Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavior Support Plans
Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and behavior support plans (BSP) generated by the assessment are tools of practice within positive behavior support systems (PBS). Scott and Caron (2005) define PBS as a series of three level systems used in schools. The primary level focuses on the entire student body and the secondary level focuses on students who are not responding positively to the first level. The tertiary level finds the center of attention focused on a particular student and the sort of failures that typically result in school expulsion and or may persist over a lifetime (2005). Although FBA has been widely advocated for use at all school levels, to date FBA is more frequently used at the tertiary level. The components of a FBA and the BSP, and their importance will be discussed through a description of a situation in which a student would utilize both a FBA and a BSP.
FBA is a systematic method of gathering important information about a particular challenging behavior. The importance of FBA has been well documented and the use of this behavior changing mechanism is recognized by the 1997 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as an effective practice in the assessment of challenging behavior (Wheeler & Richey, 2010). This educational mandate requires school personnel to use a FBA replacing the commonly used method of reacting to rather than problem solving troubling behaviors. Experienced teachers like Kathleen McConnell Fad and James R. Patton (2005) have come to realize the benefit of digging deeper to figure out why the behavior is occurring and thereby recognizing the function of the behavior. Fad and Patton (2005) appreciate the directive of IDEA as it requires schools to address and discuss what the function of the behavior is.
A student requiring a FBA may be experiencing difficulty accessing the classroom environment for a variety of reasons. One such reason might be the inability to communicate because of developmental limitations. The student may be attempting to communicate a want or desire or seeking some form of reinforcement, attention, sensory information or escape (Wheeler & Richey, 2008). For example, a high school student who is in a life skills program and special education resource rooms for half the day respectively is experiencing difficulty staying in one of the resource rooms for the entire class period. He swears at the teacher and his classmates, paces the room, and threatens to leave the campus.
The team consisting of the student, parent, teachers, school psychologist and an administrator utilize the basic components of a FBA as described by Wheeler & Richey (2010). First identify and define target behaviors, next conducting behavior observations, the third step is formulating a hypothesis related to the behavior, and finally, conducting a functional analysis (p. 161). Teacher interviews with emphasis on classroom environment, time of day, academic strategies, antecedents and post occurrence behaviors are discussed. In addition, an investigation to what the desirable outcome for the student is addressed. Next an anecdotal recording or A-B-A analysis which identifies the antecedent variables, the actual behaviors exhibited and the consequences that are maintaining the behavior are looked at. A scatter-plot analysis, described by Wheeler and Richey would be appropriate for this situation because the scatter-plot method is effective for measuring the frequency and pattern of the behavior (2010). A hypothesis is generated from the information collected and strategies are put in place to test the hypothesis.
Results from the FBA bring the team to conclude the target behavior is the student cursing, pacing, and threatening the teacher and classmates. The behaviors coincide with the time of class when students are allowed to get out of desks, collaborate with classmates on assignments or work on homework from other classes. The team believes the environment becomes too noisy for the student to concentrate or manage his behavior. The function of the behavior is an attempt to escape. Cook, Crews, Wright, Mayer, Gale, Kraemer & Gresham, (2006) assert understanding the function is cornerstone to teaching functionally equivalent replacement behaviors and allows educators to act proactively in order to deter student problem behavior. Teams must consider function and alter the environmental events that precede and follow the problem behavior in order to effectively change student behavior and follow best practice standards set forth in IDEA (2006).
Once the FBA is complete, staff planning for intervention begins focusing on teaching appropriate replacement behaviors while simultaneously developing routines and making environmental adjustments necessary to predict success (Scott and Caron, 2005). The team develops an intervention plan that addresses the target behavior, function of the behavior and how it serves the student, the potential replacement behaviors that would give the student the same sought after results while eliminating the target behaviors. Additionally, the team eliminates any previously attempted interventions (Wheeler & Richey, 2010). Intervention strategies for the student include allowing the student to appropriately request a pass from the teacher to leave the room when the student feels like wanting to swear or lash out at classmates. Upon receiving the pass, the student must report to his Life Skills teacher and complete class work in a quiet space within the Life Skills room. The process of FBA is ongoing and intervention strategies must be monitored and adjusted as needed.
The 1997 Reauthorization of IDEA has clearly mandated to public schools across America the importance of providing a FBA for students who exhibit challenging behaviors at school. FBA are the precursor to the BSP and must be completed in a systematic format and in the student’s natural environment, i.e., the classroom or on the school campus. Interviews, observations and situation specific data collection procedures help the team determine the environmental variables that influence the problematic behavior. The FBA affords the student, school professionals and families a user friendly way to address problematic behaviors in a research based, proactive and positive way (Wheeler & Richey, 2010).