Functional behavioral assessment generally is considered a team problem-solving process that relies on a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help IEP teams to select appropriate interventions to directly address them. A major objective is to learn how best to promote student behavior that serves the same function as current behavior, but that is more socially acceptable and responsible. A functional behavioral assessment looks beyond the behavior itself and focuses on identifying significant, pupil-specific social, sensory, physical, 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.

One step in performing a functional behavioral assessment is to collect information on the possible functions of the problem behavior. In many instances, knowledge of these factors can be obtained through repeated direct assessments or observations. While observation may reveal a possible reason behind the misbehavior, a caution is warranted. Too limited an assessment can yield an inaccurate explanation. Some factors, including thoughts and feelings such as distorted perceptions, fear of a negative outcome, or the desire to appear competent, are not directly observable, but can be revealed through indirect assessment strategies such as interviews or surveys with the student, teacher, peers, or others who interact frequently with the student. This is why it is best to use a variety of techniques and strategies to gather information on the function of a student's behavior. (These approaches and strategies are described in greater detail in Addressing Student Problem Behavior-Part II: Conducting A Functional Behavioral Assessment.) Once information has been obtained and analyzed, and a hypothesis has been made about that function, it can be used to guide proactive interventions that help educators focus on instructional goals, as opposed to simply management goals.