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In this lesson, you will learn about various methods for collecting data, including student records, interviews, and observations, when performing a functional behavioral assessment.

Collecting Data for Functional Behavioral Assessments

Students present challenging behaviors for a variety of reasons. A functional behavioral assessment (FBA) can be used to identify the function or cause of a particular behavior and develop an intervention to turn negative behaviors into something more positive. As a special education teacher, you may be responsible for collecting data to inform the FBA process.Hannah is a middle-grades special education teacher and recently asked to help conduct an FBA on Alex, a seventh-grade student.

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Alex exhibits defiant and disruptive behaviors in several of his classes and has been repeatedly suspended. To carry out Alex’s FBA, Hannah plans to gather information from three sources: student records, interviews, and observations.

Student Records

Hannah begins the FBA by studying Alex’s student records, the permanent evidence related to his education. Using her district’s student information system, Hannah reviews Alex’s grades from elementary to middle school. Next, she examines his attendance records for the same period.

She reads the parent contact log, which reveals that Alex’s pattern of defiance stretches back to early elementary school.Next, Hannah reviews Alex’s discipline records. This includes his official discipline referrals as well as the electronic tracking form that his teachers maintain for classroom discipline. Hannah makes note of which classes Alex appears to have the most difficulty with his behavior: math and science.


Hannah also gathers data from interviews, small conferences with Alex, his parents, and staff members. Before talking with Alex, Hannah asks him to fill out a survey, a series of questions about his classes, his schoolwork, and his school environment.

Using this self-reported information, she can then probe deeper with Alex about issues he perceives in his classes or with his work. Hannah keeps a transcript of the interview.Hannah uses a similar survey with Alex’s parents, then discusses issues or ideas identified through the survey.

Their discussion explores Alex’s behavior at home, his relationship with family members, and his history with school. They also talk about Alex’s emotions, including his moods and how he approaches conflict-resolution. Again, Hannah maintains a transcript.Finally, Hannah interviews Alex’s teachers. She talks with them about their classroom setup, including their procedures, classroom management, and discipline plan. She asks teachers to describe their interactions with Alex, both positive and negative. She probes further for what techniques have proved successful with Alex.

Like with the student and parent interviews, Hannah takes notes and creates a transcript.


The last stage of data collection for Hannah involves observing Alex in his classes. Hannah calls on Alex’s teachers to aid her in this step.

She asks them to complete frequency and rate charts, which note how often and how long Alex displays certain behaviors during the class period for at least two weeks.Hannah then conducts observations in different classes at different times of the school day. She organizes her observational data using an Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (ABC) chart, which allows her to record not only the behavior but what circumstances came before the behavior and what consequence, positive or negative, that Alex encountered because of the behavior. While these charts can be used as a data source on their own, Hannah also uses them to write up anecdotal observations, which build a story of Alex’s behavior in the classroom.

Lesson Summary

When conducting a functional behavioral assessment, a key step for special education teachers is collecting data. Data often come from three main sources: student records, interviews, and observations. Reviewing student records provides information on grades, attendance, and discipline.

Interviews and surveys with the student, parents, and teachers are further sources of information. Observations include watching the student in various settings and collecting data using frequency, rate, and Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence charts, as well as writing anecdotal observation reports. As more information means more well-informed decisions, collecting data during functional behavioral assessment is a crucial step.


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