Education Behavioral Assessment
Wendy P. Oakes, Pamela Harris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0099


Since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, behavioral assessments in school contexts have evolved in theory and practice. Within multitiered prevention models, behavioral assessments are used for early detection of students for whom primary prevention (for all students) is insufficient. Universal screening practices are needed by schools to detect students at the earliest juncture when behaviors are most amenable to intervention. Universal screening provides school personnel with a proactive approach for determining which students need supports beyond primary prevention efforts. For students needing targeted interventions (for some students) progress monitoring tools offer data to make decisions about students’ progress and intervention appropriateness. Targeted interventions are often implemented in small groups targeting common acquisition or performance deficits (e.g., social skills and study skills). If those interventions are still insufficient, intensive interventions (for few students) are employed. These supports require the most intensive behavioral assessments, functional behavioral assessment (FBA), and are reserved for students with the greatest need. FBA determines antecedent conditions setting the stage for problem behaviors to occur and consequences maintaining the undesirable behavior. Data are used to identify the function of target behaviors so that a functionally equivalent replacement behavior can be identified and an intervention developed to increase the future probability this replacement behavior will occur. Behavioral assessments help school personnel answer critical questions such as: Which behaviors are most critical to success in the environment of interest? What is the operational definition of the behavior? What are the contributing antecedents, events, and maintaining consequences, and how will they be measured? What is the function of the behavior? Sources of data are, generally, in three categories: direct observation, interviews, and rating scales/checklists. A triangulation of these data allows for information from multiple informants across settings to design intervention strategies. Strengths of direct observation include perspectives from an outside observer, contextual factors, and peer comparisons. Interviews provide historical perspectives and contextualization, offering information on potential functions of the behavior, aiding in prioritizing problematic behaviors, providing information on students’ strengths and preferences, and aiding in school/home collaborations. Rating scales and checklists provide standardized data examining if the target behaviors are due to performance or acquisition deficits. This bibliography is organized to provide an overview of behavioral assessment and the tools used in school settings including universal screening practices, progress monitoring of behavioral performance, and tools used to conduct FBAs.

General Overviews

Ramsay, et al. 2002 reminds us that behavioral assessment is not just a specific set of tools but a paradigm for early detection of students who need additional supports, monitoring the effects of intervention efforts, particularly those with the most intensive needs, using data to generate hypotheses about the functions of the problematic (target) behaviors leading directly to function-based interventions. Specifically, the behavioral paradigm is that behaviors that are observable and measureable can be changed and new functionally equivalent replacement behaviors targeted for intervention. As such, the tools selected for defining and measuring the observable behavior are of importance. However, school practitioners selecting such tools must consider Merrell 2010, which cautions that the results of behavioral assessment are enhanced and limited by the tools selected and questions asked with considerations of culturally responsive assessment practices and strength-based assessment. Early detection through universal screening practices (Severson, et al. 2007; also see Universal Screening) offer schools a prevention approach for responding to students’ needs, applying behavioral assessment technologies within problem solving multitier systems of support (Sugai, et al. 2000) and responding to all students’ needs. For students who need targeted or intensive levels of support Gresham, et al. 2010 offers measures to monitor students’ responsiveness to intervention (see also Monitoring Progress). For the most intensive behavioral assessments, Mace 1994 represents seminal early work in this field. As well, Hartshorne and Johnston 1982 provides an early account of behavioral assessment practices in clinical settings that are at the core of today’s practices in schools. The authors cite behavioral specificity (i.e., a clear description of the observable behavior) as a requirement to focus assessment, inform intervention goals, and describe the extent to which measurable decreases in problem behaviors occurred. Behavioral assessment is strongly rooted in early works but evolved with applications in authentic settings (e.g., schools), refined measurement tools, and assessment results directly linked to interventions, and monitoring of intervention outcomes (Chafouleas, et al. 2010). Standardized rating scales gather information from multiple informants (e.g., teachers, parents, student self-report; Ramsay, et al. 2002). Today, behavioral assessment is embedded within multitiered problem-solving models, with universal screening for detecting students with need and then monitoring student progress in response to increasingly intensive interventions and supports. These overviews of behavioral assessment are useful to researchers and practitioners interested in its development over time and the challenges to be addressed as new knowledge is generated and practice moved forward.

  • Chafouleas, Sandra M., Robert J. Volpe, Frank M. Gresham, and Clayton R. Cook. 2010. School-based behavioral assessment within problem-solving models: Current status and future directions. In Special issue: Behavioral assessment within problem-solving models. Edited by Thomas J. Power. School Psychology Review 39.3: 343–349.

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    The authors suggest a new era of behavioral assessment focusing on measurement balancing psychometric rigor and usability in authentic school settings. The following critical areas of inquiry are addressed: which characteristic behaviors are most salient, consensus on intervention targets, evidence for and purpose of measures, and how changes will be measured. Available online by subscription.

  • Gresham, Frank M., Clayton R. Cook, Tai Collins, et al. 2010. Developing a change-sensitive brief behavior rating scale as a progress monitoring tool for social behavior: An example using the social skills rating system—Teacher form. In Special issue: Behavioral assessment within problem-solving models. Edited by Thomas J. Power. School Psychology Review 39.3: 364–379.

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    Initial findings of the technical adequacy of a progress monitoring tool for behavior are reported. This measure is the first tool to identify a few key items that can be used as a curriculum-based measure for behavioral progress. Available online by subscription. Also see Monitoring Progress.

  • Hartshorne, Timothy S., and Dean W. Johnston. 1982. The use of behavioral assessment. Assessment for Effective Intervention 7.4: 212–220.

    DOI: 10.1177/073724778200700404E-mail Citation »

    An early work describing the techniques employed as behavioral assessment. Tools are categorized as interviews, direct observation, and self-report and are heavily relied on today even as techniques have evolved and the settings shifted from clinical to authentic school settings; that is, the setting in which the students’ behaviors occur. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Mace, F. Charles. 1994. The significance and future of functional analysis methodologies. In Special issue: Current research on functional analysis methodologies. Edited by Nancy A. Neef and Brian A. Iwata. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 27.2: 385–392.

    DOI: 10.1901/jaba.1994.27-385E-mail Citation »

    The article provides a historical perspective on behavioral modification versus functional analysis, with functional analysis methods producing more effective interventions for changing behaviors. The author advocates for direct methods of assessment, specifically those with experimental conditions, over a reliance on indirect measures, namely rating scales. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Merrell, Kenneth W. 2010. Better methods, better solutions: Developments in school-based behavioral assessment. In Special issue: Behavioral assessment within problem-solving models. Edited by Thomas J. Power. School Psychology Review 39:422–426.

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    A reflection on current practices and “big ideas” for moving forward: promise of universal screening, assessing student strengths, and linking assessment to effective intervention. Two cautions: Assessment is framed by the lens used when selecting tools and asking questions, and we must serve children with the best of what we currently know while working to validate practices. Available online by subscription.

  • Ramsay, Michael C., Cecil R. Reynolds, and R. W. Kamphaus. 2002. Essentials of behavioral assessment. New York: Wiley.

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    This guide is written by developers of a widely used behavioral assessment for children, the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC-2; see Cecil R. Reynolds and R. W. Kamphaus. 2004. BASC-2: Behavior Assessment System for Children. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Pearson). This book reports on three well-known assessment tools, the BASC (see Cecil R. Reynolds and R. W. Kamphaus. 1998. BASC: Behavior Assessment System for Children. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service), the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; see Thomas J. Achenbach. 1991. Manual for Child Behavior Checklist/4–18 and 1991 Profile. Burlington: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry; Thomas J. Achenbach. 1991. Manual for the Teacher’s Report Form and 1991 Profile. Burlington: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry; Thomas J. Achenbach. 1991. Manual for the Youth Self-Report and 1991 Profile. Burlington: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry), and the Conners’ Rating Scale–Revised (CRS-R; see C. Keith Conners. 1997. Conners’ Rating Scale–Revised. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.).

  • Severson, Herbert H., Hill M. Walker, Jennifer Hope-Doolittle, Thomas R. Kratochwill, and Frank M. Gresham. 2007. Proactive, early screening to detect behaviorally at-risk students: Issues, approached, emerging innovations, and professional practices. In Special issue: Universal screening for enhanced educational and mental health outcomes. Edited by Craig Albers, Todd Glover, and Tom Kratochwill. Journal of School Psychology 45.2: 193–223.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jsp.2006.11.003E-mail Citation »

    A review of screening practices and tools provided specifically for use in authentic educational settings. Based on the call from the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for early intervention for students with learning and behavioral problems, tools and practices for universal screening have moved to the forefront in multitiered systems of support frameworks. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Sugai, George, Robert H. Horner, Glen Dunlap, et al. 2000. Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions 2.3: 131–143.

    DOI: 10.1177/109830070000200302E-mail Citation »

    The authors provide a detailed description of positive behavior supports and functional behavior assessment. This study provides the historical development of the proactive multitiered system supporting all students within a proactive framework. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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