About Functional Behavior Assessment

Completing a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) leading to development of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is a challenging task, with a lot of gray areas. Additionally, an FBA may look different when performed in a clinic or home-based setting, as opposed to a school-based FBA. This can lead to confusion and misunderstanding among administrators, behavior specialists, school psychologists, educators, etc.

PENT aims to provide recommendations, guidance, and best practice information to the field, with the intent of increasing awareness, knowledge, and understanding about the FBA process. This general guidance and best practice information is intended to facilitate conversations regarding the FBA to BIP process, provide information to educators who are not familiar with why an FBA is done, and to build capacity with practitioners who complete FBAs by providing considerations and questions about why to include components in the data-based decision making FBA process.

What is a School-Based (FBA)?

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a process rooted in the science of applied behavior analysis (ABA), which focuses on gathering relevant data and information to determine the function of a behavior in order to design a function-based intervention that will maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of behavior support. The FBA is the first step in the behavior intervention process. It allows those conducting the assessment to then identify and design a behavior intervention plan to decrease challenging behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors.

We use the term “FBA” to refer exclusively to non-experimental functional behavior assessment methods. In other words, we do not consider Functional Analyses (or FAs) to be a subtype of FBA; instead, we consider FA and FBA to respectively refer to experimental and non-experimental methods of hypothesizing the function of a student’s behavior. Many, but not all, behavior support professionals utilize this terminology.

Generally, federal and state laws may describe certain circumstances when an FBA must be conducted, and they also may describe when an FBA is recommended to be conducted. Historically, there has also been a substantial amount of ambiguity in what the FBA process actually looks like. We do not represent any of the information provided here as legal advice. Consult your school administrator and/or legal counsel with any questions you may have regarding legal issues surrounding the FBA process.

School-based FBAs are generally understood to be an “evaluation” under the IDEA to assist in determining the nature and extent of the special education and related services that the student needs, including the need for a BIP. In general, schools conduct FBAs because the information provided by an FBA allows educators to then develop a behavior intervention plan (BIP) that is individualized, relevant, and more likely to succeed in supporting the student’s positive behavior.

Given the comprehensive and individualized nature of this assessment, it is usually considered to be part of a Tier 3 intervention within a school's multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). FBA's examine environmental and functional factors that assist IEP teams in determining why a student's challenging behavior has been resistant to other strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports (PBIS).



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