FBA Frequently Asked Questions

Educators conducting FBAs should be knowledgeable about their district policy, and contact their administrators for clarification or with questions, as procedures change from district to district. The information included on the PENT website is intended to be informational only.

When and Why Should You Complete an FBA?

An FBA has one guiding purpose: to develop a hypothesis regarding why a student is engaging in a specific behavior, so that we can develop an intervention plan that targets that hypothesis. There are circumstances when federal or state law may compel us to consider or engage in an FBA, or when an FBA process is initiated as part of another process like an evaluation for special education eligibility.

But fundamentally, we do an FBA because we want data that we can use to develop an intervention that is individualized to a student, grounded in theory, and more likely to succeed.

It's critically important to always center this "why" when conducting an FBA. Indeed, any time we collect data, we should always be doing so because we have a question we want to answer. If we're using an FBA, the question we want to answer is: "why might this student be engaging in this specific target behavior?"

When is it Best Practice to Conduct an FBA?

An FBA should be conducted when there's an observable and measurable target behavior that is being considered for support, and that behavior is sufficiently important for that student's quality of life that it deserves a considerable amount of resources allocated to addressing it.

When is it Not Best Practice to Conduct an FBA?

If the target behavior is not observable and it does not make sense to modify the behavior's definition so that it is observable.

If you're faced with an unobservable behavior like "feeling sad" and want to stay in a behavioral framework by only focusing on addressing observable behaviors, then change your behavior's definition to something observable: "feeling sad" becomes "cries and lays head on desk."

However, if the goal is to address the cognitive components of "being sad" (i.e., thoughts and feelings), then you should not do an FBA. FBA is rooted in the principles of applied behavior analysis, which exclusively targets observable behaviors. FBA is one tool in our large educational and social/emotional toolbox. It serves a very specific purpose, and sometimes it will not be the most appropriate choice.

If you have not been trained to conduct one.

Fundamentally, conducting an FBA is a complex skill that requires a theoretical and conceptual understanding of applied behavior analysis, an understanding of data-based decision making, and knowledge of and practical expertise in the assessment practices involved.

If you do not have a solid understanding of ABA principles, have not conducted multiple FBAs with supervision and guidance, and otherwise lack the skills required to conduct an FBA, then you should not do one.

If the behavior in question is not sufficiently important for that student's quality of life or the safety of others that it deserves a considerable amount of resources allocated to addressing it.

In other words, if it makes sense to try something less resource-intensive before doing an FBA, then try the less-intensive thing first.

If your team has a reasonable idea that this student might be engaging in mild disruptive behavior because that behavior generally results in the student obtaining adult attention, and your school has access to a small-group intervention like Check-In-Check-Out which is oriented towards that function of behavior, then it might make sense to first place the student in that small-group intervention and determine whether that was sufficient for changing the mild disruptive behavior.

This recommendation is closely linked to tiered and prevention-oriented decision-making, wherein we typically use less-intrusive means of intervention and determine whether those worked before advancing on to more intrusive means.

That isn't to say that a student must always go through Tier 2 support before having an FBA conducted. Sometimes, a student's behavior may be serious enough (e.g., self-injurious, dangerous to self or others) that an FBA is immediately warranted.

What Other Considerations Should Be Made When Considering an FBA?

If there are multiple students in the classroom who are also struggling with behavior, then we might want to take a quick step back and ask some larger questions before proceeding with an FBA.

Have the students in this class experienced trauma that may be impacting their engagement in class? If so, then even if we do continue with the FBA process or a more general class-wide behavior support plan, it's imperative that we also investigate ways to support the larger issues affecting these students.

Is the teacher using best practices in class-wide behavior support and effective teaching strategies? If not, then some teacher consultation may be in order. Consider things like the amount of opportunities to respond that students are given, the amount of specific praise provided to students, the clarity of expectations in the classroom, and the methods that the teacher uses to promote effective transitions from activity to activity.

Is the content well-suited for the students' current levels of academic performance? Instructional match is a key component of any effective teaching strategy; if a large number of students in the class are unable to access instruction because they don't yet possess the prerequisite skills, then we might need to rethink our instructional planning to ensure that all students are able to benefit from instruction in class.

FBA FAQ's was complied by PENT Content Consultant, Dr. Austin Johnson.