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Functional Behavior Assessment
and Behavior Intervention Plans
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
ERIC EC Digest #E571
Author: Mary K. Fitzsimmons
For some time, researchers and school personnel have been
studying the effects of a wide range of problem behaviors on
classroom learning. Research funded by the Office of Special
Education Programs (OSEP) and other government agencies
corroborates educators' concerns that behavior difficulties
interfere with the learning of both the student exhibiting the
behavior problem and his or her peers.
In light of this research, the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 require that
understanding the relationship between learning and behavior must
be a key ingredient in planning the individualized education
program (IEP) for a student with disabilities. Consequently,
teams charged with developing IEPs are required to address the
children's behavioral as well as learning problems. IEP teams
must conduct a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and
implement behavior intervention plans that include positive
behavioral interventions and supports.
States are responding to these new requirements speedily. As of
June 1998, 35 states and territories have current plans to
develop or revise written policies and procedures or guidelines
related to FBAs to be consistent with the requirements of IDEA.
Some of the IDEA requirements relate to FBAs and the influence of
behavior on learning. They include the following:
- IEP teams must explore the need for strategies and
supports to address any behavior that may impede the learning of
the child with disabilities or the learning of his or her peers.
- IEP teams must meet within 10 days of any disciplinary
actions resulting in suspension or expulsion of a student with
disabilities. The meeting's purpose is to plan a functional
behavior assessment so data will be available for a behavior
plan. If such a plan already exists, the IEP team reviews and
revises it, as necessary, to ensure that it addresses the
student's behavior that precipitated the disciplinary action.
- States must address the in-service needs of education personnel in the area of development and implementation of
positive intervention strategies.
Why Conduct a Functional Assessment?
The purpose of a functional assessment is to gather information
in order to understand a student's problem behavior. However, an
FBA goes beyond the "symptom" (the problem behavior) to the
student's underlying motivation to "escape," "avoid," or get
something. OSEP and other government-sponsored research and
educators' and psychologists' experience have demonstrated that
behavior intervention plans stemming from the knowledge of why a
student misbehaves (i.e., based on a functional behavioral
assessment) are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of
Often, the functions of a behavior are not inappropriate
rather, it is the behavior itself that is judged appropriate or
inappropriate. If the IEP team determines through an FBA that a
student is seeking attention by acting out, they can develop a
plan to teach the student more appropriate ways to gain
attention, thereby filling the student's need for attention with
an alternative or replacement behavior that serves the same
function as the inappropriate behavior. At the same time,
strategies may be developed to decrease or even eliminate
opportunities for the student to engage in inappropriate
Conducting a Functional Assessment
Identifying the reasons for behavior will take many forms, and
while the IDEA advises an FBA approach to determine specific
contributors to behavior, it does not require or suggest specific
techniques or strategies to use when assessing that behavior.
However, several key steps are common to most FBAs:
- Verify the seriousness of the problem. Many classroom problems can be eliminated by the consistent application of
standard and universal discipline strategies of proven
effectiveness. Only when these strategies have not resulted in
significant improvement on the part of the student should school
personnel go forward with an FBA.
- Define the problem behavior in concrete terms. School personnel need to pinpoint the behavior causing learning or
discipline problems and to define that behavior in terms that are
simple to measure and record. For example, a problem behavior
might be "Trish is aggressive." A concrete description is "Trish
hits other students during recess when she does not get her
- Collect data on possible causes of problem behavior. The
use of a variety of techniques will lead the IEP team to a better
understanding of the student behavior. Key questions include the
following: Is the problem behavior linked to a skill deficit? Is
there evidence to suggest that the student does not know how to
perform the skill? Does the student have the skill but for some
reason not perform it consistently? Also, a probing discussion
with the student may yield an enhanced understanding of what, in
each context, causes problem behavior.
- Analyze the data. A data triangulation chart is useful in identifying possible stimulus-response patterns, predictors,
maintaining consequences, and likely function(s) of the problem
behavior. A problem behavior pathway chart can be used to
sequentially arrange information on setting antecedents, the
behavior itself, and consequences of the behavior that might lead
to its maintenance.
- Formulate and test a hypothesis. After analyzing the data,
school personnel can establish a plausible explanation
(hypothesis) regarding the function of the behaviors in question.
This hypothesis predicts the general conditions under which the
behavior is most and least likely to occur as well as the
consequences that maintain it. The team can then experimentally
manipulate some of the relevant conditions affecting the
behavior. If the behavior remains unchanged following this
environmental manipulation, the team can reexamine the hypothesis
with a view to altering it.
Behavior Intervention Plans
The student's behavior intervention plan should include positive
strategies, programs or curricular modifications, and
supplementary aids and supports required to address the behaviors
of concern. It is helpful to use the data collected during the
FBA to develop the plan and to determine the discrepancy between
the child's actual and expected behavior.
Intervention plans that emphasize skills needed by the student to
behave in a more appropriate manner and that provide proper
motivation will be more effective than plans that simply control
behavior. Interventions based on control often only suppress the
behavior, resulting in a child manifesting unaddressed needs in
alternative, inappropriate ways. Positive plans for behavioral
intervention, on the other hand, will address both the source of
the problem and the problem itself and foster the expression of
needs in appropriate ways.
Evaluating the Plan
It is good practice for IEP teams to include two evaluation
procedures in an intervention plan: one procedure designed to
monitor the consistency with which the management plan is
implemented, the other designed to measure changes in behavior.
In addition, IEP teams must determine a timeline for
implementation and reassessment and specify how much behavior
change is required to meet the goal of the intervention.
Assessment completion should be within the timelines prescribed
by the IDEA.
If a student already has a behavior intervention plan, the IEP
team may elect to review and modify it or they may determine that
more information is necessary and conduct an FBA. The IDEA states
that a behavior intervention plan based on an FBA should be
considered when developing the IEP if a student's behavior
interferes with his or her learning or the learning of
classmates. To be meaningful, plans need to be reviewed at least
annually and revised as often as needed. However, the plan may be
reviewed and reevaluated whenever any member of the child's IEP
team feels it is necessary.
This digest is based on the following sources:
Addressing Student Problem Behavior: AN IEP Team's Introduction to Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior
Intervention Plans by Mary Magee Quinn, Robert A. Gable,
Robert B. Rutherford, Jr., C. Michael Nelson, and Kenneth W.
Howell (January 1998). Available from the Center for Effective
Collaboration and Practice, 888.457.1551. E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Web Site:
"Addressing Problem Behaviors in Schools: Use of Functional
Assessments and Behavior Intervention Plans" by Robert A. Gable,
Mary Magee Quinn, Robert B. Rutherford, Jr., and Kenneth W.
Howell in Preventing School Failure, Spring 1998 (42:3),
Functional Behavioral Assessment: State Policies and Procedures from Project Forum at NASDSE, June 1998.
Available from 703.519.3800 (voice) or 7008 (TDD).
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication
was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. RI93002005. The opinions expressed in
this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department
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