The Role of Behavior Analysis in School Psychology

By Wilczynski, Susan M.; Thompson, Kristie F. et al. | The Behavior Analyst Today, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Role of Behavior Analysis in School Psychology


Wilczynski, Susan M., Thompson, Kristie F., Beatty, Thomas M., Sterling-Turner, Heather E., The Behavior Analyst Today


The role of behavior analysis in school psychology is ever evolving. Recently, the federal requirement of conducting functional behavioral assessments for a subgroup of children identified with disabilities has brought the need for behavior analysis to the forefront of school psychology. Presently, behavior analysis is influencing both assessment and consultation conducted in the schools. However, given the necessity for intensive training in behavior analysis and the limited training available in this area in many school psychology programs, a serious problem may be faced by the field. The future of behavior analysis within the context of school psychology is considered.

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The field of school psychology is dedicated to the "science and practice of psychology with children, youth, families; learners of all ages; and the schooling process" (APA). Behavioral technology has always played a role in school psychology, but similar to other subspecialties, school psychology is a diverse field and includes professionals representing many different theoretical orientations. Thus, school psychologists who do not endorse a behavioral orientation are not required to take advantage of advances in behavioral technology. Recent changes in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; Public Law 105-17, 1997), however, may catapult more school psychologists into the arena of behavior analysis. Specifically, IDEA now requires a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) to be conducted for a child with an identified disability when serious behavioral concerns have been identified that could lead to significantly reduced access to educational services (e.g., suspensions for 10 days) or changes in placement to alternative educational settings (IDEA; Public Law 105-17, 1997). For example, a FBA should be conducted if drug or weapons charges are in place so a child's placement is changed to a more restrictive environment that is consistent with stated disciplinary policy for all children.

Given the training most practitioners have in traditional assessment procedures, the school psychologist may expect to receive requests for conducting FBAs (Shriver & Watson, 1999). Thus, although the field of behavior analysis has had the greatest impact on school psychology via behavioral consultation, the role of behavior analysis in school psychology is an evolving one. The field of school psychology is responding to both the changing needs in schools and modifications in federal law that can be best met through the application of behavior analytic principles and methods. In order to better understand the relevance of behavior analysis in school psychology, a brief discussion of behavioral assessment and behavioral consultation, as well as the future impact of behavior analysis on the field of school psychology follows.

Behavioral Assessment

FBAs have become a more common practice in the schools because federal law now requires FBAs to be conducted when a change in placement is being considered for a child with an identified disability when significant behavioral problems are interfering with obtaining educational services in a child's present placement. Regrettably, FBA has not been specifically defined in IDEA, thus school psychologists and other behavioral specialists can choose between a range of procedures that fall under the umbrella of FBA. For example, descriptive procedures such as interviews, rating scales, or direct observation as well as experimental procedures such as brief, extended (i.e., a 1a Iwata, 1982), or hypothesis-driven functional analysis may be employed in order to meet the legal requirement of conducting an FBA. However, it is noteworthy that the federal government has sanctioned a specific behavioral technology for use in the schools (Telzrow, 1999).

This recent change clearly increases the value of training and expertise in behavior analysis for school psychologists because failure to conduct, interpret, and assist in the implementation of interventions based on FBAs will necessarily diminish their role in the schools. …

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