How to Give Preference Assessments
How to Give Preference Assessments

Preference Assessments

What is a preference assessment?

A preference assessment is just a tool that you can use to figure out what types of things your students like and dislike.  This allows you to use those items as reinforcers during the school day.  Preference assignments themselves can even be tiered!  The reinforcers that you find at the end of your assessments could fall into these categories: 

  • Highly-Preferred
  • Moderately-Preferred
  • Non-Preferred 
  • Disliked

You can even note in your data which reinforcer is which. 

Here are 5 tips that you can use when you start conducting preference assessments with your special education students. 

You can read more on what reinforcers are and how I organize them in this blog post here!

parent reinforcement survey to send home for preference assessment

Parental Input

The first thing that you are going to want to do is to send home a parent questionnaire or survey asking for their input on things that work well at home!

Parents know their children the best and might have things that you haven't even thought of, especially if this is a new student.   The list that the parents give you, may even be items that you already have in your classroom.  If not, you can always ask parents for an extra!

Student Preference Assessment printable

What is Your Inventory?

After sending home the parental input, go ahead and take inventory of all the different types of reinforcers that you have in your classroom.  I often loan out a lot of things and so this is a good time to see what is missing as well.  Go ahead and grab a blank checklist or you can grab this resource, my Simple Preference Assessments, and see what you have.

Once you have a list, you can start to divide them into categories or even by student. 

How to Give Preference Assessments

Conduct an Observational Assessment 

Once the parental form is returned and my inventory list is complete, I can start an informal, observational assessment with my students! 

Many times, I am working with students who are non-verbal and so it can be difficult to have a conversation with them to get to know their likes and dislikes.  

An informal observational assessment is when you are gathering data during free time.  The choices are not forced.  

For example, if Johnny has free time and chooses to play with Legos, tiny trucks, and the tablet during his free time, I would take data on those.  After a few weeks, you should have a good idea of what type of reinforcers Johnny would like.  

Printed on colored paper Student Preference Assessment printable

Conduct a Formal Observation

Formal preference assessments are a little bit different and are done in a controlled setting.  You basically have an array of different reinforcers at a table.  Then have the child sit directly across from you. 

When you have the reinforcers out on the table, ask the child to “take one”.  After the child has taken the item, make sure to remove the rest of the objects so the child doesn't have a chance to make another response.  Take data on what the child chose first.  You can do this again with the remaining objects to see what the child may choose.

I do this the most when I am trying to figure out edible reinforcers.  I would have about 10-15 different food items on the table and see what the child likes the most!

Reinforcer hierarchy for students after a preference assessment

Create a Hierarchy of Reinforcers

After you have given the preference assessments and you have finally nailed down all the different reinforcers that your students like and dislike, it's time to go through them and rank them!

A reinforcer hierarchy is used to increase student compliance and skill acquisition. When the preference assessment is established, a reinforcer matrix can finally be constructed. This matrix will be used to show the child’s reinforcers in form of a hierarchy—the hierarchy of reinforcers will be ranked as follows:

  • highly preferred
  • moderately preferred
  • less preferred
  • least preferred


Grab your Preference Assessments Forms Here!!!

If you are looking for more tools, to help with behavior, you can grab these really awesome token boards in my store!

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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