Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Examining the Effects and Quality of Interventions Based on the Assessment of Contextual Variables: A Meta-Analysis

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Examining the Effects and Quality of Interventions Based on the Assessment of Contextual Variables: A Meta-Analysis

Article excerpt

The functional behavioral assessment (FBA) provision in the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2006) has been both praised as a significant positive development and criticized as a procedure that lacks sufficient evidence base and social validity to be of value in school settings (Katsiyannis, Conroy, & Zhang, 2008; Katsiyannis & Maag, 1998; Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999). Although the term FBA is not defined within the law, it is generally regarded within the field as a series of heuristic approaches for determining the purpose or "function" (i.e., source of environmental reinforcement) a student's challenging behavior serves, so that those results can be used to develop a behavior intervention plan (BIP) that addresses the identified function(s) (O'Neill et al., 1997). They have been used--and found to be effective--to address a spectrum of challenging behaviors for students with disabilities in various settings including schools (Didden, Duker, & Korzillus, 1997; Lane, Kalberg, & Shepcaro, 2009; Scotti, Evans, Meyer, & Walker, 1991). Recently, Gage, Lewis, and Stichter (2012) examined both the quality of studies and applied an emerging methodology to quantify the magnitude of change in single-case design (SCD) studies that examined FBA-based interventions for students who have an emotional or behavioral disorder.

Research on function-based interventions have typically stressed the role of consequences maintaining behaviors and sought to create interventions that reduce challenging behaviors by manipulating those consequences (Stichter, Hudson, & Sasso, 2005). However, the influence of antecedent--or contextual--variables on behavior is an important aspect of behavior analysis in both theory and practice. Consequently, there has been an increasing amount of research investigating these variables as a means to develop and implement simple, proactive techniques to manage students' challenging behaviors (see review by Conroy & Stichter, 2003).

It is important to define the term contextual variables within an FBA paradigm. Contextual variables refer to the circumstances that form the setting for the occurrence of behaviors and include a number of terms including, but not limited to, setting events, antecedents, establishing operations, and discriminative stimuli (Stichter, Randolph, Kay, & Gage, 2009). Contextual variables are conceptualized as affecting the typical three-term contingency (antecedent, behavior, consequence) and occurrence of behavior (Conroy & Stichter, 2003). They are important to examine because some teachers may find it difficult to manage consequent variables such as schedules of reinforcement and may also be leery of manipulating them due to possible increases in unexpected behaviors (Conroy & Stichter, 2003; Stichter et al., 2005). Stichter, Lewis and colleagues (2004) found that contextually based interventions were easy and relevant ways for teachers to address students' challenging behaviors and improve academic outcomes, thereby enhancing positive social interaction and academic engagement. Further, simple contextual manipulations such as teachers having consistent schedules, appropriate instructional pace and level, preferred activities, and giving clear directives have been demonstrated to be effective in improving classroom climate (Stichter, Lewis et al., 2004).

To examine the efficacy of assessing contextual variables to inform interventions for students with challenging behaviors, Conroy and Stichter (2003) performed a systematic review of the literature regarding antecedent-based interventions from 1980 to 2000. They defined antecedents similarly to the term contextual variables used herein in that they were considered a fourth factor that influences the typical three-term contingency. For example, at the beginning of the school day, a teacher tells her students to get out their math book and turn to page 24 (antecedent). …

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