What is a functional behavioral assessment (FBA)?

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a glance

  • Some students struggle to learn in school because of behavior challenges.

  • Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is a process schools use to figure out what’s causing challenging behavior.

  • An FBA leads to a plan with strategies to improve the behavior.

When students run into trouble at school, it’s not always because of academics. Often, behavior is the reason kids struggle. Kids may disrupt class, become withdrawn, or even cut class. 

To help students, schools use a process to identify and understand challenging behaviors, and come up with possible solutions. It’s called functional behavioral assessment (FBA). An FBA is like an evaluation focused on behavior.

An FBA tries to figure out what’s behind behavior challenges. The basic idea is that behavior serves a purpose. Whether kids know it or not, they act in certain ways for a reason. If schools and families know what’s causing a behavior, they can find ways to change it.

Here’s an example.

Aaron has strong math skills. But when the class gets a math word problem, he gets angry and argues with the teacher. The behavior continues and the teacher doesn’t know what to do.The school does an FBA and learns that Aaron has trouble showing work on word problems. That’s why he’s acting out  — to avoid this stressful math situation.

A school team works on the FBA. The team is led by a person trained in understanding behavior, like a school psychologist or a behavior specialist. The FBA team may also include teachers, school staff, service providers, the student, and their family. 

When an FBA is complete, the school should have a good idea of what’s causing the behavior and how to help. The next step is to create a behavior intervention plan (BIP) with strategies and interventions to improve the behavior. Over time, the plan may change depending on the student’s needs.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.