State Special Education Laws for Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans

By Zirkel, Perry A. | Behavioral Disorders, August 2011 | Go to article overview

State Special Education Laws for Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans


Zirkel, Perry A., Behavioral Disorders


* The special education literature on functional behavioral assessments (FBAs) and behavioral intervention plans (BIPs) is replete with rhetoric, research, and increasingly more detailed practical sources, and the legal literature specific to FBAs and BIPs focuses on the applicable case law. However, both of these overlapping literatures lack a systematic analysis of the pertinent provisions in state special education laws that provide more rigorous requirements than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for school district policies and practices.

Special Education Foundation

An FBA is a systematic process of identifying the purpose, and more specifically the function, of problem behaviors by investigating the preexisting environmental factors that have served the purpose of these behaviors (e.g., Hanley, Iwata, & McCord, 2003; Steege & Watson, 2008). Based on this foundation, a BIP is a concrete plan of action for reducing the problem behaviors as dictated by the particular needs of the student who exhibits the behavior (e.g., Sugai et al., 2000; Turnbull, Wilcox, Stow, Raper, & Hedges, 2000).

Based on foundational research that suggested a relationship between problem behaviors and environmental conditions, such as amount of attention and difficulty of instruction (Carr & Durand, 1985; Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman, 1982), various studies have applied the FBA/BIP procedure to a wide range of student populations, target behaviors, and educational environments (e.g., Kennedy, Meyer, Knowles, & Shukla, 2000; Pelios, Morren, Tesch, & Axelrod, 1999). Further, in response to calls for wider use in schools (e.g., Cable & Hendrickson, 2005; Quinn, Gable, Fox, Van Acker, & Conroy, 2001), research efforts are in progress to refine the FBA/BIP procedure for more practical applicability in the school setting (Fox & Davis, 2005; Steege & Watson, 2008).

Legal Analyses

In addition to broad and not entirely current overviews of the applicable framework in the legislation and regulations of the IDEA (e.g., Osborne & Russo, 2009), the pertinent legal analyses to date have focused on the case law, specifically hearing and review officer decisions concerning FBAs (Drasgow & Yell, 2001) or both hearing/review officer and court decisions concerning BIPs (Etscheidt, 2006; Maag & Katsiyannis, 2006). Although providing useful recommendations for practice based on these case samplings, none of these analyses focused on the differentiation between the IDEA and state law requirements for FBAs and BIPs.

The only reports of official state activity specific to FBAs and BIPs did not specifically and directly examine state laws. An early survey by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education found, in the wake of IDEA 1 997, that at least 1 9 states had, and another 16 states planned to have, written "policies, procedures, or guidelines concerning assessment of behavior" (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 1998, p. 2). However, the results did not specifically and separately address state laws specific to FBAs and BIPs. For example, the findings were based on a survey of state directors of special education that did not distinguish state laws from this catchall mix of documents. Similarly, the generic réfèrent of "assessment of behavior" (p. 2) did not provide any specific delineation of FBAs, much less BIPs.

Another such survey of state directors found that 30% of the respondents reported having state policies that extend beyond the IDEA requirements for FBAs (Conroy, Katsiyannis, Clark, Gable, & Fox, 2002). However, more than a fourth of the state directors did not respond to the survey, and, as the authors acknowledged, the limitations also included the respondents' varying knowledge and response set (p. 106). Because the initial items focused broadly on "state policies" and their subsequent items inquired about "recommended" standards, personnel, and procedures, the survey did not distinguish between law and nonbinding guidelines, manuals, and other state education agency (SEA) documents. …

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