Guidance on Functional Behavioral Assessments for Students with Disabilities               

Guidance on Functional Behavioral Assessments for Students with Disabilities

Memo July 1998

TO: District Superintendents
Presidents of Boards of Education
Superintendents of Schools
Organizations, Parents & Individuals Concerned with Special Education
Superintendents of State-Operated and State-Supported Schools
Executive Directors of Approved Private Schools
Directors of Approved Preschool Programs
Principals of Public Schools
Directors of Special Education
Chairpersons of Committees on Special Education
Chairpersons of Committees on Preschool Special Education
Directors of Pupil Personnel Services
Commissioner's Advisory Panel for Special Education Services
Impartial Hearing Officers
Community Dispute Resolution Centers
ALTA Project Directors
SETRC Project Directors and Training Specialists
State and Local Teacher Associations
ECDC Project Directors and Coordinators
Family Court Judges and Designees
Chief Elected Officials of the Counties
New York City Board of Education
Independent Living Centers
Colleges with Special Education and General Education Teacher Training
FROM: Rita D. Levay
SUBJECT: Guidance on Functional Behavioral Assessments for Students with Disabilities

This memorandum provides guidelines to assist school districts in implementing the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) relating to functional behavioral assessments of students with disabilities. The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) has published a guide for states on the functional behavioral assessment requirements of IDEA. In the development of the NASDSE document, practitioners examined the literature to identify critical issues and to provide recommendations relating to proactively addressing the needs of students with disabilities with behavioral challenges. The information provided by NASDSE serves as the basis for this memorandum, and sections of the NASDSE publication are attached.

IDEA focuses on prevention and proactively addressing behavioral concerns of students with disabilities that may impede their learning. The use of functional behavioral assessments provides an important and meaningful opportunity to improve the individualized education program (IEP) and services for students with disabilities, to promote access to general education curriculum and to ensure safe and well-disciplined schools.

Practice Guidelines

The underlying premise of this guidance document is that functional behavioral assessments should be viewed as an integral part of evaluation and reevaluation procedures and not as an isolated practice reserved for a student who has engaged in behavior that may have violated a school district's code of conduct. Functional behavioral assessments should be integrated, as appropriate, throughout the process of developing, reviewing and revising a student's IEP when students demonstrate behaviors that impede learning. This will ensure that functional behavioral assessments are conducted appropriately in all situations to address student needs as well as situations in which administrative or legal proceedings may be encountered.

The key standards for functional behavioral assessments include:

The following information should guide how schools conduct functional behavioral assessments and use the results of such assessments in designing an appropriate educational program for a student with a disability or a student suspected of having a disability. The goal is to ensure that behavioral interventions for students with disabilities are instituted that have the highest likelihood of success, thus creating safe and conducive learning environments.


Functional behavioral assessment is the process of determining why a student engages in challenging behavior and how the student's behavior relates to the environment. Functional assessments describe the relationship between a skill or performance problem and variables that contribute to its occurrence. Functional behavioral assessments can provide the CSE with information to develop a hypothesis as to:

This type of assessment often involves reviewing curriculum, instructional and motivational variables in relation to a student's behavior and/or examining classroom arrangements, individuals present, physical health issues, instructional subject and work demands.1
Functional Behavioral Assessment: Policy Development in Light of Emerging Research and Practice. National Association of State directors of special Education (NASDSE), March 1998

Components of a Functional Behavioral Assessment

A functional behavioral assessment should minimally include the following components:

Assessment Techniques

A variety of techniques are available to conduct a functional behavioral assessment including, but not limited to:

Requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

References to consideration of a student's behavior that impedes learning can be found in several sections of IDEA including those on evaluation, considerations in the development of the IEP, the role of the general education teacher in the development of the IEP and discipline.


In conducting the evaluation, the local educational agency shall ...use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors. (Section 614(b)(2)(C))
Each local educational agency shall ensure that - ... the child is assessed in all areas of suspected disability; and assessment tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the educational needs of the child are provided. (Section 614(b(3)(C)-(D))

IEP Team

The regular education teacher of the child, as a member of the IEP Team, shall, to the extent appropriate, participate in the development of the IEP of the child, including the determination of appropriate positive behavioral interventions and strategies and the determination of supplementary aids and services, program modifications, and support for school personnel consistent with paragraph (1)(A)(iii). (Section 614(d)(3)(C)

IEP Contents and Considerations

In developing each child's IEP, the IEP Team, subject to subparagraph (C), shall the case of a child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others, consider, when appropriate, strategies, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior.... (Section 614(d)(3)(B)(i))


Either before or not later than 10 days after taking a disciplinary action described in subparagraph (A) - -
(i) if the local educational agency did not conduct a functional behavioral assessment and implement a behavioral intervention plan for such child before the behavior that resulted in suspension described in subparagraph (A), the agency shall convene an IEP meeting to develop an assessment plan to address that behavior; or
(ii) if the child already has a behavioral intervention plan, the IEP Team shall review the plan and modify it, as necessary, to address the behavior. (Section 615(k)(1)(B)

Role of the Committee on Special Education

IDEA requires that, in the case of a child whose behavior impedes the learning of the child or others, the CSE, as appropriate, must consider strategies, including positive behavioral interventions and supports, to address that behavior. The results of a student's individual evaluation information, including the functional behavioral assessment, are reviewed at a CSE meeting. IDEA requires that one of the members of the CSE be an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results. Therefore, for students with behaviors that impede learning, it is recommended that an individual knowledgeable about behavioral assessments and intervention planning participate in the CSE meetings. This individual could be the school psychologist or the special or regular education teacher. In addition, the regular education teacher of the child, as a member of the CSE, participates in the development of the IEP of the student, including the determination of appropriate positive behavioral interventions and strategies.

It is the responsibility of the CSE to ensure that functional behavioral assessments, where appropriate, are conducted and reviewed to:

In addition, CSEs must address behaviors that result in disciplinary actions.

Behavioral Intervention Plans

Functional behavioral assessments provide specific information to the CSE concerning the design and implementation of effective strategies to address a student's behaviors. The identification of positive behavioral supports should be based on the functional behavioral assessment and address short-term prevention, the teaching of alternative skills, responses to problem behaviors and long-term prevention. Pages 13-14 of the attached document provide guidance on the recommended components of a comprehensive behavioral intervention plan.

The attached sections from the March 1998 publication, Functional Behavioral Assessment: Policy Development in Light of Emerging Research and Practice developed by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), provide guidance on:

A copy of the complete NASDSE publication may be obtained by contacting Dr. W. David Tilly, Iowa Department of Education, Grimes Building, Des Moines, IA 50319 ( the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 1800 Diagonal Road, Suite 320, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Additional information regarding functional behavioral assessments developed by the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice may be found on the internet at Questions regarding this memorandum should be directed to (518) 473-2878.


NOTE: The attachments referenced in this memorandum are not available through the internet. A copy of the complete memorandum with attachments may be requested by contacting or contact your local SETRC

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