Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Measurement Properties of Indirect Assessment Methods for Functional Behavioral Assessment: A Review of Research

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Measurement Properties of Indirect Assessment Methods for Functional Behavioral Assessment: A Review of Research

Article excerpt

Abstract. Indirect assessment instruments used during functional behavioral assessment, such as rating scales, interviews, and self-report instruments, represent the least intrusive techniques for acquiring information about the function of problem behavior. This article provides criteria for examining the measurement properties of these instruments designed to identify functional relations and reviews 46 studies examining the use and interpretation of the Motivation Assessment Scale (Durand & Crimmins, 1992) or the Functional Assessment Interview (O'Neill et al., 1997). Results indicate at least three inadequacies in the research: (a) insufficient attention paid to evidence based on instrument content and informant response processes, (b) minimal evidence indicating consumer satisfaction and the singular or unique effects of instrument data on intervention development, and (c) excessive emphasis on research designs and measurement properties that assume stability in behavior-environment interactions across contexts.


Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) has received considerable attention in the professional literature of school psychology since the passage of the 1997 revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997), which mandated the use of FBA procedures and positive behavioral supports in some instances. Although IDEA did not specify what constitutes an FBA, a number of heuristic models for FBA have been proposed (e.g., O'Neill et al., 1997; Sugai, Lewis-Palmer, & Hagan-Burke, 2000; Witt, Daly, & Noell, 2000). Across these models, indirect methods of assessment are typically recommended during the beginning stages of an FBA. Indirect methods are characterized by being removed in time and place from the phenomena they measure (i.e., behaviors and functional relations). Examples include ratings of others, interviews, and self-report instruments (Cone, 1978).

Indirect methods of assessment offer a number of potential benefits to the process of FBA. For example, interviews may be useful in defining problem behaviors, determining their severity, and specifying optimal conditions under which to observe the behavior. Additionally, they may contribute to hypothesis-driven functional analysis (1) and reduce the time required to identify functional relations because fewer conditions may need to be manipulated. The informant-based nature of these methods also engages valuable stakeholders (e.g., parents and teachers) who will later be involved in the development, implementation, and monitoring of behavior support plans (Dunlap, Newton, Fox, Benito, & Vaughn, 2001). They logically are less time-consuming than direct observations, and they require notably less training, expertise, and staff collaboration to complete than functional analysis. Furthermore, they may be the only assessment method available when problem behaviors occur at a low frequency or when functional analysis is unethical or untenable (O'Neill et al., 1997).

Although the benefits of indirect methods for FBAs are numerous, informant reports stem from recollections of the problem behaviors and personal judgments about behavior-environment interactions and not their direct measurement. As a consequence, erroneous hypotheses may be developed or faulty conclusions may be drawn. Despite this significant limitation, no agreed-upon guidelines have emerged to evaluate the quality of the results obtained from indirect methods. Without a sound framework for examining their quality, consumers may be left not only misguided by their results but also uninformed about which instruments provide the most accurate and most useful information. Just as measurement standards are applied to the evaluation of norm-referenced tests to promote quality of results, so too must criteria be applied to indirect methods for FBAs.

Despite several publications focusing on evaluating measures used during FBAs (e. …

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