Functional Matters in Behavioral Assessment

By Peck, Alec; Scarpati, Stan | Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2003 | Go to article overview

Functional Matters in Behavioral Assessment


Peck, Alec, Scarpati, Stan, Teaching Exceptional Children


Each day, teachers make numerous decisions about students, including how students are managing within the social context of their classrooms. At times, having to make decisions seems to occur on a minute-by-minute basis, or at least on an hourly basis. Judgments are made about students meeting academic performance standards, about how they are achieving, and how their behavior affects their interaction with their classmates. Underlying these judgments is the assumption that the results of what we observe are reliable and valid interpretations of what is occurring. In other words, we hope our inferences are accurate. In recent years measurement specialists have promoted the notion that the validity of inferences made about student performance and behavior is a unitary concept, that is, a concept that is based on the accuracy of the results of judgments. While there may be several ways to gain knowledge about how students perform, it is the accuracy of the results of our evidence that draws our focus.

Making decisions about students who present challenging behaviors requires to a greater degree that the inferences made about the nature and causes of the behavior are accurate. The incidence and prevalence of challenging behavior for individuals with disabilities is higher than for other school-aged children and IDEA responded to this finding by including provisions that call for conducting a functional behavioral assessment of student behavior when making decisions about intervention and program placement. There are various approaches to functional behavioral assessment and intervention, and each emerges from a framework that promotes a positive and proactive set of strategies. Each is also generally considered to be a problem-solving process for addressing student behavior. Research has demonstrated that a functional behavioral assessment yields accurate results, and accurate results yield effective interventions. The accuracy of a functional approach to understanding student behavior is augmented by the broad range of techniques used that go well beyond the behavior itself, such as identifying significant pupil-specific social, affective, cognitive, and/or environmental factors associated with the occurrence (and nonoccurrence) of specific behaviors. The fundamental "matter" guiding a functional behavioral assessment is gaining insight into the purpose of a behavior, and this understanding will improve the accuracy of the inferences and decisions made when designing interventions. …

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