An Evaluation of the Functional Behavioral Assessment Process Used with Students with or at Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt


The literature reflects an increasing reliance on functional behavioral assessment (FBA) to develop support plans for decreasing problem behavior. However, applications with students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), particularly in classroom settings, continue to be limited. The purpose of the present review was to explore the FBA process, as it has been applied in school settings with students with or at risk for EBD. Twenty articles were identified that met inclusion criteria, with a total of 43 participants. Participants ranged from 4-14 years old, with a variety of externalizing problems. Analysis of assessment methodologies revealed that the most common methods used were direct observation and interview. Limitations noted were the absence of demonstrations with internalizing problems, extensive researcher involvement with implementation, and wide variability in assessment duration. Results are discussed in terms of implications for practice and future research.


Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) has emerged as a valuable and, some would argue, requisite component in the development of an effective behavior support plan (Carr, Langdon, & Yarbrough, 1999; O'Neill, Homer, Albin, Sprague, Storey, & Newton, 1997). The value of these procedures is demonstrated in a number of literature reviews that reveal its utility in the development of effective interventions (Blakeslee, Sugai, & Gruba, 1994) as well as an increasing trend in use (e.g., Pelios, Morren, Tesch, & Axelrod, 1999). Further, its value is implied by endorsements from major national organizations (e.g., National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of State Directors of Education, National Institutes of Health) as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997, which mandates "functional behavioral assessment" (FBA) in particular disciplinary situations. Specifically, an FBA must be conducted by a school when a student's suspension or alternative setting placement exceeds 10 days or amounts to a change of placement, when a student is placed in an alternative setting for 45 days due to a weapon or drug violation, or when a due process hearing officer places a student in an alternative placement for behavior that is dangerous to self or others (Drasgow & Yell, 2001). As can be seen from the situations described above, this mandate is directed primarily at students who exhibit behavior problems in the school setting. Often, students with EBD engage in behaviors that subject them to the disciplinary procedures described above.

In spite of the merits and mandated use of FBA, applications described in the literature remain largely restricted to individuals with developmental disabilities and primarily in clinical settings (Sasso, Conroy, Stichter, & Fox, 2001). Relatively few studies have examined its utility in the classroom setting, and even fewer still with the population of students with EBD. Given the situations in which FBA is mandated by IDEA, as well as the demonstrated efficacy and feasibility with other populations (Desrochers, Hile, & Williams-Moseley, 1997), its utility with students with or at risk for EBD, particularly in school settings, becomes a fundamental issue. Concerns with the broad applicability of FBA were raised in a series of reviews, commentaries, and critiques (e.g., Behavioral Disorders, 1999, volume 24, 3 & 4, forum section; Sasso et al., 2001) appraising the status and evidence of applications beyond the population of individuals with developmental disabilities. A number of issues arose, clearly suggesting the need for further research and analysis. Among the most salient concerns was the absence of a definition of functional assessment. Specifically, although federally mandated, the legislation does not define or explicate the essential components of a functional assessment. In fact, research reveals a lack of consensus among professionals regarding the necessary components of a FBA (Scott, Meers, & Nelson, 2000). …


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