WWC review of this study

Identifying academic demands that occasion problem behaviors for students with behavioral disorders: Illustrations at the elementary school level.

Hagan-Burke, S., Gilmour, M. W., Gerow, S., & Crowder, W. C. (2015). Behavior Modification, 39(1), 215–241.

  • Single Case Design
    , grades

Reviewed: December 2016

Meets WWC standards without reservations

To view more detailed information about the study findings from this review, please see Functional Behavioral Assessment-based Interventions Intervention Report (977 KB)

Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Male: 100%

  • Suburban
  • Race
  • Ethnicity


The study took place in a public elementary school in a suburban area. It was a Title 1 I school with grades pre-K through fifth grade. At least 90% of students in the school received free or reduced-price lunch; the ethnicity of the school population was 71% African American, 20% Hispanic, 4% multi-racial, 3% Caucasian, and 2% Asian American. The intervention sessions took place in the participants’ special education classrooms.

Study sample

Two students were referred to the school’s behavior support team for problem behaviors that were associated with academic performance. The first student, Freddy, was a first-grade (age 7) Hispanic student with a behavior disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Freddy spent approximately one-third of the school day in a special education classroom receiving social behavior support, along with academic support for reading and math. The second student, Clay, was a third-grade (age 9) African-American student with a behavior disorder. His special education services were provided 90 minutes per day and included social behavior support, along with academic support for reading, spelling, and math.


Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) procedures for each student included interviewing the participants’ teachers, examining records of discipline referrals, and conducting direct observations in the students’ general and special education classrooms. After coding the direct observation data and identifying potential triggers, the researchers conducted a structural analysis for each participant to determine the contextual variables (e.g., classroom climate) associated with each student’s behaviors. The researchers determined that Freddy was most likely to exhibit decreased task engagement during circle time, when activities used a choral response format with fast-paced instruction, as opposed to an independent work setting, where his task engagement was higher. As a result, the FBA-based intervention that was developed used slow-paced instruction during circle time. The researchers held constant the choral group leader, the length of each session, and the approximate number of peers present. They asked the teacher to only praise or give affirmation statements to Freddy after each session had ended. For Clay, the researchers examined his behavior across four content areas and determined that independent math work with unknown multiplication facts was associated with his decreased task engagement. The FBA-based intervention that was developed provided Clay with a worksheet consisting of multiplication problems using known facts. The length of sessions, number of problems per worksheet, and total number of digits per worksheet were controlled; order effects were controlled by counterbalancing conditions. The researchers made sure that the teacher was blind to which condition was in effect and asked the teacher to use the same interaction level and type as she typically would when Clay was engaged in independent academic work.


The study used an alternating treatment design for both participants. Freddy’s alternating treatment design compared the effect of using slow-paced instruction (FBA-based intervention) to fast-paced instruction (comparison). Clay’s alternating treatment design compared the effect of using known multiplication problems (FBA-based intervention) with unknown multiplication problems (comparison). The FBA conducted prior to intervention documented that both participants engaged in high levels of baseline problem behavior during specific times in the academic day.

Support for implementation

The researchers observed Freddy’s teacher to document that she followed the correct pace. They also asked Freddy’s teacher to follow a prescribed way to deliver praise, but they did not describe how they trained her. The researchers instructed Clay’s teacher to maintain the same level of interactions she typically had with Clay during independent work, across both conditions.


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