Skip to content

How to Collect Baseline Data

We know that baseline data is important to see a learner’s progress. In this blog, we’re talking about how to collect baseline data during skill acquisition programs. We go into a lot of ABA centers and ABA home programs. Most people collect baseline data – which is great! 

However, we’ve been into some programs that collect baseline data for literally weeks on end. There’s this huge stack of data on programs that kids can’t do or that they’ve mastered out of at 100%. In these moments we realized we need to chat more about baseline data. So, in this blog, we’ll be talking about specifically what is baseline data, how to collect baseline data ABA, and how to use baseline data effectively to check progress. 

What is Baseline Data?

Baseline data is really about collecting data to determine your teaching step. For instance, say we know from an assessment that a student cannot follow one step instructions. But maybe the student follows a few one step instructions. When we pull up a teaching program for this student, we really want to know what step to start on. 

So we might baseline the whole program to see if the student follows a few instructions. We can indicate which they already know so that we don’t teach them again and waste their time. That way we can get on to teaching what the student doesn’t already know. 

How is Baseline Data Collected?

There are a few baseline data collection methods, like the “follows one step instructions” program. When we set up a baseline program for “follows one step instructions” we are teaching one step instructions in a set of three. We test all of the suggested targets (one step instructions) to get a baseline for what the student knows and doesn’t know. 

First we make a baseline data sheet up with each of the targets. We test each of them and put a plus for every instruction they get right or a minus if they get it wrong. One step instructions are as simple as “high five” or “jump.” During this test we want to make sure we get some attending and set up some motivation as well. Once the sheet is complete we have our baseline. It doesn’t take very long to do this, maybe a minute or two.

Say for instance, we get a profile that has a lot of minuses but also some pluses after a test. We might just test a couple more times. Now maybe they weren’t attending when we said sit down, but the second time around, they actually did sit down. So we might test this one to two times depending on the program. If it’s an ”identifies colors” program and we know that they really don’t know colors we will go through very quickly. If it’s something that we think they do have a few instructions, we’ll spend a bit more time on it. We might spend an entire 10 minutes on it instead of 30 seconds or do it across another day if they’re having a tough day. But that’s it, only do it one to two days. And then we’ve got our baseline data. 

Testing vs Teaching – When to Reinforce Good Behavior

During baseline it’s really important not to reinforce particular skills. If we’re testing one step instructions, we’re not going to be reinforcing those things. If we say “wave hi” and the student waves bye, we won’t say “Wow, that’s great, you waved goodbye.” Because what’s happening is we’re risking reinforcing that behavior. This is okay when you’re teaching, but when you’re baselining you’re just getting an idea for what the skill is. 

But you can and should reinforce other things. You may want to reinforce things like sitting, attending or looking. You could pull in another program that they can do no problem. It’s a good idea to interchange what you’re testing and what you’re reinforcing during the baseline program.

How to Collect Baseline Data and Test the Skills

Once we have the data collected we graph it. We mark down the percentage of what the student was able to do and mark a change in condition. Then we can go on to our teaching sets. And we’ll mark the teaching percentages on the baseline data sheet as well.

Going back to the “follows one step instructions” method, let’s say the baseline data sheet lists the first teaching set as “high five,” “pick it up,” and “sit down.” We know from our baseline data that our student can do “high five” no problem but they can’t do “pick it up.” They can sometimes do “sit down,” but it’s not perfect. We don’t need to teach high five as it’s already mastered. So we’ll just teach “pick it up” and “sit down.” 

First we pretest set one by telling the student, “pick it up.” If the student errors we mark it as N for no. Then we say “sit down.” If the student errors again we mark that, and so on. We might say “sit down” again and if the student actually sits down we will mark Y for yes. 

You don’t want to correct during this or reinforce the test. Don’t ask for “pick it up” over and over and over again if the student doesn’t know it. We don’t want to frustrate the students. 

If the student keeps getting zero, we’re probably only going to do three trials so we don’t elicit negative behavior. Once we have our data we graph it. Then the next day we can start teaching. 


So just to summarize, we talked about what is baseline data and how to collect baseline data. You want to look at baseline data to show that your students made progress over time. Once your program is mastered, you can go back and redo that baseline again to show that the student has made that progress over time. 

Get your free baseline Reference Guide for more tips and tricks on how to collect baseline data.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Captcha loading...