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Taking Effective Data: Frequency and Rate

taking iep data

Continuing our look at the RBT™ Task List, we are looking at A-02 Continuous Measurement procedures which is probably the most used method in school if you’re taking any direct observation data. These include ABC data collection, frequency or count, rate, latency, and a few more. Let's look at FREQUENCY and RATE procedures.

WHAT is frequency count and rate in ABA?

Frequency (also known as Event Recording) is data in which you tally each time the behavior occurs. It is the most frequently used type of data collection. 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). It is best used when the response looks similar each time it occurs. It is probably preferred because it can be easily counted.

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Are rate and frequency the same?

Almost. Frequency is the COUNT of a defined behavior, and Rate is the COUNT per INTERVAL.


Joe hit Jane 5 times. FREQUENCY

Joe hit Jane 5 times in 2 minutes. RATE

Rate is a form of frequency measure, just giving it more definition and perspective. Instead of just telling the number of instances something happens, you then know how many instances within what period of time.

If I said, “I ate 100 chocolate bars,” dang! That seems like a lot! But if I said, “I ate 100 chocolate bars over 10 years,” well, that sounds more normal. Maybe in one year for me. 🙂

What are the advantage and disadvantages for using frequency and rate?


  • Most accurate representation of when a behavior is happening. With a good definition and accurate observation, you capture it each time it happens.
  • When taken accurately, it’s reliable (all things equal, you get similar results during different observation periods).



  • Labor intensive. Takes solid preparation beforehand, trained staff, opportunities, and methods to record.
  • It can be impractical. Sometimes you can’t watch for every instance!
  • It may not provide sufficient information for analysis. Other measurements (e.g., duration, latency) may have more important variable like how long a behavior is happening or how intense it is.

HOW do you determine what you are counting?

  • Behavior that the team determines needs to INCREASE or DECREASE. Heck, don’t spend your time on tracking behavior if things are currently smooth sailing unless you think something needs to change!
  • Observable behavior. It has to be something you can SEE. An internal event can’t be tracked.
  • Clearly defined (operational definition). Clearly state what the beginning of the behavior looks and what the end is:
    1. Instead of “calling out,” make it “first vocalization on- or off-topic during group without a hand raise, not counted more than 1 time each 10 seconds”
    2. Instead of “self-injury,” make it “hits thigh with closed fist at least 3 times in a row, counted 1 for every 10 seconds if continuous”
  • Make sure the definition is shared with your team, that they are trained to identify what is considered countable (that they count the same thing no matter who sees it or where it happens), and that they have the time and equipment to track it in the moment. No going back and trying to guess how many times something happened!

HOW is frequency calculated?

Can be expressed as a percentage to be most accurate and useful. You probably see this the MOST in IEPs or other goals.

Considerations for using percentage

Percentage may be misleading. It has limited use because has it has no dimensional quantity. I mean, if the goal is to throw trash in the trash can 80% of the time, and the student does it ONE time correctly, that is 100%. If they do it correctly once but were given 100 opportunities, that’s 1%. Very different, but the count of correct responses was the same.

Percentage is most accurate with divisor of 100 or more, but I recognize that’s crazy impossible at school, so I try to encourage at least 10 opportunities before a percentage is calculated.

Here’s how you calculate it:

# of occurrences divided by # of opportunities

Urinates in toilet when taken on 60-minute interval

Day 1: went 3 of the 5 times taken: 3 / 5 = 60%

Day 2: went 2 of the 5 times taken: 2 /5 = 40%

Day 3: went 4 of the 6 times taken: 4 / 6 = 67%

Example of Frequency Raw Data Collection Entry

frequency count example

HOW is rate calculated?

Depending on how big of an interval you are using, rate is often expressed as a whole number or decimal. If you are calculating how many times a student hits during circle time, you might calculate number of times for each 5-minute interval. If you are calculating how many times a student independently goes to the bathroom in a day, you might use 6.5-hour interval. If you are calculating the number of times a student can produce the “sh” sound in a short period, you might use a 10-second interval. So decide on an interval that fits the behavior that will give you the best measure to see change over time.

Here’s how you calculate it:

# of occurrences divided by # of intervals

Correct single-digit addition math problems during silent work

Day 1: 10 problems during 13 minutes: 10 / 13 = .77/minute

Day 2: 7 problems during 10 minutes: 7 / 10 = .7/minute

Day 3: 14 minutes during 17 minutes: 14 / 17 = .82/minute

Example of Rate Raw Data Collection Entry

rate example

WHAT do you do with the information?

  • Gather baseline data
  • Implement a strategy and measure change
  • Re-evaluate success of strategy and make a change if needed
  • Go back to #2 and repeat until you hit your goal
  • Gather reporting or final evaluation data
  • Choose a new goal and keep going!

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Building off of a previous resource (preschool IEP goal bank) you can FIND HERE, this is one whopper of a resource for any special education teacher for students preschool through 1st grade developmentally. Many of these goals are aligned with the ABLLS-R™ assessment. Printable PDF and EDITABLE PowerPoint™ versions for your versatility!

special education materials

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