Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Refining Functional Behavioral Assessment: Analyzing the Separate and Combined Effects of Hypothesized Controlling Variables during Ongoing Classroom Routines

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Refining Functional Behavioral Assessment: Analyzing the Separate and Combined Effects of Hypothesized Controlling Variables during Ongoing Classroom Routines

Article excerpt

Abstract. This article presents results from an investigation using functional assessment strategies in a general education classroom for an early adolescent diagnosed with ADHD/ODD. In the first phase of the assessment, data were collected from teacher interviews, student interviews, and direct observations to generate hypotheses regarding the association between classroom environmental conditions and the occurrence of disruptive behavior. The hypotheses were then evaluated in the context of regularly occurring classroom activities. Based on the data obtained through the functional assessment procedure, a classroom intervention was designed, implemented, and evaluated. Results indicated the intervention was successful in decreasing the participant's disruptive behavior. Further, the teacher and student reported high acceptability for the assessment and intervention. Project findings are discussed in terms of bridging the gap between research and practice, conducting a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) within applied settings, and the use of FBA for behaviors that are potentially under the control of multiple maintaining functions.

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An unprecedented amount of attention has been devoted to functional behavioral assessment (FBA) methodologies in recent years. Driven in part by the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA P.L. 105-17), debate in the field of special education has centered on the mandated use of functional behavioral assessment in various situations (Watson, Gresham, & Skinner, 2001). However, recent reviews of the empirical literature have led some scholars to argue that there has not been sufficient field testing of FBA methodology in natural school contexts to warrant its mandated use in school settings (Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999). Nonetheless, other scholars contend that there is conceptual soundness and a substantial literature supporting the use of FBA in school settings (e.g., Ervin et al., 2001; Sugai, Horner, & Sprague, 1999). Despite differing views on the mandated use of FBA in school settings, there is relative agreement on the need to move from research to practice in FBA. Further, the mandated use of FBA is likely to generate more applied research on this method. In this article, a rationale is provided for moving from research to practice in FBA as well as a school-based example of how one might approach this extension.

The rise of legal mandates and suggestions of "best practices" regarding FBA in the schools has led to a number of criticisms. At the forefront are concerns that functional assessment research is limited in scope (e.g., Ervin et al., 2001; Howell & Nelson, 1999; Nelson et al., 1999). The majority of research on FBA for intervention planning involves persons with developmental disabilities, and the amount of research focused on FBA for students with high-incidence disabilities (e.g., disruptive behavior, EBD, ADHD, LD) is modest by comparison. In fact, one literature review indicated only 18% of school-based FBA studies were with students with disruptive behavior disorders, compared to 70% for students with cognitive impairments (Ervin et al., 2001). Additionally, the majority of demonstrations of FBA in the classroom have been conducted under highly controlled conditions rather than more natural contexts of the ongoing classroom routine. Although a more restricted or analogue setting may allow for greater experimental control of environmental variables in a given study, external validity is compromised (Gresham, Watson, & Skinner, 2001). Finally, an analysis of the empirical literature on FBA reveals that classroom personnel have been less involved in the hypothesis testing phase of the FBA process; instead, the experimenter typically conducts any experimental manipulations (Ervin et al., 2001). Although a handful of studies have demonstrated that teachers and school staff can be trained to conduct all phases of an FBA (e. …

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