The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 require that if a student's behavior impedes his or her learning or the learning of others, then the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) must address the problem behavior. To address the behavior in a proactive manner, the IEP team should conduct a functional behavioral assessment (FBA), develop an IEP that includes measurable behavioral goals and benchmarks or short-term objectives and, based on the FBA, write a behavior intervention plan (BIP). The purpose of this article is to (a) present the requirements of the new law, (b) describe the process of conducting an FBA, (c) explain the legal requirements for developing measurable goals and benchmarks or short-term objectives, (d) describe the development of a BIP, and (e) present a model that can serve as a guide for schools to meet their own specific needs.
On June 4, 1997, President Clinton signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA '97). This act amended and reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA). A primary goal of Congress in writing IDEA '97 was to make schools safe and orderly environments that are conducive to learning (Senate Report, 1997). The act requires that when a student with a disability exhibits problem behavior that interferes with his or her learning or that of others, the individualized education program (IEP) team shall "consider, when appropriate, strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior" (IDEA Amendments, 20 U.S.C. [sections] 1414(d)(3)(B)(I)). Although neither IDEA '97 nor the regulations detail what problem behaviors are covered under the statute, we can infer from previous litigation that these behaviors include: (a) disruptive behaviors that distract the teacher from teaching and other students from learning, (b) noncompliance, (c) abuse of property, (d) verbal abuse, and (e) aggression towards students or staff (Clyde K. v. Puyallup School District, 1994; Hartmann v. Loudoun County, 1997).
If the IEP team fails to address problem behaviors in a student's program, then that failure would deprive the student of a free appropriate public education. This could result in litigation and application of the law's sanctions against the school district (IDEA Regulations, Appendix A, Question 38, 1999). To ensure that a student who exhibits problem behaviors receives an appropriate education, the IEP team must develop and implement a program that addresses the problem behaviors. Moreover, the student's educational program must not only reduce problem behaviors, but also teach socially acceptable replacement behaviors (Homer, 1999). Addressing a student's problem behaviors include (a) conducting a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) of the student's problem behaviors, (b) developing measurable goals addressing the problem behaviors, and (c) developing a behavior intervention plan (BIP) that includes positive behavior support strategies that are nonaversive and do not rely on coercion or punishment for behavior change (Dunlap & Koegel, 1999).
Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, and Rutherford (1999), however, argue that public policy has exceeded the existing FBA knowledge base. That is, IDEA '97 requires school districts to conduct FBAs, but Nelson et al. (1999) believe that teachers and personnel in schools do not have the training or knowledge to do so. In any event, faculty and staff must conduct FBAs and develop BIPs if schools are to meet the requirements of IDEA '97.
With the IDEA '97 mandates in mind, the purpose of this paper is (a) to present the requirements of the new law, (b) to describe the process of conducting an FBA, (c) to explain the legal requirements for developing measurable goals and objectives, (d) to describe the development of a BIP, and (e) to present a model that can serve as a guide for schools to meet their own specific needs. …