Module 4


Program Management and Advanced Data Collection

Becoming A Level 4 / Program Management

Becoming a Level 4

When you started working in the field of ABA much of what you were doing was rule-governed or verbally mediated. In other words, you did not have the language memorized, you needed your supervisor to model the procedures for you, you had lots of questions and you frequently needed to read the procedures while running the program.

By now however, many of these procedures have become contingency shaped. You can discriminate between a mand and a tact without reading the description of each. You can run the program on the child’s program board without reading the procedures and you are asking the supervisor less questions. It is easy at this point to stop reading procedures, reviewing consult notes or reading about ABA. Don’t! No matter how much experience you have, the nature of this field is individualized data-driven programs, so you always want to keep learning. More importantly, as Level 4 it now becomes your responsibility to oversee the program when the BCBA/consultant is not present, particularly if the program does not have a LV5 on staff.

That said, let’s review some of the topics discussed in previous modules:

  • Ethics of Applied Behavior Analysis:
    • Professionalism – Always treat your clients and their families with respect. Be conscious of their culture, religion and house rules. Also, keep in mind that they are parents 24 hours per day and that they are emotionally dealing with the stress of having a child with special needs. They have a very hard job, be mindful of that when providing feedback and support.
    • Be Objective and Behavioral – As you work in-home it is easy to become personally involved with the families. While this is acceptable, you have to remember that you are a professional and that you need to maintain your objective and behavioral thinking. Subjective thinking can be extremely counterproductive to your work as an ABA tutor. It makes it very easy for you to start taking things personally and get frustrated with your clients. This is detrimental to your ability to function as an ABA provider. No matter what your relationship with the family, when you are on the clock, you need to be professional and think like a behavior analyst.
  • Behavior Plan:
      Always refer to the behavior plan, progress reports and consultation notes for details on the goals being targeted, the data collection expectations and mastery criteria. Some of this information is also available on the skill tracking sheet. A copy of these documents should always be in the data book and should be used frequently as a reference.
    • Verbal Operants:
      • Manding – Remember that you cannot teach a mand if the child does not have an EO for the item/object/activity. This does not necessarily mean that the child will control all mand training, rather think of ways to contrive an EO for the item/object/action you want to teach.
      • Confusing imitation with receptive and receptive with tact.
      • Imitation: Sd is “do this” or a variation plus a visual model
      • Receptive: Sd is action or demand placed, i.e. clap, touch ___, show me ___, find ____, sit down. For a receptive command, no vocal response is required.
      • Tact: Labeling an object. Sd is “what this?” or tact can be spontaneous “It’s a car!” Do not confuse spontaneous labels with manding for attention, for example “Look, I see a car” is both, because “look!” is the mand for attention and “I see a car” is a tact with autoclitics.
    • Ratio of Mastered vs. New:
        Whether probing or teaching, you should always remember to intersperse mastered goals. The presence of new or returning escape behaviors are often a good indication that you are presenting to many acquisition targets. This is a common error, particularly when a child is acquiring skills quickly and under great instructional control. As much as possible maintain at least a 70% mastered, 30% new ration.
  • Probing and Teaching:
      If you’ve probed a target and it is incorrect or prompted, make sure to contrive opportunities to teach the target throughout the session. A child will not acquire a new skill without it being taught. It is important to contrive many opportunities to teach a target and track the child’s progress. If the child continues gettings (-) or (P)s we may have to modify our teaching procedures.
  • Transfer and Correction Procedures (Module 2):
      ABA is about contriving opportunities to teach a skill, using transfer procedures to teach a new skill and using correction procedures to correct a response and then transfer it to the independent. Whether you are teaching in the NET or doing an ITT session, remember to always use transfer and correction procedures.

Program Management:

All decisions made in an Applied Behavior Analysis program are data-driven and objective. While programs vary greatly from child to child and are highly individualized based on the child’s needs, the basic data collection process remains the same across all programs. All programs use some basic assessment tools for the development of the treatment/behavior plan and many programs have a data book.

  • Data Book:
      Used to store all program related paperwork. Used by the parents, ABA tutors, BCBAs/consultants and other professionals to review child’s mastered skills and current goals.
  • Assessments:
      Used to determine the child’s current skill set and determine long term and short term goals to be targeted.
      Assessments that behaviorally describe goals. Also include specific graphs that track progress and behaviorally describe targets.
  • Treatment Plan/Behavior Plan:
      Document describing child’s program including the child’s history, long term and short term goals, mastery criteria and often previously/recently mastered goals.
  • Progress Report/Updated Treatment Plan:
      Follow-up to the treatment/behavior plan which is typically completed quarterly or semi-annually to show progress and mastery of current goals and the addition of new goals.
  • Consult Notes:
      Review and update of the child’s program. Created by the consultant. Should be reviewed and implemented by the staff.
  • Teaching procedures:
      Describe how to probe and teach each program, often include example and target ideas.
  • Program Board:
      Used to keep track of currently targeted skills. The databook will often contain the current and previous program boards (at least 1 month), so that staff can determine mastery, monitor progress and when necessary make changes to the goals. For example if a goal is not being mastered, it may be because it is not being taught consistently or maybe the teaching procedure needs to be reassessed.
  • Skill Tracking Sheet:
      Used to keep track all targets from a specific program. Consists of: Child’s name, Program name, Initial Sd, Mastery critierion, Targets, Intro Date, Mastery Date. The skill tracking list will list mastered and current targets and is a good place to put future targets, so ABA tutors can quickly add new targets to the program board in the absence of the LV4, LV5 or consultant.
  • Data Sheets:
      Some programs may acquire separate data collection, i.e. ABC Data, Mand data, specific programs that require multiple trials. Since these programs involve collecting significant amount of data, the data is often collected on a separate data sheet, which is then analyzed. For example when reviewing ABC data, we will try to find a trend in the antecendents and consequences occurring with specific problem behaviors.
  • Graphs:
      If a program is run trial-by- trial or if data is collected in percentages or on rate or frequency, you may choose to collect it in a graph, so that trends can be quickly determined. Trends help guide the decision making. Typically 3 increase lines means continue, 3 decreasing line or flat lines means stop or change procedure. If there is not steady trend, we wait for 5 lines and look at the overall trend.
    As a Level 4 tutor you will be responsible for the majority of the program management and data book maintenance. You will be responsible for some assessment related tasks, program board creation/management, skill tracking management (LV3 and LV4 are responsible for updating skill tracking sheets), data sheet and graph creation and management.


Most assessments have clear descriptions and directions making them easy to complete. The best way to get good at assessments is practice. If you’ve worked with the child for an extensive time period or the child has a comprehensive databook, assessment updates may be completed as simply as reviewing the skill tracking sheet. Other times you will need to actually probe the skill to determine if the child has it in his/her repertoire. Advance preparation of materials and familiarizing yourself with the goals is the easiest way to complete successful probes.

Creating Program Boards

There is no set look for a program board, rather it should be set-up in whatever way makes data collection the easiest. Our templates typically either use the operants or ABLLS goals as headers (some programs focus on “academic, verbal, social and self-help skills”).

For early learners the focus is generally manding/requesting and since much of the teaching is done in the NET, you may choose to use an NET board where data is transferred from Mand to Receptive to Tact to Intraverbal (includes RFFC to TFFC to IFFC). Once you start focusing on other operants and goals, it may be easier to use the program headers.

Some program boards are created for weekly data collection, while others are created for daily data collection. This decision really depends on the team, frequency of sessions and number of targets. The important things to remember to include are: Company’s name, child’s Name, child’s DOB, Program, Targets, data collection form (I/P, multiple trials or tallies), Initials, Notes section and signature line.

Attached are a few examples of program boards, which are also available electronically. Microsoft Excel is probably the best program to use to create program boards. Recently we have also started collecting data electronically using google documents. A sample program board can be found on google docs.

Program Board Updates: LV3 tutors typically update the targets on the program board, but it is the LV4’s responsibility to update the program board if the progress report states the removal, modification or addition of an entirely new program.

Skill tracking

As a LV4 it is also your responsibility to ensure the skill tracking sheet has targets. Targets should be based on relevance of target, targets already in the child’s repertoire, the child’s EO and the results of assessments and evaluations.


There are many templates available for datasheets. If you need to create a brand new datasheet the basic rules to follow are: 1.keep it simple and 2. include company’s name, a place to record the child’s name, DOB, space to record the target, the probe data –single, trial-by-trial, interval- and the date and staff name or initials.


Electronic graphing with excel is the easiest way to create graphs. Graphs are typically used to display percentage, fluency or rate data.

Advanced Data Collection

Mastery of Targets

As a Level 3 you learned to add/remove targets to the program board and record mastered items on the skill tracking sheet. As a level 4, you will be responsible for monitoring mastery of targets and ensuring targets are consistently being probed, taught and correctly being mastered and added. For example, if a goal is on the program board for a month and has not yet been mastered, you will need to review the data to determine if it is because the goal is never being probed and/or taught or if it is the teaching procedure that needs to be modified to better suit the child’s needs. You will also be responsible for adding new targets to the program board or skill tracking sheet if none are available for the long term goals.

Mastery Criteria

As a Level 3, you started mastering targets based on the mastery criteria listed in the treatment/behavior plan or on the skill tracking sheet. As a level 4, you will typically adhere to the same mastery criteria, although at times you may choose to modify the mastery criteria based on specific short term goals. For example, the long term goals may say “(Name) will receptively identify 20 parts of an object correctly on the 1st probe of the day for 3 consecutive sessions” and “(Name” will correctly label 20 parts of an object on the 1st probe of the day for 3 consecutive sessions.” These goals indicate a transfer hierarchy from receptive to tact for parts of object. If you notice that the child acquires the receptive response after 1-2 teaching sessions and then quickly acquires the label, you may choose to modify the short term goal mastery to “1 I for receptive responses” and “3 Is for tact responses” or “3 Is for label and then single probe receptive for mastery” (so you skip teaching the receptive because the data has shown that the child requires the receptive quickly and actually requires it when you teach the tact).

Setting Short Term Goals

Many times the consultant or BCBA will write up the treatment/behavior plan to include long and short term goals. Occasionally, they will only describe the long term goal or record the ABLLS-R or other assessment codes. In this case, it is your responsibility to determine and/or write up the short term goals related to the described long term goal. Writing these goals may seem difficult, but since goals are often based on assessments like the ABLLS-R and VB-Mapp, you can use these as your guidelines. The creation of short term goals can be divided into 3 categories, simple goals, intermediate goals and complex goals. The BCBA, consultant or Level 5 will most likely be responsible for the complex goals, but it is useful to know how to write them.

Simple Goals

Setting simple short term goals may include writing the goals or simply determining targets to cover the long term goal. For example, if the long term goal is “(Name) will label 20 body parts on the 1st probe of the day for 3 consecutive sessions” then the short term goals will be “(Name) will label X body part on the 1st probe of the day for 3 consecutive sessions” and you will determine which body parts to target. Determining what body parts to target, will be based on what is most useful for the child, i.e. ankle, wrist and hip are probably less useful than hand, foot and eyes, so you may choose to target those basic body parts first. Here is a sample of 20 body parts you may choose to target: head, mouth, eyes, nose, ears, hand, foot, leg, arm, hair, tummy, back, fingers, toes, knee, shoulders (useful for the song), neck, cheek, chin, elbow.

Intermediate Goals

If the long term goal is “(Name) will respond to 6 personal information questions on the 1st probe of the day for 3 consecutive sessions” you will have to determine what personal information questions to target. For example, you may set the short term goals (STO-short term objective) as STO1: “(Name) will respond to questions about his name and age on the 1st probe of the day for 3 consecutive sessions” and STO2: “(Name) will responds to questions about sibling’s name and pet’s name” and STO3 “(Name) will respond to questions about his telephone number and city where he lives.” Determining which 6 personal information questions to target will be based on the family’s needs, personal safety factors and the child’s skill level, i.e. if the child can’t even say their first name, don’t focus on last name as one of the first questions. It may also turn out that while the long term goal states that the child will know 6 personal information questions, the family actually wants the child to learn his first name, last name, age, birth date, sibling’s name, parents’ names, pet’s name, phone number, city where he lives, state where he lives and name of his school (12 questions). In this case, the long term goal will eventually be modified, but if the child masters 6 questions before this is done, you can continue adding personal information questions without waiting for the consultant to update the plan to say “Will respond to 12 personal information questions.”

Complex Goals

Typically the consultant or LV5 instructor will develop the complex goals, but it is a good idea to start working with the LV5 or consultant to gain experience setting multiple types of short term goals.

Once you get to the higher functioning and more complex goals, determining short term goals may be a little more complicated. For example if the long term goal is “(Name) will correctly respond to where questions at least 5 times per day” it is easy to think “we’ll just make sure we target 5 where questions every day,” but you have to make sure you are tracking mastery and contriving situations to teach the questions, so it is easier to actually set short term goals. There are a wide variety of WH questions. For example, you can ask “Where is the book?” (literal), “Where was Nemo? (reading comprehension), “Where do you live?” (simple intraverbal), “Where do you sleep?” (simple intraverbal), “Where do you think she is?” (can be inference question if descriptors provided) or “Where does your mom want to go?” (complex intraverbal requiring some social skills).

Setting short term goals will be based on the child’s skill level and on the description provided in the treatment plan. For a child who is just starting with Where questions, it would be useful to use verbal modules referring to everyday routines, i.e. shower, eating, watching tv, swinging so you might set the STOs as “will respond to what, where, who and when questions related to taking a shower for 2 consecutive sessions.” If the WH questions are related to reading comprehension or listening comprehension, you may target specific books as STOs (i.e. Matt & Molly curriculum).

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