Rationale for Using Functional Behavioral Assessments to Develop Positive Behavior Interventions
Functional Assessment is a Team Effort
A Method for Conducting a Functional Behavioral Assessment
Direct and Indirect Measures of Student Behavior
Summary of Steps to Conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment
The Behavior Intervention Plan
Additional Information on Functional Assessment
Appendix A: Scatterplots
Appendix B: ABC Charts
Appendix C: Functional Assessment Interview Forms
Appendix D: Sample Teacher and Student Interviews
Appendix E: Problem Behavior Questionnaire
Appendix F:  Data Triangulation Chart
Appendix G: Behavior Pathway Charts
Other Available Resources


When a student’s behavior disrupts classroom instruction, teachers often address the problem by manipulating events that follow the misbehavior (e.g., verbal reprimands, isolation, detention, suspension). Experience has shown that this approach fails to teach the student acceptable replacement behaviors (i.e., behaviors that are expected under certain circumstances). Recently, educators have begun to introduce various programs designed to teach students more acceptable ways to behave. The area of social skills development has been especially popular. However, decisions regarding which behaviors to teach a student are largely subjective and often unrelated to the cause of the problem behavior.

In some instances, what has been absent is a method for determining "why" the student misbehaved in the first place. Today, there is good reason to believe that the success of classroom behavior interventions hinges on identifying the likely causes and purposes of problem behavior and finding ways to teach and promote appropriate replacement behaviors that serve the same "functions" as the inappropriate behaviors. We know that inappropriate student behavior may have the same form (e.g., Charles and James both swear at the teacher) but serve different functions (e.g., Charles is seeking peer approval while James is attempting to escape an aversive teacher-pupil interaction). Functional assessment helps IEP teams to understand what function the problem behavior serves for the students and leads to interventions that reduce or eliminate problem behavior by replacing it with behavior that serves the same purpose or function for the student, but is more socially acceptable (e.g., teaching Charles more acceptable ways to gain peer attention).

The logic behind functional behavioral assessment is that practically all behavior occurs within a particular context and serves a specific purpose. Students learn to behave (or misbehave) in ways that satisfy a need or results in a desired outcome. Students will change their behavior only when it is clear that a different response will more effectively and efficiently result in the same outcome. Identifying the purpose of problem behaviors or more specifically, what the student "gets" or "avoids" through those behaviors) can provide information that is essential to developing instructional strategies and supports to reduce or eliminate behaviors that interfere with successful classroom performance or participation.

Functional behavioral assessment is generally considered to be a problem-solving process that relies on a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help IEP teams select interventions to directly address the problem behavior. Functional behavioral assessment should be integrated, as appropriate, throughout the process of developing, reviewing, and, if necessary, revising a student’s IEP. A functional behavioral assessment looks beyond the behavior itself. The focus when conducting a functional behavioral assessment is on identifying significant, pupil-specific social, affective, cognitive, and/or environmental factors associated with the occurrence (and non-occurrence) of specific behaviors. This broader perspective offers a better understanding of the function or purpose behind student behavior. Intervention plans based on an understanding of "why" a student misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of problem behaviors.

The following sections discuss a multi-step strategy that some have used to carry out a functional behavioral assessment. The ten steps listed below include the development and implementation of behavior intervention plans, which may follow the functional behavioral assessment. Only the first six steps relating to the actual functional behavioral assessment will be discussed in this document. The other four steps will be discussed in the third monograph: Addressing Student Problem Behavior – Part III: Developing and Implementing Behavioral Intervention Plans.

    A Method for Performing a Functional Behavioral Assessment

    1. Describe and verify the seriousness of the problem.
    2. Refine the definition of the problem behavior.
    3. Collect information on possible functions of the problem behavior.
    4. Analyze information using triangulation and/or problem pathway analysis.
    5. Generate a hypothesis statement regarding probable function of problem behavior.
    6. Test the hypothesis statement regarding the function of the problem behavior.

    A Method for Developing, Implementing and Monitoring a Behavior Intervention Plan (to be covered in the third monograph)

    1. Develop and implement behavior intervention plan.
    2. Monitor faithfulness of implementation of plan.
    3. Evaluate effectiveness of behavior intervention plan.
    4. Modify behavior intervention plan, if needed.


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