Results of Practice-Based Professional Development for Supporting Special Educators in Learning How to Design Functional Assessment–Based Interventions

November 2020

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, Volume 43 Issue 4, pp. 281–295

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this descriptive study, the authors built upon inquiry conducted by Lane, Oakes, et al. (2015) to examine the degree to which educators who attended a practice-based professional development (PBPD) series on how to develop a functional assessment–based intervention (FABI), demonstrated gains in knowledge, confidence, and usage.
In addition, they examined how participants viewed the training.
Using a one-group pre–post research design, the following research questions were addressed:
1: Did participants report changes in perceived and actual knowledge and changes in their perceived confidence and usefulness of FABIs over the course of the training series?
2: Did participants report changes in self-efficacy over the course of the FABI training series?
3: How did participants view the social validity of the PBPD process?


Participants and Setting
Participants included 22 special education teachers and related service providers.
The school district included fewer than 10 schools, with approximately 4,000 students and 225 teachers.
The small rural district was located 30 miles from the university.
Twenty three teachers participated in the PBPD.
One teacher opted not to provide his data to the university researchers, resulting in 22 teachers participating in this project.
The PBPD occurred on three dates occurring over a 4-month period from August to November 2017.
These three meetings allowed participants to receive content, discuss, and practice the content in the training and then return to their classrooms to apply the new content.
The PBPD was led by the first author, a university faculty member and board-certified behavior analyst.
During each training session, district leaders engaged actively by co-presenting and offering district-specific examples.
During the PBPD, the university faculty member modeled each of the phases of the FABI process, using videos and role-plays as part of modeling procedures.
Participants were divided into small groups during the training sessions and practiced the various skills and received feedback from the university and district members.

The KCU FABI survey (Lane, Oakes, et al., 2015) was the primary dependent variable.
The authors also collected a report of actual knowledge.
Secondary measures included teachers’ report of self-efficacy, quality ratings of the social validity of the PD and procedural integrity of the training.
Participants were contacted via email and asked to complete a follow-up interview approximately 3 months after PD Session 3.
The follow-up interview gauged the participants’ perceptions regarding the usefulness of the training and potential areas for improvement.
All participants were invited to complete feedback forms electronically or on the telephone.

Findings and discussion
Based on results reported by Lane, Oakes, et al. (2015), the authors predicted participants would enhance their knowledge of, confidence in, and use of FABIs.
This was indeed the case.
Analyses indicated that there were large effects on the participants’ perceived knowledge, confidence, and use.
It should be noted participants’ actual knowledge also moderately increased.
These results indicate that participants who attended the training felt more knowledgeable and confident and perceived the FABI process as useful—a finding consistent with earlier inquiry (Lane, Oakes et al., 2015).
Despite these shifts, teachers’ sense of efficacy negligibly increased.
Participants increased their sense of efficacy pre to post from 7.58 (SD = 0.23) to 7.80 (SD = 0.23), respectively.
This shift was, however, not significant.
Although the teachers reported their beliefs related to classroom behavior, the scale does not capture teachers’ efficacy related to the FABI process.
Instead, the measures offer information regarding a more global sense of self-efficacy in these areas.
Thus, it makes sense that teachers’ sense of efficacy did not significantly shift over the course of the study.
Similar to Lane, Oakes et al.’s (2015), after the PD, participants did report higher levels of their confidence in their ability to use FABI procedures.
Related, participants’ shared feedback related to their use of FABI strategies.
For example, one participant shared, “Moving forward, I feel better starting the process and carrying out the specific steps.”
In addition, it is possible that factors related to teacher experience and the PD schedule may have affected teacher efficacy.
Participants reported an average of 10.2 years of experience.
Career teachers in other studies have demonstrated similar self-efficacy scores (M = 7.61; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2007).
It is also possible teachers’ efficacy would be enhanced in the future with additional positive practice of the skill sets learned (Cooper et al., 2007).
Although a statistically significant positive impact on teachers’ self-efficacy was not obtained, social validity indicated a positive professional learning experience.
Social validity mean scores completed at each professional learning session remained relatively stable, suggesting the experience met their expectations (Strain et al., 2012).
Another indication of the social validity of the PD is the participants’ attendance.
With that, information gleaned from the nine participants who participated in the follow-up survey suggested that they enjoyed the practice-based format of the PD.
Consistent with PD research emphasizing skill acquisition and fluency, a majority of participants shared a desire for feedback (Myers et al., 2017).
Another noteworthy finding relates to the participants’ desire for additional examples and more time to develop their plans.
As such, the authors encourage schools to consider dedicating multiple days for training teachers on FABI.

The intent of this descriptive study was fourfold.
First, the authors focused on building a school– university partnership to increase participants’ learning of FABI content.
Second, they utilized a PBPD framework to design and implement the training.
Third, data collection allowed PD providers to adjust PD content.
Fourth, they gathered participant feedback to adjust future training.
Results from the PBPD training indicate that special education teachers and related service providers gained knowledge and confidence and increased their use of FABI content over the course of the training.
As teacher educators and in-service providers look to conduct professional learning opportunities, they should implement data-informed decisions to guide their work.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Pearson.
Lane, K. L., Oakes, W. P., Powers, L., Diebold, T., Germer, K., Common, E. A., & Brunsting, N. (2015). Improving teachers’ knowledge of functional assessment-based interventions: Outcomes of a professional development series. Education and Treatment of Children, 38, 93–120.
Myers, D., Sugai, G., Simonsen, B., & Freeman, J. (2017). Assessing teachers’ behavior support skills. Teacher Education and Special Education, 40, 128–139.
Strain, P. S., Barton, E. E., & Dunlap, G. (2012). Lessons learned about the utility of social validity. Education and Treatment of Children, 35, 183–200.
Tschannen-Moran, M., & Hoy, A. W. (2007). The differential antecedents of self-efficacy beliefs of novice and experienced teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23, 944–956. 

Updated: Jul. 14, 2021