, P. J., & Scott, T. M. (in press). In T. E. Scruggs & M. A. Mastropieri (Eds.), Policy and practice: Advances in learning and behavior disabilities (Vol. 22). Bingley, UK: Emerald.
Conroy, M. A., Clark, D., Fox, J. J., & Gable, R. A. (2000). Building competence in FBA: Are we headed the right direction? Preventing School Failure, 44, 169-173.
Conroy, M. A., Katsiyannis, A., Clark, D., Gable, R. A., & Fox, J. J. (2002). State office of education practices: Implementing the IDEA disciplinary provisions. Behavioral Disorders, 27, 98-108.
Dunlap, G., & Kern, L. (1993). Assessment and intervention for children within the instructional curriculum. In J. Reichle & D. Wacker (Eds.), Communication alternatives to challenging behavior: Integrating functional assessment and intervention strategies (pp. 177-203). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
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Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (k).
Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k).
Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, Part B Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.530-536.
Maag, J. W., & Katsiyannis, A. (2006). Behavioral intervention plans: Legal and practical considerations for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 31, 348-362.
Nelson, J. R., Roberts, M. L., Mathur, S. R., & Rutherford, R. B. (1999). Has public policy exceeded our knowledge base? A review of the functional behavioral assessment literature, Behavioral Disorders, 24, 169-179.
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Reid, R., & Nelson, J. R. (2002). The utility, acceptability, and practicality of functional behavioral assessment for students with highincidence problem behaviors. Remedial and Special Education, 23, 15-23.
Sasso, G. M., Conroy, M. A., Stichter, J. P., & Fox, J. J. (2001). Slowing down the bandwagon: The misapplication of functional assessment for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 26, 282-296.
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Virginia Commonwealth University
Texas A&M University
Address correspondence to Antonis Katsiyannis, Special Education, 407 C Tillman Hall, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634; Phone: (864) 656-5114; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Initial Acceptance: 11/18/07
Final Acceptance: 12/2/08…