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Importance of Assessing Classroom Behavior in Special Education Students

by Connie Jankowski

Classroom behavior tells a lot about any student's readiness to learn. Students in special education often exhibit behaviors used to avoid following instructions or completing assignments. These interfere with learning, and must be addressed so that the student can focus, respond to directions and accomplish assigned tasks. The Individualized Education Plan team must work together using their unique skills to assess behavior, formulate an IEP, and develop behavior strategies for classroom use.

Legal and Ethical

School districts are required to conduct functional behavioral analyses in specific circumstances.

Legal and ethical concerns require that schools provide services to meet the needs of students with special needs. Common sense dictates that educators should evaluate behavior and determine why the behavior occurs. Additionally, "School districts are now required to conduct functional behavioral analyses of problem behaviors, under certain circumstances," states Stephen Starin, Ph.D., on the website Wrightslaw.com. "Problem behavior typically falls into one or more of three general categories: behavior that produces attention and other desired events, behavior that allows the person to avoid or escape demands or other undesired events/activities, and behavior that occurs because of its sensory consequences - relieves pain, feels good, etc."

Understand the Motivation

Understanding the behaviors of special education students is the responsibility of every educator.

Each IEP should be designed to provide the best possible learning experience for the individual student, and understanding what motivates or frustrates that child is critical for developing education plans. The National Dissemination Center for children with Disabilities (NICHCY) states on its website, "Identifying the underlying cause(s) of a student’s behavior, or, more specifically, what the student “gets” or “avoids” through the behavior, can provide the IEP team with the diagnostic information necessary to develop proactive instructional strategies, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports, that are crafted to address behaviors that interfere with academic instruction."

Look Beyond the Behavior

Behavior intervention plans include clues about why a child misbehaves.

The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice defines assessment on their website. "A functional behavioral assessment looks beyond the behavior itself. The focus when conducting a functional behavioral assessment is on identifying significant, pupil-specific social, affective, cognitive, and/or environmental factors associated with the occurrence (and non-occurrence) of specific behaviors." IEPs should include behavioral intervention plans that work with why a student behaves or misbehaves in specific situations. This provides useful clues for addressing problem behaviors.

Classroom and Beyond

Insights learned through behavior assessments can help parents respond to their children in all situations.

According to Mary Magee Quinn and associates,on LDOnline.org, an IEP team's "Emphasis should be on enlarging student capacity to profit from instruction, which can be accomplished by designing pupil-specific interventions,that not only discourage inappropriate behaviors, but teach alternative behaviors, and provide the student with the opportunity and motivation to engage in that behavior." Conducting accurate behavior assessments enable educators to formulate IEPs and positive behavior supports that can be successful. Sharing the information with parents and other key individuals provides insights about the child that can be applied to all aspects of the child's life.

About the Author

Connie Jankowski began writing in 1987. She has published articles in "Dog Fancy" and "The Orange County Register," among others. Areas of expertise include education, health care and pets. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the University of Pittsburgh.

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