Myths and Facts about FBAs and BIPs

tags: Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education Linking Research to Classrooms: A Blog for Educators


The following blog post was authored by Amanda Hughes and Kelly Rietschel, fellows of the 2016-2017 Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education at Kennedy Krieger Institute

Teachers are often faced with a wide variety of behavioral challenges in the classroom. Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) are important tools to address behavioral needs. The purpose of an FBA is to collect data on why a problem behavior is occurring – otherwise known as the function of the behavior. Based on this data, the school team creates a BIP. The purpose of the BIP is to guide educators, related service providers, and school-based staff on how to support students in improving their behavior. Below you’ll find some common myths about functional behavioral assessments and behavior intervention plans and how these tools are actually meant to be used.

MYTH: “Kevin is clearly disruptive to get attention. I can write a BIP for him without conducting a full FBA.”

FACT: Kevin may be disruptive to get attention. He may also be disruptive to get out of work or to gain access to a time out room with a preferred staff member. Until you conduct a full FBA with multiple sources of data, you just do not know for sure what the function of a behavior is (1,2). Basing a BIP on an assumption rather than evidence collected through a FBA will result in a BIP that does not fully meet a student’s needs. Besides the fact that it is best practice, conducting an FBA prior to writing a BIP is also legally required. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when a student requires a BIP to meet his or her needs, the school team must first conduct a FBA (2,3).

MYTH: Classroom observations alone can provide enough information to complete a FBA.

FACT: While classroom observations are a valuable and necessary source of information, they should not be the sole source. “Broad” and “Specific” data needs to be gathered from various relevant sources. Broad data, including major life events, health and physical factors, history of previous behavior, and attempted interventions can paint the “big picture” of the child’s life (1,2). Specific data offers information regarding when the behavior occurs, with whom it occurs, environmental factors that may be present, and the types of responses the child receives due to the identified behavior. Information can be gathered through the use of interviews, records review, behavioral checklists, observation, and incident reports. Data should be collected from multiple sources, including indirect assessments, direct observations, and a functional analysis, if necessary (1,2). In combination, these sources will help develop a comprehensive Positive Behavior Support plan.

MYTH: Once the function of the problem behavior is identified, simply developing a plan to eliminate it is sufficient.

FACT: Problem behavior serves a function. In the case of Kevin, his disruptive behavior may function as a way to get attention, escape an undesired situation, or avoid work. Ethically, one must address the function of the behavior by selecting and teaching a “replacement behavior (2)." Replacement behaviors serve the same function, but in a more preferable manner (2). In this example, a replacement behavior to address escaping a situation may be to offer a break card. While BIPs should instruct staff members on how to respond when a problem behavior does occur, it is essential that they also focus on teaching replacement behaviors that prevent the problem behavior from occurring in the first place (2).

MYTH: Special educators and behavior interventionists are the only staff members responsible for implementing the BIP.

FACT: Just as with an IEP, any staff member who works with the student is responsible for implementing the BIP. The BIP should specify who is responsible for each aspect of the plan (1,2). The classroom teacher will certainly be involved regardless of whether they are a general or special educator. Behavior intervention is most successful and generalizable when the plan is applied consistently across settings.

MYTH: FBAs and BIPs should only be used for the most extreme behaviors.

FACT: If a student’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others, and that behavior is a manifestation of the student’s disability, then school teams are required to conduct an FBA and write a BIP as appropriate (3). There is no indication that behavior must reach a certain degree of severity; less extreme behaviors may still interfere with learning. IDEA also requires that FBAs and BIPS are used proactively when an IEP team determines that they are necessary to meet a student’s needs.3 This means school teams do not need to wait for extreme situations to occur before conducting an FBA. In addition, FBAs must be conducted as appropriate when a student is removed from school for more than ten consecutive days, regardless of whether or not the behavior is a manifestation of the student’s disability (3).

Hopefully these facts help you use FBAs and BIPs to support your students’ learning!


1. Kern, L., O’Neill, R.E., & Starosta, K. (2005). Gathering functional assessment information. In Bambara, L.M. & Kern, L. (Eds.), Individualized supports for students with problem behavior: Designing positive behavior plans. (129-163). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

2. Mayer, G.R., Sulzer, B., & Wallace, M. (2014). Behavior analysis for lasting change. New York: Sloan Publishing.

3. U.S. Department of Education. (2009). Q and A: Questions and answers on discipline procedures. In Building the legacy: IDEA 2004. Retrieved from,root,dynamic,QaCorner,7

Have a topic or question you would like to see addressed in a future Linking Research to Classrooms blog?

Enter your topic /question in our contact form.