Teachers and Principals’ Perspectives on Behavior Supports for Special Education Students: A Qualitative Case Study

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Special education teachers have faced increased pressure for students to achieve, make learning gains, and achieve individual education program (IEP) goals. Teachers face increased disruptions due to student misbehavior during instruction. The problem was classroom behaviors are becoming more frequently disruptive, particularly among special education students (Demchak et al., 2020). Teachers of special education students with behavioral challenges must professionally engage in best practices to engage students and have them succeed. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to determine if applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies improve IEP goal attainment, particularly concerning students with autism. Studies showed a gap in the literature about educators’ perceptions regarding ABA and student IEP goal attainment. The guiding research questions included gathering teachers’ perceptions of ABA and best practices. Transformational leadership and operant conditioning comprised the theoretical framework. A qualitative case study was used to investigate the problem statement. A sample size of 15 participants was recruited to represent special education teachers and administrators in a southwest Florida school district. Questionnaires and semistructured interviews were conducted. Data were analyzed and coded for themes. Four themes emerged: (a) ABA is exceedingly beneficial to student attainment of IEP goals, (b) ABA has some negative implications, (c) positive reinforcement, and (d) the use of visuals. Findings revealed opportunities for leaders to provide further training for teachers, set expectations for ABA staff, and revise school board policy as it relates to behavior strategies. Keywords: applied behavior analysis, behavior analytic strategies, individual education program, operant conditioning, punishment, reinforcement, self-contained classroom, transformational leadership theory