Functional Behavioral Assessments & Behavior Intervention Plans (FBAs & BIPs)
Students face a variety of behavior expectations at school. They are generally expected to sit quietly, listen to the teacher, walk, not run, use indoor voices, and respect others. This list could be endless if we tried to include all expectations at different grade levels, in different settings, and the many different approaches to behavior in different classrooms and schools.
Students need opportunities to learn behavior expectations, just as they need opportunities to learn reading, writing and math.
They need opportunity to learn what expected behaviors look like, how to meet the expectations, and why they matter. They need opportunities to practice, to learn from mistakes, and to receive positive feedback when they meet expectations.
When schools share information with families about behavior expectations, families can help reinforce the learning at home.
If a student is struggling to meet behavior expectations, a first step is to check that the student understands what is expected, and how to meet expectations.
If a student’s behavior is getting in the way of learning, and it continues after attempts to address it, schools and families can work together to better understand where it is coming from, and what a student might be communicating through the behavior.
If attempts to address behavior have not been successful, and the behavior is interfering with learning, a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) may be necessary to understand the “function” or purpose of the behavior, and to help guide effective, positive interventions.
An FBA is required in some circumstances when a child with a disability is suspended or expelled for 10 days or more. An FBA can be a useful tool for supporting any child, with or without a disability.
If you are concerned that your child’s behaviors are getting in the way of learning, are leading to repeated disciplinary actions, or are keeping your child from having more time in a general education setting, you can ask the school to do an FBA and develop a BIP.
For more information, take a look at OEO’s FAQs on FBAs and BIPs, Checklists: Things to Look for in an FBA and BIP and Sample Letters for Requesting an FBA and Reviewing a BIP. (coming soon)
What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)?
A Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is:
- A problem-solving process to try to understand the functions of behavior.
- It can also be a type of evaluation for an individual student to understand their behavior.
An FBA generally includes observation and data collection, looking at:
- The environment where the behavior occurs;
- The ABCs:– the Antecedents (what happens before the behavior), the Behavior itself, and the Consequences (what happens after the behavior); and
- Other factors that may be influencing the behavior.
An FBA leads to a hypothesis about what “function” or purpose a behavior serves, so a team can identify alternative “replacement” behaviors that can serve the same function, or meet the same need, without interfering with learning.
Information gathered in the FBA is generally used to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
A functional behavioral assessment (an “FBA”), is a type of evaluation used by a school district to determine the cause (or “function”) of behavior.
An FBA focuses on a particular behavior of concern, or “target behavior.” Using various methods, often including observation, data collection, and interviews, the FBA tries to identify what leads to the behavior and what keeps it going. It looks at whether the current responses to the behavior are unintentionally reinforcing it. It looks at what could be appropriate, “replacement” behaviors to meet the same need, without interfering with learning.
An FBA helps answer questions about:
- why a behavior occurs,
- when and where it happens,
- what generally comes before it, and
- what happens afterward.
That information is used to design and target positive interventions to teach and support the student in replacing inappropriate behaviors with appropriate behaviors.
Under special education rules, a parent’s consent is required for an evaluation, including an FBA.
What is this behavior communicating?
Our behaviors (what we do), can communicate a lot about what we think, feel, want or need. Exactly what a behavior is communicating is often not clear, and can be misinterpreted.
We might safely assume that a student clapping and smiling is communicating approval, and that a student shaking their head side to side is communicating “no.”
- What about a student crying? Is that communicating sadness? Frustration?
- What about a student looking away and shaking their head in response to questions? Is that communicating confusion? Defiance? Exhaustion?
If we misinterpret the meaning of a behavior, our responses can be ineffective.
An FBA can help uncover the meaning(s) of a behavior that is getting in the way of learning, and effective ways to address it.
How is an FBA different from other evaluations?
An FBA generally focuses on very specific, observable behaviors in a specific environment. An FBA considers how the environment of the classroom or other setting might be influencing a child’s behavior.
Other types of behavior assessments, often included in comprehensive evaluations, look more broadly at a student’s behavior over time and in various settings.
In other words, an FBA generally looks specifically at behaviors that are getting in the way of learning where the child is at, and focuses on how those behaviors can best be addressed in that context.
When can I, or should I, ask for an FBA for my child?
Consider asking about an FBA if your child’s behavior appears to be interfering with your child’s own education, or with the education of others, and
- it is not clear why the behavior is occurring; and
- the teacher has tried different interventions to address the behavior but they haven’t been successful.
Some specific examples of when you might ask about an FBA:
- your child’s behavior is identified as a barrier to spending more time in a general education classroom.
- your child is sent out of the classroom frequently or for long periods of time for disruptive or inappropriate behavior;
- your child is not participating in class or engaging with instruction on a regular basis (maybe putting their head down, falling asleep, or refusing to do work).
If you don’t know yet how often the behavior is occurring, or how frequently a child is removed from the classroom, the first step may be to ask the teacher and/or principal to start keeping track, in other words to start taking some data, on how often it is happening.
This can give you all a “baseline” or starting point, for understanding the situation.
How do I ask for an FBA for my child?
The best practice is to make a request for an FBA in writing. That can be by email, or by letter. Keep a copy for yourself. Check out the Sample Request for an FBA.
You can also make a request for an FBA in person at a meeting, or in a conversation with your child’s teacher or principal. It is important to follow up if you do not hear back about next steps, because sometimes verbal requests get lost in the busy day to day of school.
If you make the request for an FBA at an IEP meeting, be sure to check to see that the request and the team’s response to it is reflected in a Prior Written Notice (PWN) after the meeting. The Prior Written Notices help you and the others on your child’s IEP team keep track of important requests and decisions.
Who do I ask for an FBA?
There's no single right answer, but here are places to start:
- If your child has an IEP, ask the IEP Case Manager or Special Education teacher
- If your child has a 504 plan, ask the teacher and/or school counselor
- If your child doesn't have an IEP or 504 plan, ask the teacher, school counselor and/or principal
What if I get no response?
If you make a request for an FBA and do not hear back in a few days, start by following up with the same person by email or phone.
If you still do not hear back, consider elevating the request to the principal, a school psychologist or a district special education supervisor.
What if the school says "No" to my request for an FBA?
If the initial response to a request for an FBA is “no,” consider requesting a meeting to discuss it. At the meeting, be ready to share the reasons why you are requesting the FBA, and to listen to understand why the school or other team members think an FBA is not necessary.
Before the meeting, ask the school to gather information in order to share an update regarding your child’s recent behavior.
- If your child has been removed from the classroom for behavior, ask the team to keep track of each time the student is removed, what it was for and how long it lasted;
- If you are concerned your child has been avoiding work, ask if the teacher or another team member could take some informal data or notes and report back regarding how often, for how long your child appears to be disengaged or off-task.
After getting additional information, if it appears that a pattern of behavior is disrupting your child’s learning, you can ask the team to consider the request for an FBA again. If the school does not see a pattern of problem behavior, or believes there are additional interventions they can try first, ask to set a date to check in again to review how things are going. Set yourself a reminder to check in again in a month or two to see how things are going.
If your child has an IEP, after the team has a chance to discuss and make a decision, be sure you check for a Prior Written Notice (PWN) documenting the decision and reasons for it.
If you still disagree with the decision, and want to understand options for dispute resolution for students receiving or eligible for special education services, take a look at OEO’s Parent Guide on Protecting the Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools, and our Toolkit on Prior Written Notice.
FBAs and Discipline - When is an FBA required?
An FBA is sometimes required for students who have an IEP (Individualized Education Program), if the student is suspended or expelled for more than 10 school days. Specifically, a school is required to do an FBA and develop a BIP for any student who has an IEP if:
- the student is suspended or expelled; and
- the suspension or expulsion will be for more than 10 days; and
- in making a manifestation determination, members of the child’s IEP team, including the parents, determine that the behavior that led to the suspension or expulsion was a “manifestation” of the disability – that is, it was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability.
This also applies if the student has been suspended or expelled several different times for shorter periods (less than 10 days), but the multiple suspensions or expulsions make a pattern that adds up to more than 10 days.
If a student’s behavior is determined not to be a manifestation of the disability, the rules recommend that the team do an FBA and develop a BIP to avoid similar behaviors from happening again.
You can find the details about requirements for FBAs for students with IEPs in the special education regulations, at in WAC Chapter 392-172A, available online at: https://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=392-172a&full=true.
To read more about discipline requirements for students who have an IEP, or meet the requirements for an IEP but have not yet been evaluated, see OEO’s Parent Guide on Protecting the Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools and OSPI’s Technical Assistance Paper No. 2 (TAP 2).
Who completes the FBA?
School districts generally decide which staff they will assign to complete FBAs. It might be a school psychologist, a behavior specialist, or a special education teacher. Often, the process starts with a team discussion about which behavior is the greatest concern, who will observe the student in order to take data about that behavior, and when and in what settings they will take the data.
Special education rules require that evaluations be completed by a person with the necessary experience and qualifications. The more complicated the behavior, the more likely it is that a specialist may be needed to help understand the functions of the behavior and identify effective interventions.
Are FBAs and BIPs only for students with IEPs or only certain kinds of IEPs?
No. Functional Behavior Assessments are a tool that schools and families can use to help understand and address challenging behaviors for any student.
The use of FBAs might be most familiar for students with IEPs because in some cases they are required (see the section on discipline). Also, special education rules require that IEP teams consider the use of “positive behavioral interventions and supports and other strategies” for any child with an IEP whose behavior is getting in the way of that own child’s learning, or of other students’ learning. Developing an effective behavior intervention plan depends on first developing a good understanding of why the behavior is occurring, and that is what an FBA can do.
Can I request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) if I disagree with the district’s FBA?
Yes, if it was for a child with an IEP. Under special education rules, each time a district does an evaluation, if a parent disagrees with the results, the parent can request an Independent Educational Evaluation at district expense. An FBA that looks at an individual’s child’s behavior is a type of evaluation, so if a parent disagrees with the results, the parent can request an IEE at public expense. The district either can agree, or must initiate a due process hearing to defend its own evaluation. For details on IEEs, see: OEO’s Parent Guide on Protecting the Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools and OSPI’s Special Education page on Guidance for Families.
What is a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP)?
Washington state’s special education rules define a Behavioral Intervention Plan, or BIP, as a plan that is incorporated into a child’s IEP if the team determines it is necessary, and that describes, at a minimum:
- The pattern of behavior that is impeding (getting in the way of) the student’s learning or others;
- The instructional and/or environmental conditions or circumstances that contribute to that pattern of behavior
- The positive behavioral interventions and supports to:
- reduce the behavior that is getting in the way of learning and increase desired prosocial behaviors and
- ensure the plan is implemented consistently across the student’s school day, including classes and activities; and
- The skills that will be taught and monitored as alternatives to the challenging behavior.
Most importantly, BIPs should describe an alternative behavior that the student will be taught to replace the inappropriate behavior – this is often called a “replacement behavior.”
The plan should identify what replacement behavior will be taught, how it will be taught, and who is responsible for teaching it to the student.
The plan should identify strategies and instruction that will
- provide alternatives to challenging behaviors,
- reinforce desired behaviors, and
- reduce or eliminate the frequency and severity of challenging behaviors.
Positive behavioral interventions include the consideration of environmental factors that may trigger challenging behaviors and teaching your student the skills to manage her or his own behavior.
What do we mean by "Behavior"?
Behavior is everything we do – it can be words, actions, gestures or a combination of those. Behaviors can be observed; they can be seen or heard.
Disruptive or “externalizing” behaviors, such has yelling, hitting, or breaking things, often draw the most attention, and discipline.
Other behaviors that are less obvious or disruptive to others can still be significant and interfere with a student’s own learning, like avoiding class or peer interactions, or engaging in self-harm.
If the behavior is persistent and is interfering with learning, you can ask about doing an FBA and developing a BIP to address it.