Special Education-Functional Behavioral Assessments: Beyond Student Behavior
Dieterich, Cynthia A., Villani, Christine J., Bennett, P. Tyson, Journal of Law and Education
The 1997 reauthorization of IDEA1 contains a clear mandate for the use of functional behavioral assessment (FBA) as a method to evaluate student behavior.2 In addition, following the completion of a FBA, a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) becomes the strategy to provide a child with the necessary skills and supports to appropriately manage disruptive behaviors. However, it is not explicitly stated in the reauthorization who receives a FBA and BIP. Do school districts need to consider administering a FBA to all children with disabilities or only children with behavior problems?3 In the reauthorization, procedures for con-ducting an evaluation note that "the local educational agency shall use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional and developmental information . . . ."4 However, there is no indication in this reference of an intent to use a functional assessment as the only tool in the evaluation of children with behavior disorders nor does it exclude using a FBA and BIP for children with learning disabilities, mental retardation, hearing impairments, or other disabilities. Given that the nature of special education is to change behavior whether academic or social, regardless of the disability, is it reasonable then to assume that school districts consider conducting a functional assessment for all children with a disability to determine why they do what they do? Knowing "why" a child engages in inappropriate behavior facilitates the design of effective interventions that can change undesirable behaviors (e.g., incorrect mathematics responses, reading errors, time on task, etc.) to desired outcomes.
Although the reauthorization does not specifically direct schools to only use a FBA for children with behavior disorders there is a focus on associating a FBA with behavioral problems.5 It is evident, in the case of a severe behavior resulting in a suspension or expulsion, that districts must complete a FBA if a child does not already have one.6 However, what about the instances when a behavior problem is not the primary disability and not manifested at the time of the multifactored evaluation (MFE)? For example, what about an anxious child who is identified as learning disabled (with no FBA completed during the MFE) and after a period of a few years, even with intervention, he is academically behind, becomes frustrated, then begins to exhibit violent behavior as a means to cope with his failures? Was this part of the original problem and not determined because a FBA was not completed at the time of the initial MFE? Does the law suggest that the district is to be cautionary in its actions and prepare for a potential problem given that the child did demonstrate a degree of anxiety? Did the school district only need to consider the function of the learning disability or is the district respon-sible for evaluating the function of other behaviors, although not severe, that can be influenced by the learning disability? Given that a FBA, in theory, was not designed exclusively for children with severe behavior problems, does a district need to carry out a FBA for all students with disabilities to determine what is the function of behaviors (academic and social) that accompany the primary disability since it is almost impossible to determine if they are problematic unless they are studied? In order for school districts to make reasonable decisions about appropriate assessment practices and program planning, the following is an overview of the requirements in the law that are applicable to conducting FBAs and implementing BIPs, as well as in the federal regulations that implement IDEA, hearing officer decisions, and case law related to FBAs and BIPs.
II. REAUTHORIZATION OF IDEA: FBAS AND BIPS
In the reauthorization, it is clearly noted that as part of the evaluation process districts need to gather functional information,7 "use technically sound instruments,"8 and consider "all areas of the suspected disability. …