Functional Behavior Assessment:
A Q&A with Samantha Gregory

Samantha Gregory

Behavior Specialist

Chesterfield County Public Schools

What are some approaches that I could use with students who refuse to do work unless we sit with the child one-to-one?

Often what we are concerned about when students are engaging in “refusal” behaviors is the latency of the individual from the time the demand is placed to the time the individual follows through with that request. In this situation an FBA is more than appropriate to determine the function of their latency and provide information on how to structure the environment to decrease that latency. Is the adult providing attention during that time or supporting the work completion? Does the student need their work chunked into smaller pieces? Targeted academic instruction? Function-based reinforcement? If other supports have been put in place and you still have questions, an FBA is a likely next step and can help to answer these questions.

Who is responsible for collecting the data?

This is determined by individual states, districts and buildings. Often the teacher will collect data related to the frequency or duration of the behavior as they are with the student throughout the school day. Indirect assessment data, such as record reviews, behavior rating scales and interviews may also be completed by the teacher as well as other team members. Team members such as school psychologists, school counselors, other teachers or school social workers who are familiar with collecting ABC data (antecedents, behavior, and consequences) may collect and analyze direct assessment data as they are able to be outside observers.

Are we required to complete an FBA if it is requested by an advocate or parent, even if we do not see a need for one?

Different states and districts will have different responses as to how situations such as these are handled. However, if you are required to complete an FBA for a behavior that is not interfering with the learning of the student or other students, that would be captured in the summary within the FBA document. For example, a summary of one direct observation may indicate antecedents and consequences for the student demonstrating prosocial behavior and report that the behavior of concern was not observed.

Do FBAs need to be done when the behavior involves the student not coming to school or hiding in the bathroom during certain classes?

If the behavior is interfering with the learning of the student, and other lower level interventions (such as universal or targeted supports) have not been effective, you may want to consider conducting a functional behavior assessment so function-based interventions can be implemented. If the behavior has resulted in a change of placement for the student and has been determined to be a manifestation of their disability, an FBA must be conducted.

Is there a list of functional strategies (interventions) per function?

There are lists of intervention suggestions broken down by function on many websites and in function-based intervention books. However, as long as you are meeting the function of the student’s behavior there are numerous intervention strategies beyond a given list. Individual student needs and preferences should always be taken into account as well as the ability for staff to implement.

When looking at behaviors of middle schoolers, how do we handle the use of social media that is shared on school computers?

Behaviors that are demonstrated by a large majority of students are best prevented and responded to at the universal level. Does your school follow a Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports (PBIS) model? Consider providing reinforcement for students who follow the expected social media guidelines and work as a building to set up the environment to reduce the opportunity for students to engage in the behavior.

How can we support teachers during the implementation stage so that we can ensure success in the BIPs that are created?

Implementation of behavior intervention plans is a challenge for sure. One way to help ensure a behavior plan will be followed is to find a time to collaborate with the individuals who will be implementing the behavior plan and ensure a good contextual fit. While it is important that the intervention is matched to the student’s function, this can be done in a variety of ways, so the team should work to ensure (to the best of their ability) that the plan is a good fit with the values and skills of those implementing, can be implemented with available resources, and has administrative support. Additionally, developing an implementation checklist can be useful for monitoring the integrity of the intervention. Using the behavior intervention plan, develop a checklist of the components to be implemented. This can be completed by those implementing as well as by outside observers. Teams can use this to ensure the plan is being implemented as intended and determine components that may need additional training to ensure consistency among those implementing the plan.

Can you talk about how a child’s mental health or past trauma interacts with the flow chart that you shared?

Mental health and past trauma can be significant setting events that may increase or decrease the likelihood that individuals engage in behavior at any given time. Some individuals are able to develop more resilience to facing difficult situations and others may be more significantly impacted and have increased difficulty when faced with more challenging situations. The FBA process looks heavily at the observable antecedents and consequences surrounding a given behavior but also does take setting events such as mental health or trauma into account. It is again important to recognize we can only change the environment and not the individual, so as a team consider how the student’s environment can be modified to lessen the impact these setting events may have on their day.

Are there any assessments that you prefer over others? I feel like I could use something besides observation notes.

I like to keep the FBA process as simple as possible while gathering the information needed to make informed decisions. For a typical FBA, a majority of my data is gathered using direct observation with a simple ABC chart. If using a behavior rating scale I will often default to the Functional Assessment Screening Tool, but will utilize others depending on the question I am answering. Other scales include the Motivational Assessment Scale, Problem Behavior Questionnaire, and the Questions about Behavioral Function. Keep in mind, behavior rating scales are only a starting point and additional assessment data (such as interviews and direct observation) should be used to analyze the environment to determine function.

What are the tools used in combination with behavior rating scales?

Many structured tools are available for use in the FBA process but they all focus on gathering data. View indirect and direct observation as tools for determining the setting events, antecedents, and consequences surrounding the behavior(s) of concern. Behavior rating scales, interviews and direct ABC observation can all be used in combination to gather the data needed in the FBA process.

Would you be able to provide a copy of good questions to ask the teacher/parent?

I pull from a variety of different questionnaires to gather the information needed for each particular case. Typical questions include: What is happening immediately before the behavior occurs? What can you do that will almost always elicit the behavior and how do you respond to the behavior? What can you do that will almost always make the behavior stop? I am happy to consult to determine a more structured tool to support your assessments.

How do you get teacher buy-in for implementing behavior plans and tracking behavior data?

Treats!! Behavior is not just a student thing—we all respond to appropriate reinforcement. In all seriousness, getting teachers on board to collect data and implement behavior plans can be challenging. Often, teachers are frustrated by the behavior and cannot see the connection between implementing the plan/collecting data and a change in student behavior. Be sure that they are included in discussion of the FBA and BIP and that their input is considered when developing the BIP so the supports put in place are a good, contextual fit for all parties. It is often helpful to explain that the data being collected helps ensure that the supports in place are effective in supporting the student. Without data I work under the assumption that there are no behavior concerns that need to be addressed and that the behavior plan is effective. Set dates and times for frequent check-ins regarding data collection and implementation integrity so the teacher feels supported and you can ensure the plan is being implemented and data is being collected. Administrative support for implementation is imperative, so be sure to include admin teams in conversations when discussing the BIP design and implementation.

How long do you assess?

Data should be collected until you have a convergence of data that leads to identifying a function. Some factors that influence the amount of time the FBA process will take include how frequently the behavior(s) occur, how quickly team members are able to observe and how clear the environmental influences are to the observer. As behaviors increase in frequency, duration and intensity, the cloudier the data may be in identifying the environmental factors influencing behavior.

How do I provide training to the teachers who need more development FBA?

Continued professional development can be provided in a variety of different ways. In-person training, interactive modules, webinars, and individual/group consultation are all ways to provide information to staff to give them the tools needed to support students. I have found that training larger groups is most effective if you are able to follow up individually or with small groups.

Can an FBA/BIP be conducted for general education students who are not classified?

Absolutely. An FBA (and subsequent BIP, if needed) can be conducted any time additional information is needed to address a student’s behavior.

Is there a standard FBA document? I work at a charter school and don’t have access to public school assessment tools.

To my knowledge there is not a standard FBA document. The FBA process can be summarized in a variety of ways but it is important that any form has a place to document the antecedents and consequences that relate to each behavior of concern.

Is an FBA useful for students who have multiple behaviors throughout the day?

Yes. an FBA can be conducted for multiple behaviors of concern. If focusing on more than one behavior it will be important to observe the antecedents and consequences for each behavior as the function may be different for each behavior.

”©If a student gets Out of School suspension and the team determines that the behavior is not based on his disability, does an FBA have to be completed?

This will be different for each state/district. While IDEA (2004) states an FBA must be completed when the behavior has been determined to be a manifestation of the student’s disability, some states/districts may require an FBA regardless of manifestation determination. While it may not be required, if additional information is needed to address a student’s behavior it is best practice to complete an FBA/BIP to determine the function of the behavior and put function-based interventions in place.

”©How does the lack of a functional communication system (our nonverbal students) affect BIPs?

Part of the behavior intervention plan is finding a more socially appropriate way for the individual to get their needs met. Even for students with verbal ability, nonverbal supports and requests are often more powerful in helping a student do just that. I would suggest collaborating with your Speech-Language Pathologist and research ”˜Functional Communication Training’ for information on teaching ways to alternatively request.

”©Do you have a form that the team can use to unify the collection?

Data collection forms for the FBA can have many different looks, from formal data collection forms to tallies on a scrap piece of paper. I encourage teams to use what works best for them to accurately collect the information needed. To ensure all team members know what data they are responsible for collecting and summarizing, I do have a form that lists the steps of the FBA process, who is responsible for completing each step, and the date on which they should have their data collected and summarized.

”©I work in early education. What team members should be involved in an FBA for this age group?

Each FBA will likely have different team members involved depending on the different factors of the case and the requirements within your state and district. It is important that you have individuals who know the student and have observed their behavior, are able to collect and interpret behavior data, and have contextual knowledge of the student’s day.

”©If the new desired behavior you implemented in the BIP is not working as well as you want, how long should you keep trying it before you consider a different desired behavior?

There is no one way to determine the effectiveness of an intervention. To determine the effectiveness, it is required that you establish a baseline for the student’s behavior and set a goal in which the data taken after the intervention is implemented can be compared. Typically, 6 to 8 data points is cited as a good number to establish a trend and can be compared to the goal line to see, based on the current trend in the data, if the goal will be met or if an instructional change should be considered.

”©What is the youngest age at which a student might have a behavior plan?

I have used functional behavior assessments and implemented behavior intervention plans for students in Pre-K through grade 12.

”©At what point do you determine the need for a formal FBA vs. quick data collection to determine alternative replacement?

An FBA should be completed when the team needs additional data to address a student’s behavior concerns. If you have put universal and targeted instruction into place and are not seeing a change, an FBA may be warranted. Remember, the FBA process does not need to be a lengthy process and can be an efficient tool to determine the function of a behavior. If the team has a strong idea of function and is able to develop supports without additional data, an FBA may not be needed.

”©Students behave differently in different settings with different people. What if it’s me (teacher) who triggers the maladaptive behavior?

This is why it is important for an outside individual to observe the student in their natural environment, such as when you are teaching the student. We cannot observe ourselves and are often unaware of behaviors we may be demonstrating that can influence student behavior. This outside observer will be able to see the antecedents and consequences that are reinforcing the behavior. If the data shows that something you do is the antecedent to the behavior or that you are providing a consequence (response to behavior) that’s reinforcing the behavior, the BIP should be designed to give you new ways to avoid cueing the behavior and/or to respond to the behavior so it is no longer reinforced and, ultimately, to reinforce desired, prosocial behavior(s).

”©Can you recommend tools for collecting behavior data? Or does each teacher need to “reinvent the wheel” and make their own data collecting tools?

Many tools can be found online that can be adapted to meet the needs of each particular assessment. While it is nice to have an established tool, as long as the data is being collected with accuracy, a formal tool is not required to collect data. The data collection process should be consistent among team members to ensure inter-rater reliability.

”©When and how should the team get parents involved in the FBA process?

Parents are a wonderful resource in the FBA process. Their involvement will depend on a variety of factors but at a minimum should be interviewed to gain information to compare the home and school environment. If the parents observe similar behavior(s) at home, gather information about the antecedents and consequences in the home. If the behavior(s) are not observed at home, consider what supports are in place at home that could be replicated in the school setting.

Do you find that the behavior gets worse before it gets better once the behavior plan is implemented?

Yes, this is a common response when the behavior that was previously being reinforced is no longer being reinforced. When the behavior no longer works, individuals will intensify their behavior and/or engage in new behaviors to get their needs met. If the behavior of concern is not reinforced and the individual has a new behavior to get their needs met, the behavior of concern should decrease and the alternative behavior will increase. This is why it is critical to explicitly teach an alternative/replacement behavior and honor the use of this communication with more frequency than the behavior of concern.

”©How do you create an FBA when the behavior seems to occur at different times throughout the day and the environment/data collected don’t show a pattern for the behavior?

Behaviors that occur throughout the day often indicate that the behavior is being reinforced by multiple people/environments. Sometimes there is no specific setting event that increases the likelihood that behavior will occur. Focus the data collection on the antecedent that most often cues the behavior to occur and the consequence that will almost always stop the behavior. What function does this pattern suggest for the student and how can support be put in place throughout the day to reduce behavior from occurring in all environments?

”©When we get the behavior information together, then what is the process of setting the plan into action?

Once you have determined the function of the behavior, the team should meet to plan prevention strategies to reduce or eliminate the antecedent, teach a more socially appropriate replacement behavior, and develop response strategies for both prosocial, expected behaviors and behaviors of concern. Once the plan is in place the plan should be implemented and data should be collected to determine the effectiveness of the intervention and if changes need to be made. Monitoring the integrity of implementation is also important to ensure the plan is being implemented as it was designed.

”©Do you see FBAs being used to determine the need of services, i.e. a BII?

An FBA is designed to determine the function of a behavior and provide data to a team to determine an appropriate function-based behavior plan to support student needs. How that information is used will look different for every student. In some situations the plan that is developed may be determined to require additional adult support to implement the plan but this is the exception and not the norm.

”©Do you need consent from the parent to conduct an FBA”©?

Your state may have a different procedure but typically if you are collecting new data above and beyond what is typically collected for peers as part of the FBA process you would require parental consent. A consent to evaluate document is often signed for students in special education. Each state/district will also have a different procedure for students who are and are not identified through special education, so it will be important to learn your district and state policies. I find it is always best to get parental consent and include parents in the FBA process. Many districts may have a formal consent document for parents to sign but a simple document that briefly explains the FBA process is likely sufficient for students in general education.

”©How does the team address students who live in a volatile home environment and displays aggressive behavior at school?

It can be challenging to work with a student who has setting events impacting behavior that are outside of our control. While home may be an unalterable variable, what supports can be put in place at school to help minimize the effects? Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, ensure the team focuses on what they can control about the student’s environment and ensure supports are in place to reduce the impact of the setting event as much as possible.

”©What would you do if you can’t figure out the cause of the behavior?

Additional assessment tools such as a concurrent operants assessment or functional analysis may be helpful in situations where comprehensive indirect and direct data are unable to provide the data needed to determine a function of behavior. These assessments are more technical and are often reserved for evaluators trained in these procedures.

I love the example you gave with the break card. Are there any tools to help with applying that strategy?

Yes, Positivity! Positivity is the first comprehensive online behavioral solution to support classroom management, empower students’ self-regulation, collect behavior-related data and create automated reporting. Easily integrated into daily classroom routines, Positivity delivers proactive, evidence-based strategies that support emotional control and executive function, enabling students to actively participate in learning and achieve independence. Try some samples behavioral strategies here.

About the Author

Samantha Gregory serves as the lead trainer for functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention planning. Previously, she worked as a school psychologist, where she coached and consulted educators on best practices to address academic difficulties and challenging behavior in K–12 settings. Samantha received her Educational Specialist (EdS) in school psychology and her Master of Education in school psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia.