Once the team is satisfied that enough information has been collected, the next step is to compare and analyze all the compiled information. Such an analysis helps to determine which specific social, affective, and/or environmental conditions are associated with student behavior. For example, in recalling Vignette II, an analysis of Trishs behavior might lead the team to conclude that whenever Trish does not get her way she reacts by hitting someone. Analysis of the information gathered can be accomplished through techniques called data triangulation and problem pathway analysis.
Use of a data triangulation chart (see Appendix F) allows IEP teams to pull together and visually compare information collected from various sources (e.g., functional interviews, observations using a scatterplot, student questionnaires). Using a data triangulation chart, team members attempt to identify possible patterns of behavior, conditions that trigger the behavior, consequences that maintain or continue the behavior, and, finally, the likely functions the problem behaviors serve for the student.
Problem behavior pathway charts also allow the team to organize information by recording it under the following columns: a) setting events, b) antecedents, c) the behavior itself, and d) likely maintaining consequences for the behavior of concern (see Appendix G). In analyzing information using these techniques, the IEP team can develop an hypothesis statement about the probable function of the behavior and identity one or more variables that may be starting or continuing the behavior.
Using the information that emerges from data triangulation and/or pathway analysis, the team can develop an hypothesis statement regarding the likely function(s) of the student behavior. The hypothesis statement can then be used to predict the social/environmental conditions (the context) within which the behavior is most likely to occur. For instance, should a teacher report that Charles swears during reading class, the reason for the behavior might be to: (a) gain attention, (b) avoid instruction, (c) seek stimulation, or (d) some combination of these functions.
Only when the function(s) of the behavior is (are) known is it possible for the IEP team to establish an effective behavioral intervention and support plan that addresses Charles needs. Following are several examples of hypothesis statements written in such a way that IEP teams can draw specific information from the statement to develop an individualized behavior intervention plan.
The hypothesis statement is a concise summary of information collected during the assessment phase, a statement that explains or represents a "best guess" regarding the reason(s) for the behavior. A well-written hypothesis statement gives clear direction to IEP members, who are responsible for developing a behavior intervention plan. It allows the IEP team to spell out a three-fold contingencywhen X occurs, the student does Y, in order to achieve Zand to translate that knowledge into an individualized behavior intervention plan.
Because of the obvious difficulties associated with problem behavior in the school and classroom, school personnel may be tempted to proceed immediately to designing a behavioral intervention plan. However, in most cases, it is important that the team take the time to make sure that the hypothesis is accurate. To do so, IEP team members should "experimentally manipulate" certain variables to see if the teams assumptions regarding the likely function of the behavior are accurate. For instance, after collecting data, the team working with Charles may hypothesize that, during reading class, Charles swears at the teacher to escape an aversive academic situation. Thus, the teacher might change aspects of instruction to ensure that Charles gets work that is within his capability and is of interest to him. If these accommodations produce a positive change in Charles behavior, then the team can assume its hypothesis was correct and a behavioral intervention plan can be fully implemented. However, if Charles behavior remains the same following this change in classroom conditions, a new hypothesis should be formulated.
As a general rule, IEP teams will stay with a plan for at least 5-7 lessons, to distinguish between behavior changes stemming from the novelty of any change in classroom conditions and those changes related specifically to the intervention. It is important to remember that the inappropriate behavior has probably served the student well for some time and that it will be resistant to change. For this reason, the team will need to be patient when testing its hypothesis regarding the function(s) of the misbehavior.
A procedure known as analogue assessment is one way to verify the IEP teams assumptions regarding the function of a students behavior. Analogue assessment involves a contrived set of conditions to test the accuracy of the hypothesis. This procedure allows school personnel to substantiate that a relationship exists between specific classroom events (e.g., an aversive task) and the students behavior (e.g., disruptive behavior). This can be accomplished through teacher manipulation of specific instructional variables (e.g., complexity of learning tasks, oral or written student responses), introduction or withdrawal of variables (e.g., teacher attention, physical proximity), or other changes in conditions assumed to trigger the occurrence of problem behavior (e.g., student seating arrangement, desk placement). In this way, the IEP team may be able to determine precisely the conditions under which the student is most (and least) likely to behave appropriately. Finally, similar to an "allergy test," teachers can briefly sample student responses to a succession of changes in classroom conditions to determine the accuracy of the hypothesis statement.
There are times when it may not be feasible to make changes to classroom variables and to observe their effects on student behavior. A prime example is when a student begins to engage in acting-out or aggressive behavior. In these instances, the IEP team should immediately develop and implement a behavioral intervention plan (before any disciplinary action is required). Then, they should directly and continuously evaluate its impact against any available information about the level or severity of the behavior prior to the intervention. IEP teams can, however, continue to consider information collected through a combination of interviews and direct observation.
Finally, there may be instances when the IEP team may not be able to identify the exact mix of variables that cause the student to misbehave (e.g., composition of the learning group, the academic subject area, teacher expectations) or the exact amount of a specific setting or antecedent variable that serves to trigger the behavior (e.g., repeated peer criticism). Since problem behavior can have multiple sources which can change across time, IEP teams should continue to evaluate and modify a students behavioreven after an initial intervention plan has been implemented. The nature and severity of the behavior will determine the necessary frequency and rigor of this ongoing process.