Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Toward a Consensus of Functional Behavioral Assessment for Students with Mild Disabilities in Public School Contexts: A National Survey

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Toward a Consensus of Functional Behavioral Assessment for Students with Mild Disabilities in Public School Contexts: A National Survey

Article excerpt


Prescriptive guidelines for functional behavioral assessment have been widely published and referenced in the literature on persons with low incidence disabilities. However, the applicability of these procedures for children with more mild disabilities in public school classrooms has been the subject of some debate. In an effort to assess the degree to which persons familiar with functional behavioral assessment procedures conceptualize the process for high incidence populations, an electronic survey was delivered to 60 persons involved in research and training with functional assessment procedures. The results of the survey indicate that there is little consensus as to the necessary and sufficient procedures for performing functional behavioral assessments with high incidence populations. The results are discussed in light of respondent comments, highlighting the areas of greatest consensus and divergence.

The 1997 amendments to IDEA require that a functional behavior assessment be conducted with students who have disabilities and who exhibit behavior(s) which (a) lead IEP teams to consider a student's change in educational placement or (b) involve students who bring drugs or weapons to school, or (c) both. Specifically, federal law now states that, under these conditions, if a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) has not previously been completed, one should be completed prior to making further programming and placement decisions. Specifically, the regulations state "if the local educational agency did not conduct a functional behavioral assessment and implement a behavioral intervention plan for such child before the behavior that resulted in the suspension described in subparagraph (A), the agency shall convene an IEP meeting to develop an assessment plan to address that behavior" (615 (k) (10) (Bi). The inclusion of FBA in the law, particularly in the manner in which it is described, raises some important issues regarding FBA.

First, using FBA under the specific circumstances required by law seems to be contrary to contemporary prescriptive guidelines for FBA (O'Neill et al., 1997; Carr et al., 1994), which describe FBA as a process to be conducted in natural settings with students displaying patterns of problem behavior. Given these guidelines, it is difficult to imagine of how an appropriate FBA might be conducted with a student who is in an alternative setting (e.g., home, detention, etc.) or with a student who has been caught with drugs at school as his or her only behavioral referral. In the first case, the student's removal to an alternative setting precludes observation in the natural environment. In the latter case, a student who exhibits only one instance of negative behavior, regardless of its severity, would render observation of behavior in recurring problem contexts very difficult. It seems illogical to perform direct observations on a student while he or she is at home or by observing a student through the day in cont exts where problem behaviors have never before occurred.

Second, given the discrepancies between legal requirements and prescriptive guidelines, it seems pertinent to ask whether contemporary guidelines for FBA (which are based on students with severe disabilities and limited response classes in controlled clinical settings) (Fox, Conroy, & Heckman, 1998; Gresham, Quinn, & Restori, 1999; Nelson, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999; Scott & Nelson, 1999), are appropriate for students with mild disabilities and for large response classes (e.g., disruptive behavior, drug involvement) in public school settings. If, as appears to be the case, traditional FBA procedures do not always fit the behaviors and contexts of this population of students with mild disabilities, or to these response classes, it is then possible that a large number of persons are using practices for which there are no set procedural guidelines.

We believe that questions involving necessary and sufficient procedures for conducting FBA with mildly disabled and at-risk students in public school contexts can be identified by assessing the areas in which there is no consensus in the field. …

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