Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Implications of Current Research on the Use of Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Support Planning in School Systems

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Implications of Current Research on the Use of Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Support Planning in School Systems

Article excerpt


Functional behavior assessment and function-based support have increasingly been used in school settings in the past decade. This increased use has come under scrutiny from some experts who have argued in the past that function-based support has not yet been proven to be effective in typical school settings with students without severe disabilities. But recent research has demonstrated its effectiveness in general education settings, and current research is providing insight into procedures that can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of functional behavior assessment and function-based support in typical school settings. In this article the authors provide six guidelines for effective functional behavior assessment and support in school settings.

Keywords: functional assessment, behavioral assessment, behavior disorders, school systems


Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a process for understanding an individual's problem behavior, identifying events that predict and maintain it, and using this information to design behavior support plans that minimize problem behavior and maximize functional, prosocial behavior (O'Neill et al., 1997). It is an applied process with clear roots in applied behavior analytic literature and over sixty years of empirical support (Ervin, Ehrhardt, & Poling, 2001; Skinner, 1953). FBA has been in practice by clinicians, consultants, and school personnel under the varied names of functional assessment, functional analysis, functional analysis assessment, or as a general technique used by applied behavior analysts. At the core of these different names (and variations in approaches) are the underlying assumptions that behavior is predictable, occasioned by environmental events, and serves a purpose, or function. Identifying the function or functions that maintain problem behavior provides a key to the elusive question of "why" problem behavior occurs, but also (and more importantly) provides the information needed to reduce problem behavior and teach socially acceptable, functional alternative skills that can be used to improve life outcomes.

Though its primary research base comes from studies and clinical use with individuals with severe disabilities, more recent uses of FBA have focused on a broader range of individuals with problem behavior, including individuals with mild or moderate disabilities or those at risk for such disabilities. This use has been hastened by amendments to the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997), which mandated the use of FBA in determining appropriate placements for students with significant problem behavior. Since its passage, it has been a ubiquitous part of providing behavior support, as well as due process lawsuits, in today's schools. To many educators, FBA has been misinterpreted as a way to determine if students are "in control" of their behavior or as a piece of the paperwork needed to suspend students with problem behavior. As a result, the typical school perception of FBA has become very different than its intended purposes. As we approach a decade of the inclusion of FBA into law, it seems worthwhile to examine its use and effectiveness, and reexamine the recent research literature to determine its best practice in schools.

The Use of FBA in School Settings

Now that FBA has been used in school settings on a large scale, it is possible to explore the state of practice in function-based support with a broad range of students in schools rather than the limited population of participants that typified research in previous years. In addition, with the increase in students receiving FBAs, there has been a corresponding increase in the range of people using FBA in schools, adding school psychologists, school behavior specialists, teachers, and counselors to clinicians as personnel commonly completing FBAs.

This broadening of the population for function-based support and the resulting technology transfer has been greeted with varied responses from prominent scholars. …

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