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For most students, unconventional behavior is linked to academic struggles. Generally, this type of behavior includes being withdrawn, disrupting class, or merely avoiding school attendance.

In this article, we cover Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): The Basics.

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What is Functional Behavior Assessment?

Functional Behavior Assessment is a behavior evaluation that’s used to identify the cause(s) of a student’s behavior in school. FBA’s purpose is to develop effective strategies and interventions to change behavior.

As part of the educational practices, FBA school procedures address student behaviors. The functional assessment has been successful in determining if the act is an attempt to play hooky or a call to review a student’s special educational needs.

If the student’s behavior interrupts the environment or is the cause of under-performance scholastics, FBA schools are required to conduct a functional behavior assessment. The behavior assessment is usually related to how the behavior affects a student’s learning needs. Although a functional assessment analysis is not a quick solution to the problem, it does provide a better understanding of why the student is misbehaving.

FBAs are also directives for students classified as Special Education students under an IEP. FBA schools must follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guidelines and implement functional behavior assessment procedures. Once the FBA is initiated, schools, IEP teams, and parents will work together to develop a plan that shows the relationship between the student’s behavior and educational needs.

FBA aspects of Special Education Programs

Students with learning disabilities or dealing with emotional experiences will sometimes have trouble controlling their behavior. In most situations, parents and the school faculty may be unaware of what causes a student’s uncooperative reaction. If the behavior recently developed, the FBA education program will request a behavioral assessment to understand what triggered the response.

When the behavioral responses pose potential harm to the student, school environments, or other settings, an FBA is necessary. To better understand an event that prompts the action, here’s an example functional behavior assessment.

Lisa’s become very proficient with oral vocabulary tests. During a midterm semester, the teacher handed out a writing test. The students were instructed to use the words shown in a written sentence. Lisa begins to display a high level of anger, throws the paper away, and refuses to do the work.

The teacher sends for assistance as Lisa’s behavior disrupts the class. Neither the teacher nor the principal understands what caused Lisa’s response. Under these circumstances, a behavioral assessment may be requested. The conclusion of the FBA discloses, that Lisa has difficulty with writing. The anger is her reaction to the stress of writing.

The next step is for the FBA school to develop an alternative educational method to allow Lisa to continue her studies while learning to change her behavior. The purpose of functional behavior analysis includes:

  • Why a child acts a certain way
  • Understanding what’s behind the behavior
  • Determining methods to change the conduct

The information collected during the FBA includes details of the location, frequency, severity of the behavior, and the activities that lead up to the student’s behavior. The professional assessor is looking for patterns associated with the action that will be used in the development of a solution to prevent unwanted behaviors from occurring again.

Values and benefits of FBA education program approaches

The behavioral assessment objectives recognize and describe the problem behavior and the degree of changes needed to influence the student’s future behavior. Next, any details directly linked to provoking the response are collected. There’s another element in the functional behavior analysis that could be perceived as a form of encouragement or reinforcement of an unwelcomed behavior because the action accomplishes the student’s goal to avoid taking the test.

Initially, the FBA evaluator uses a functional behavior assessment to untangle the student’s objective concerning the behavior. Examinations include:

  • What purpose does the behavior serve?
  • Who is present during the episode?
  • When, where, and why did the behavior occur?
  • How is the behavior related to the activity?

Teachers, classmates, and students share information through an interview process. Input from the student is vital – it allows the student (Lisa from the example) to provide a verbal explanation about the flare-up. Whereas, teachers or classmates contribute an external perspective as observers. The evaluator and the assessment team need to understand both sides of the incident.

Inquiries may include:

  • Was this an isolated occurrence?
  • Do the behaviors impede the student’s learning?
  • How often does the behavior happen?
  • What happens after the behavior is displayed?

Once the information is collected and assessed by the team, a professional behaviorist will need to review the findings. The reporting results help to outline the necessary changes and define how the program of study will be implemented at school. A practicable process of monitoring the behavioral changes needs to be approved, along with any provisional adjustments. Each process supports the expected outcome of the student’s behavioral transformation and academic improvements.

Multiple roles of an FBA

Even though a behavioral assessment is part of the FBA education process, not every student is assessed at an FBA school. Sometimes a functional assessment is performed when the school implements new behavior concerns. The change in behavior concerns is intended to maintain a safe environment that supports teaching and learning.

In situations where students are disciplined or removed from school, an FBA may be requested. The reason is to evaluate the behavior and the student’s potential risk to themselves and the environment. Schools or families can also require a functional behavior assessment for any student when the behavior involves:

  • Threats
  • Drugs
  • Weapons

Parents or family members are encouraged to report any odd or unwanted behavior at home. Here are three types of undesirable behaviors that should raise a concern:

  • Draw attention
  • Avoid activities
  • Sensory dysfunction – pain/euphoria

Students may have learned to manipulate the environment to avoid doing a task. It happens when the student begins to build a link between the undesirable behavior and a reward. An FBA allows the evaluator to distinguish the difference between the real purpose of bad behavior vs. a special needs approach for changing a special education student’s behavior.

Completing the FBA process and fulfillment

Parents must consent before an FBA school conducts the evaluation. If the student is participating in an IEP program, the IDEA Act requires a trained professional to lead the FBA. Some of the procedures and questions may be uncomfortable, even shocking for parents. They need to keep in mind; that the goal is to remove any obstacles that may hinder the student’s learning opportunity.

Queries could include questions such as:

  • Does the student’s behavior interfere with their own learning and others?
  • Has the student’s behavior caused risk or injury to themselves or others?
  • Is it possible for the IEP team to place the student in a more restrictive program?
  • Will the student’s disability play a role in determining the FBA conclusion?

Parents can review the development of summary statements that describe specific behaviors related to the incident. Formal documents include:

  • Relevant records and reports are directly connected to the function and behavior assessment.
  • Interviews with educational staff, academic administrators, students, and professional experts.
  • Observation data gather from the student in typical classroom environments.
  • Recommendations based on evidence.

Parents are encouraged to ask questions that will help to clarify the impact and consequences based on the evaluation and analysis. The goal is to counteract the unwanted behavior. A comprehensive review completed by a behavioral specialist is the basis for developing a plan designed for the student.