And the Two Shall Become One: Marrying Behavior Intervention Plans and Individualized Education Programs

by Kristin Holst, M.Ed.

It is no secret that a good marriage requires a supreme act of balance. Both partners must come together as a whole in order to function properly. Similarly, in order to be truly effective, it is important to have a marriage between student's behavioral intervention plans (BIPs) and their individualized education programs (IEPs). Since students are assessed as a whole, it only makes sense that each student has one comprehensive plan. Thus, it is essential that educators meld BIPs and IEPs into one document and stop looking at just parts of the student's plan.

Educators recognize that academic problems reflect errors in learning or skill deficits that can be addressed through quality instruction. The same holds true for behavior problems. Students with academic skill deficits may require more intense, highly structured, direct instruction or specially designed instruction based upon ongoing assessment. Similarly, students with behavior skill deficits may require more individualized, intensive behavior interventions derived from the results of a functional behavioral assessment (FBA).

Comprehensive positive behavior support plans include strategies that address setting events, antecedents, skill deficits, and consequences (OSEP, n.d.). Teams are typically well versed in designing setting event interventions, antecedent interventions, and consequence interventions. However, skill-building strategies, specifically identifying desired behaviors and teaching replacement behaviors, often pose a greater challenge and subsequently become the least emphasized of the four components. In fact, Killu, Weber, Derby, and Barretto (2006) did a comparison study across 49 states, examining the FBA and BIP resources developed and disseminated by state education agencies. Only 29% of the states surveyed provided information to schools on the development of goals and objectives with specific mastery criteria.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) requires IEP teams to address academic achievement and functional performance. Functional performance encompasses areas such as socialization, communication, personal management, self-determination, and behavior (VDOE, 2005). IEPs should include statements of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional (behavioral) goals (20 U.S.C. §1414). The federal regulations also require IEP teams to design and implement progress monitoring plans for academic and functional (behavioral) goals. Unfortunately, the data concerning progress towards academic and functional goals in IEPs and BIPs are often nonexistent (Etscheidt, 2006).

Despite these mandates, BIPs and IEPs are often viewed as two separate documents. IEP teams address academic weaknesses through designing observable, measurable annual goals. These same teams address behavior skill deficits through BIPs. General statements found on BIPs may include, "Teach the student to increase on-task behavior during independent seatwork," or "Teach the student self-monitoring skills." These types of statements do not clearly define what the instruction looks and sounds like. The plans also often neglect specifying the individuals responsible for data collection, as well as the locations, dates, and times of such data collection (Etscheidt, 2006).

What is the simplest way to ensure IEP teams address the instructional component of the BIP, make the interventions clear to all team members, and include a progress monitoring component? One option is to create a seamless document by translating the skill-building strategies listed in the BIP into measurable annual goals (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Skill Building Strategy

(Listed on the BIP)

Measurable Annual Goal for Functional Performance

(Listed on the IEP)

Teach Mary to increase on-task behavior during independent seatwork.

By June 2008 when given independent seatwork, Mary will increase her on-task behavior from 0 minutes to 15 minutes. She will (a) ask her teacher to clarify directions if necessary, (b) begin the assignment within 3 minutes, and (c) continue working on the assignment for 15 minutes with no more than one verbal prompt at least two times per school day, as documented daily on a teacher observation log.

Teach Steven self-monitoring skills.

By June 2008 when given a daily self-monitoring checklist, Steven will document by the end of every class period the number of times he raised his hand to ask for help when needed and bring his checklist to his teacher(s) to see if his results match for five consecutive days documented daily on a teacher observation log.

There are many advantages to marrying the IEP and the BIP into one document. This process gives everyone involved a complete picture of the whole student and his or her needs. It also leads to focused and more comprehensive planning for doing what is best for students, ensuring that appropriate supports are in place for student progress. As a plan that holds both academic and behavioral (functional) goals emerges, students, parents, teachers, and administrators will see the benefit and move from "I might" to "I do."


Etscheidt, S. K. (2006). Progress monitoring: Legal issues and recommendations for IEP teams. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38, 56-60.

Killu, K., Weber, K. P., Derby, K. M., & Barretto, A. (2006). Behavior intervention planning and implementation of positive behavioral support plans: An examination of states' adherence to standard practice. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 8(4), 195- 200.

OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support. (n.d.).

School-wide PBS: Tertiary prevention. Retrieved September 4, 2007, from
Virginia Department of Education, (2005). Virginia Department of Education's Sample IEP Form. Retrieved September 4, 2007, from

Date: November/December 2007