When written exams do not say it all: How do functional behavioral assessments help educators?

In academic institutions in the United States, the role of educators is primarily to facilitate learning more than just directly providing information to the students. By this method, encompassing strategies have been developed in order to help the learners obtain information and integrate these themselves. Academics define learning as a "relative change in behavior" brought about by acquiring and integrating information. It is then the exhibited behaviors of the students which are used as references for learning. However, students do not only display behaviors as a direct result of learning from the academic point of view. Both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors are exhibited by all students from the moment they enter the gates of the institution until they leave. All these behaviors, as many behavioral scientists would explain, affect a student's performance inside the classroom in one way or another. If then, these indirectly-affecting behaviors exist; do educators have a way of measuring them? The answer is yes, be means of Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA). According to Homer and Carr (1997), FBA is a "method for identifying the variables that reliably predict and maintain problem behavior". If so, then how do Functional Behavioral Assessments help educators?

Functional Behavioral Assessment first and foremost works by helping the educator identify specific events which occur before, during and after a certain type of behavior. Aside from looking into the exhibited behavior itself, the educator will consider the environmental events, including the behaviors of other people who may or may not interact with the student. For instance, when an educator wants to assess the behavior of a student during an examination, he or she will look into what the student does before and after the test, aside from the time the student takes the test itself. By this, the educator gains insight into the reason why such behaviors exist. An understanding of the function or purpose of exhibited behaviors will help an educator to predict patterns of information acquisition and integration itself. By this, the educator will be able to structure his or her lessons according to the individual adapting styles of his or her students.

It was mentioned earlier that both adaptive or "good" and maladaptive or "bad" behavior coexists during the time a student stays in school. By means of Functional Behavioral Assessments, the educators will be able to come up with effective strategies to increase the likelihood that the adaptive behaviors are exhibited while decreasing the opportunities to display maladaptive behaviors. For example, instead of dividing the class into sex-differentiated groups during competitive group work, an educator may divide the class with equal distributions of boys and girls into separate groups in order to avoid gender-insensitive competition (maladaptive behavior) and facilitate cooperation (adaptive behavior). In this sense, the educators also help the students "substitute" appropriate behaviors instead of displaying the inappropriate ones.

Functional Behavioral Assessments also play a big part in the school system's curricular and program development. A school's curriculum is not solely based in the competencies that define what a student needs to know, but also on the behavior that a student exhibits in response to factual knowledge. As a subjective outcome measure, data obtained from Functional Behavioral Assessments can be used to determine whether the student benefits from the educational services that he or she currently receives. Presence of inacceptable behavior would likely mean that the educators must make changes so that the student may respond more to the teaching strategies.

Lastly, Functional Behavioral Assessments is a very important tool in understanding students with special needs. In many special education schools in the United States, FBAs are usually used to identify the concerns of students with communication or cognitive problems who may not be capable of rationalizing their display of maladaptive behaviors. Since these students have more observable "routines" in response to educational strategies, changes in these behaviors become reliable measures to which the educators must refer to be able to address their individual concerns.

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