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Conducting School-Based Functional Behavioral Assessments: A Practitioner's Guide

reviewed by Margaret Werts - 2004

coverTitle: Conducting School-Based Functional Behavioral Assessments: A Practitioner's Guide
Author(s): Mark W. Steege and T. Steuart Watson
Publisher: Guilford Press, New York
ISBN: 1572308540 , Pages: 246, Year: 2003
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Conducting School Based Functional Behavioral Assessments: A Practitioner’s Guide by T. Steuart Watson and Mark W. Steege published in 2003 by Guilford Press is a text devoted to explaining and examining how to conduct an analysis of problematic behaviors in classrooms and other school settings. An analysis of behavior results in a set of proposed hypotheses regarding the settings and triggers to the problematic behaviors. The hypotheses may then be used as variables in problem solving processes to discover why an individual student engages in a particular behavior. The authors present a history, rationale, and process for functional behavior analyses (FBAs). This very readable text engages the reader in a conversation. Asides and bits of dialog are supplied in italics within the text. The conversational format and tone were purposeful and intended to respond to questions in a user-friendly manner rather than as a scholarly fount of wisdom. This is not a reference book but rather a working book of instructions related to understanding behaviors interfering with school progress. It is written for practitioners: teachers, psychologists, social workers, and others involved in assessing behaviors of students. Quotes at the beginning of each chapter are from as varied sources as B. F. Skinner and The Grateful Dead. These tend to draw the reader in and encourage engagement with the material.

The text has 12 chapters that seem to divide easily into four sections. First, the authors present background to the use of Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) and some research associated with its use and efficacy. In Chapters 1 through 3, they cover the basics of applied behavior analyses, operant and respondent behaviors, and terms used in the processes. Numerous examples of students and the behaviors noted are provided in case studies. In the preface, they note that each example is drawn from a real case. They are especially careful to use vocabulary that is non inflammatory. For example, “interfering behavior” is used to describe actions of students impeding progress of their own or their peers’ academic or social development. The authors avoid labeling the behavior as problematic. This section of the text provides the reader with enough research and evidence to defend the processes of functional analysis. Legal aspects are treated with statements followed by illustrative examples in a question and answer format. Throughout, the text remains readable and clear. If a concept demanded an explanation, case examples and boxed definitions assisted in remembering and understanding.

Second, Watson and Steege give an overview of the basics of FBAs. In chapter 4 the authors provide an overview of antecedents and consequences, and then they outline the “vital” principles of Functional Behavior Analyses. These include decisions to be made throughout the process and key elements of a well done analysis. A comprehensive “decision tree” flow chart is included to graphically depict the process. FBA is defined as a process of gathering information allowing teachers and others to delve into the “whys” of the behaviors. To three elements listed by O’Neil et al. (1996) (a behavior must be defined operationally, a behavior can be predicted to occur, and the function of a behavior is defined), they add a fourth: producing a behavior support plan. Techniques for data collection are introduced with descriptive paragraphs for indirect and direct collection and analyses of data.

In chapters 5 through 9, the authors supply details for the sequence of a behavior analysis. They walk us through step by step with forms, how to fill out forms, definitions, examples, and illustrative stories. In chapter 5, the reader learns about recording observed behavior. The authors begin with a definition of an observable behavior and continue with event recording, interval recording, duration recording, and interviews. For each technique, case studies, completed forms, and instructions are given. Interobserver reliability is stressed. Chapters 6 and 7 compare indirect descriptive and direct descriptive assessments. Forms for the reader’s use are provided. The authors then address the supporting documentation needed for a complete and defensible assessment including examples of reports, how to use data to write reports, and how to read them.

Then last section of the book includes a variety of useful information. A nice discussion of extra environmental variables introduces concepts of events temporally distant form the targeted behavior (setting events). Events on the bus ride to school, events at breakfast, or the night before can have an impact on the child’s behavior. The authors list and discuss them in an analysis without referring to causality. A discussion of the effects of relying on setting events and observed trigger antecedents and consequent events is well balanced. A question and answer format clears up items of importance in conducting and completing an analysis. One very long chapter is on material to train school and agency personnel. Reproductions of slides explaining processes are accompanied by guidelines for using them, and dialog and notes to use in a presentation

In reviewing a book for reading and reference or for adoption for a class, there is an important question: Does this book give the reader enough information to make it worth the purchase price? The reasonable price of this book (about thirty dollars) would indicate a resounding “Yes” to the question. However, there is a caveat. The book cover states purchasers have individual rights to reproduce pages for professional use. Inside the cover, the caveats are displayed. Purchasers do not have the right to use any forms, slides, questionnaires, worksheets or other matter as handouts or slides in a class or for practice for anyone other than the purchaser. If the book is bought by a practitioner to use in a classroom or practice, it may be legal to make copies. However, a teacher, instructor, or trainer may not use the material in a book in handouts for discussion, for practice, in class as PowerPoint slides, regular slides or in any other way. This seems contradictory to the implied reasoning behind the chapter with slides and written scripts for training. I found this aspect disappointing.

Overall, Conducting School Based Functional Behavioral Assessments: A Practitioner’s Guide is a comprehensive guide to FBA implementation. The text is full of definitions, examples, sample forms, and explanations. The conversational tone is not condescending. It is a good reference for practitioners who have a basic knowledge of research and hypothesis testing. It is well written with accurate and complete information.


O’Neill, R.E., Horner, R.H., Albin, R.W., Storey, K. and Sprague, J.R. (1996).  Functional assessment and program development for problem behavior:  A practical handbook. (Second Edition).   New York:  Wadsworth Publishing.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 12, 2004, p. 2270-2272
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11317, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:33:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Margaret Werts
    Appalachian State University
    E-mail Author
    MARGARET WERTS is Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University, Reich College of Education, in the Department of Language, Reading and Exceptionalities.
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