Johns Hopkins University Secondary Support Initiative (JHUSSI)  

Functional Behavior Assessment


An attentive approach to behavior management requires less time spent reacting to disruptive behavior and more time spent on prevention (Kaufman et al., 2011). This is accomplished by identifying patterns of misbehavior in students and implementing interventions to rectify behavior issues. Just as with instructional strategies, special education teachers must develop a reserve of behavior management tools and strategies that they can resort to when necessary (IRIS, 2009).


If it is determined that a student’s behavior is negatively impacting their grades or the learning environment, the teacher should conduct a functional behavior assessment to gather data to develop a behavior intervention plan. To conduct a functional behavior assessment, the teacher collects data on the student’s problem behavior through a variety of teacher, parent, or student surveys or rating scales. Also included in functional behavior assessments are direct observations of the student’s behavior. Through direct observations, the teacher assesses the antecedents that precede the behavior and the consequences or reinforcement that follows the behavior (IRIS, 2009).


After analyzing the data from the functional behavior assessment, the teacher can gain insight into the student’s misbehavior. Ideally, the teacher will be able to tell which environment and academic setting the student is most likely to display the problem behavior, as well as the function that the behavior serves, such as task avoidance, seeking attention, gaining access to materials, or sensory stimulation. Using this information, the teacher can develop an intervention plan to mitigate the occurrences of the problem behavior. The teacher can alter the classroom to make the student less likely to perform the problem behavior. The teacher can also teach the student a replacement behavior that serves the same function as the problem behavior (IRIS, 2009).


An ideal intervention plan includes some form of reinforcement that rewards the child for displaying appropriate behavior. Before implementing the intervention, the teacher will collect baseline data on the student’s behavior to determine the frequency or duration of the problem behavior. The baseline data can be used to determine a behavior goal as well as a reinforcement schedule for the intervention. As the intervention is implemented, the teacher will continue to collect data on the student’s problem behavior. The data that was collected during the intervention phase can be compared to the baseline data to evaluate the student’s progress and the effectiveness of the intervention (IRIS, 2009).


The following lessons walk the reader through the steps of a functional behavior assessment, including identifying a target behavior, collecting data on the occurrences of the behavior, analyzing data, and developing a behavior intervention plan for remediation. Additionally, the reader will be able to practice analyzing and correcting student misbehavior through a behavior intervention plan case study.