Behavior Data Collection Sheets for Special Education Part 1 Continuous Measurement

special education data collection 1

How do you collect behavior data in the classroom?

Collecting student behavior data in a special education or general education classroom can be especially difficult during the course of a busy day. We all know that collecting data for an IEP, an FBA, or for progress monitoring is vital in making data-based and objective decisions. But it’s hard! 

Here are 5 quick tips for using behavior data collection sheets:

Consider the needs of your student and the environment they are in. Think of a measurement system that is as OBJECTIVE as possible but SIMPLE enough for the staff to learn and do. Even the best planned data system is useless if no one is able to collect the data! At the same time, the system has to actually CAPTURE what is going on in order for you to make decision to help the student! So think and plan ahead!

behavior data collection sheets plan
behavior data collection sheets train

Train staff

They gotta know how to take the data! Once you decide on a system, make sure you don’t just hand the sheet to your staff, but you really talk to them about it, how to take it, practice it, watch them, instruct again. Use the BST model! Instruct. Model. Rehearse. Feedback.

Give it time

Once you have a system in place, give it time to capture enough data to allow you make meaningful decisions. If you pivot too quickly, you won’t make any progress! Other than little tweaks to get the system working, I like to give a system 4-6 weeks if possible to really gather useful info!

behavior data collection sheets wait
behavior data collection sheets tweak

Evaluate & tweak

Here comes the tweaking (not to be confused with twerking). Little modifications are fine as you start taking data. You may find that you defined a behavior one way, but once you start collecting the data, you see that it really “looks” like something else. Refine until you feel like you’re capturing what’s going on. And then, again, give the data time to speak to you!

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Once you have a behavior data collection system going and you feel it’s accurate, you can start making data-based decisions on how to modify the environment, provide the student with supports needed, teach functional communication to get needs met, whatever is needed! Then, you get to do it all again to measure if you’re making progress towards the goal!

behavior data collection sheets evaluate

All the behavior data collection sheets discussed below can be found here!

Looking for student data tracking sheets to record daily incidents of challenging or problem behavior to help with classroom behavior management? How about for an FBA or Behavior Intervention Plan BIP template? Great for special education, students receiving ABA services, MTSS, and for data analysis of problem behavior trends.

What are some data collection measures I can use in my special education classroom?

Let’s look at some behavior data collection sheets and systems that might help you on the journey.

Scenario: Classroom teacher comes to you and says, “Little Johnny is always getting out of his seat and disrupting the class. I need you to tell me what to do to make him stop.” OK, most teachers aren’t usually this snarky, but you get the idea. You say, “So tell me how often it happens, in what situations, and how it’s address?” “I don’t know; it’s all the time!”

You need more information, don’t you? You can’t really develop a plan or really be helpful at all unless you have a clear picture of what’s going on. By taking some clean data, you will also then be able to talk to that teacher with objective measures: you will be able to demonstrate when the behavior is actually occurring, and when it is not! It’s a first step!

Antecedent Behavior Consequence Data better known as A-B-C

This is the most frequently used when you just need a quick snapshot of something going on, OR if you are not sure what behavior is the most prevalent or problematic. It’s not specific and will not give you good measurement when developing a plan, but it may shed insight into what is happening, when it’s happening, with whom, how often, etc. It’s also easy to learn, so you can show this to any para or teacher and with a little info, they’ll be able to capture at least some anecdotal information surrounding the behavior.

ABC data sheet

Or it can be more individualized and thorough, like this:

abc data collection sheet

Frequency or Rate Recording

This is data in which you tally each time the behavior occurs. For example, “Joe hit Jane 5 times.” This is the most frequently used type of data collection in our field. It is typically used for behaviors with a clear beginning and ending points (e.g., throwing pencil, using a word to request, completing a direction given, swearing). And it is typically used when the response looks similar each time it occurs. It should be a behavior that is easily counted.

The advantages are that this measurement gives the most accurate representation of the behavior. You’re recording it each time it occurs. When taken accurately, it’s reliable (all things equal, you get a similar result during different observation periods). The disadvantages are that it can be labor intensive, it’s sometimes impractical, and it may not provide sufficient information for analysis. Sometimes other measurements (e.g., duration, latency) may be a more important variable.

Rate is a form of frequency recording where you are tracking the frequency within a time interval. For example, “Joe hit Jane 5 times in 2 minutes.” I rarely take frequency data alone. It’s really always rate. I mean, I could say, “Joe hit Jane 5 times,” but maybe that’s over the course of two years! Or maybe it’s over the course of 2 minutes. The time parameter is sort of important to know.

When tracking data with rate, you must include the time interval in the definition, and it should be consistent. The result of the data is usually reported as number / unit of time, such as 5 instances in 10 minutes. You should also take the complexity of the task into account. K-I-S-S! Keep the definition simple and easy to identify in an observation so that you get the most reliable results. Break down the behavior into a smaller, observable piece that can be countable if you need to. Instead of a long definition on a tantrum, for example, maybe you track each instance of a self-injurious hit to the face.

frequency data sheet

Find other data collection ideas here

Duration Recording

Here we have data that is a calculation of the amount of time a behavior occurs. For example, Joe had a tantrum for 35 minutes. Of course, we need to first defined what a “tantrum” is for Joe, what it looks like, what is counted as a “start” and a “stop.” But, we’re interested in how long it lasts in an effort to decrease that length. This is typically used for behaviors that last too long or too short; the time is what we want to manipulate. Data is taken with stopwatch, timer, or watch.

Examples of good duration behaviors: Time spent on an activity, time engaged in a defined challenging behavior, time spent in contact with a feared stimulus, time engaged in task at the table, and social interactions.

Latency Recording

Response Latency is the amount of time after a specific stimulus has been given before the target behavior occurs. For example, the teacher gives direction to start work, Joe takes 2 minutes to pick up his pencil and start. Data is taken with stopwatch, timer, or watch. Good examples of response latency might be the time between delivery of an instruction and initiation of response (e.g., students who need lots of prompts to start a task) or the time to first response following exposure to feared stimulus (e.g., fear doing into the dentist office).


latency recording
latency recording

Rating Scale Recording

Sometimes there are behaviors you want to track that are not easily “counted” during an observation or may be loosey-goosey and difficult to train support staff how to capture. Such behavior may be considered on a rating scale. The behavior is defined and recorded on a scale.

rating scale

Independent Work

1=Unable to proceed with assignment at all, completely stuck

2=Needs almost complete prompting, para sitting real close, many errors

3=Needs lots of prompting and directions, some answers independently, para sitting near by

4=Once the task is understood, begins and does most of task independently, no more than 20% incorrect

5=Able to read the directions and complete work independently, asking for help no more than one time, para not sitting at table​

Rating Scale can be considered a discontinuous measurement depending on how it is defined. However, it only ever works if the behavior is defined at each level clearly. The rating is usually given at end of pre-determined interval. Problems with Rating Scale are that it depends on the recall of rater (you have to think back at how the learner did after the time has passed), and it is subjective unless the definition is very specific. However, it can be used to supplement interval recording or to measure social validity. I find it valuable to capture a general “how’s the learner doing” feeling and not a specific measurement that I would use in a behavior plan. Definitely more loosey-goosey, but I find times where it’s helpful to just get a quick snapshot.

rating scale

Percentage is also technically a continuous measurement procedure where you are expressing the count of a behavior as a percentage of overall opportunities. A word to say about percentages. This is the measurement I see most often used, particularly at school and in IEPs. A goal may be something like, “Johnny will ask for a break during a non-preferred activity 80% of the time.” So, my question is always, What if he only has one non-preferred activity in a day? If he asks for a break, it’s 100%; if he doesn’t, it’s 0%. What if the next day he has 10 non-preferred opportunities? What if he has 50? It changes the meaning of the data drastically.

Percentage is often is used incorrectly, simply given as a percentage with no standard measure of opportunities across time. It can be used, however. It is most accurate with divisor of 100 or more. Of course, that’s not usually possible in our teaching settings, but standardizing the divisor to even 10 over a standard of time (like 10 in a day) will make your data much more meaningful.

Check out the next blog for Discontinuous Measures such as Partial Interval Recording, Whole Interval Recording, Momentary Time Sample, and Permanent Product!

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Hi! I'm Audra!

I am a special education teacher, behavior analyst, and parent to an autistic adult. I love sharing the insights and resources I have gleaned over the past 25 years. Thanks for being here!




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