February 21, 2023

Discrete Trial Training Data Sheets: Free Templates and Best Practices

Author:
April Torres, M.Ed., BCBA
Discrete Trial Training Data Sheets

The success of a discrete trial training (DTT) program depends on accurate data collection. Clinicians use data to track progress and provide the best care. Learn about DTT data best practices and check out expert tips in this comprehensive guide.

Inside this article:

Discrete Trial Training Data Sheets:Free Templates and Best Practices

What Is a DTT Data Sheet?

Clinicians use a DTT data sheet to record what happens during a discrete trial training session. The data sheets include the patient response, prompt type, and summary data. Clinicians use DTT data sheets to track a patient’s progress and support decision-making.

“Discrete trial training (DTT) is a foundational intervention for ABA,” says Katherine Jester, MS, BCBA, LBA. “It is one of the major types of treatment that has been shown to create lasting behavior change for individuals with autism.”
Katherine Jester, MS, BCBA, LBA

Data sheets break down an applied behavioral analysis (ABA) session into variables that the board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) or technician will track. DTT lends itself well to data collection because the treatment is systematic, repeated, and well-defined. In each trial, a clinician helps a patient with autism practice a skill, like identifying a color or pronouncing a word. Then, the clinician uses the data sheet to track progress over time and determine whether the patient can move on to the next target behavior. Over the long term, BCBAs can use data collection to glean generalizable information about a particular learned skill or behavior.

Why Are Discrete Training Data Sheets Important?

Discrete trial training data sheets represent a critical part of any DTT strategy. Clinicians analyze the data to monitor progress and inform future targets. ABA clinic owners can use the data to validate claims and train new employees.

“DTT data collection is important for clinical quality assurance and treatment fidelity, payor documentation, training purposes, and tracking client progress,” Jester notes. “Without good data on the interventions you’re performing, you can’t prove to any stakeholder that the services are worthwhile.”

Here's a summary of the primary ways BCBAs, ABA owners, and others use DTT training sheets:

  • Monitoring patient progress and measuring outcomes

    Informed, accurate data will strengthen the power and effectiveness of any treatment, including DTT. Without collecting data, a BCBA will rely on memory to track a patient’s progress and identify challenges. With a data sheet, clinicians immediately see when the patient masters a skill and is ready for a treatment change. Without these data points, a patient will progress more slowly because the clinician cannot determine the appropriate difficulty level.

  • Identifying challenges

    BCBAs analyze data sheets to identify roadblocks or persistent challenges. For example, if a patient fails to produce the desired behavior five sessions in a row, the BCBA may adjust the treatment. Data collection helps a BCBA identify challenges as quickly as possible.

  • Communicating with patients’ therapists and family

    Clinicians can use data sheets to illustrate a patient’s progress to the patient’s family or other doctors. These data sheets will help the BCBA justify their decisions to others involved in the patient’s care, like therapists or doctors.

  • Quality assurance and payor documentation

    Data sheets are a powerful way to illustrate the effectiveness of ABA treatments in insurance claims. Because DTT represents one of the primary ABA interventions, demonstrating the efficacy and typical treatment length of DTT helps prove that ABA services are worth the investment.

What to Include in a DTT Data Collection Sheet?

A DTT data collection sheet should include general information about the patient and therapist. Each sheet will have a section to record a patient’s response, prompts, and reinforcers. Also, include a section to record session summary data or notes.

Jester summarizes the important categories in a data collection sheet below:

  • General information
    • Informed, accurate data will strengthen the power and effectiveness of any treatment, including DTT. Without collecting data, a BCBA will rely on memory to track a patient’s progress and identify challenges
    • With a data sheet, clinicians immediately see when the patient masters a skill and is ready for a treatment change. Without these data points, a patient will progress more slowly because the clinician cannot determine the appropriate difficulty level.
    • Date and time
    • Session duration
    • Therapist name
  • Goal information
    • Target Behavior
    • Stimulus
    • Prompt types
  • Patient responses

    Jester advises that "the way you record responses and prompts will vary greatly depending on the type of program and the types of data you’re tracking. Some types of data collection may require an exact response, whereas others may use a “+” or “-” system.”

  • Summary data

    Percent correct responses for target behavior. Some clinicians choose to graph these data points for visual analysis.

  • Evaluation data

    Include notes on whether the patient improved, stayed the same, or regressed compared with prior performance for this target.

Different Approaches to DTT Data Collection Sheets

Clinicians take different approaches to structuring and filling out DTT data collection sheets. Some use electronic sheets, while others record manually. Some record more data, while others prefer to minimize any disruption from notetaking. Most calculate the patient’s percentage of correct responses in a “percent of opportunities” system.

All DTT data collection sheets include sections where clinicians record a patient’s responses. Most summarize those responses with the percentage method. For example, if a child answered correctly five out of ten times, that’s 50% of the opportunities.

However, the specific structure of a data sheet can vary based on the clinician’s preferences, which data they find most important, and whether they’re recording data manually or with an electronic system.  For example, some clinicians prefer taking data as often as possible to yield accurate results. Others prioritize efficient sessions and don’t record the response after every trial to minimize interruptions to the session.

Researchers address DTT data collection approaches in a 2011 paper titled “A Comparison of Methods for Collecting Data on Performance During Discrete Trial Training” in the journal Behavior Analysis in Practice. They write: “Methods that provide greater prevision (e.g., recording the prompt level needed one each instructional trial) are less practical than methods with less precision (e.g., recording the presence or absence of a correct response on the first trial only.)”

Here’s a more detailed look at customizing how you collect and record DTT data:

  • Discontinuous vs. continuous recording

    In the Behavior Analysis in Practice paper, the researchers compare continuous and discontinuous data collection. In continuous recording, "the instructor may record the learner’s performance on every learning trial during teaching sessions." In contrast, in discontinuous recording, "the instructor may record the outcome of just a sample of instructional trials." The researchers also note, "Relative to discontinuous recording, continuous recording may provide a more sensitive measure of changes in performance. On the other hand, discontinuous recording is more efficient and may be easier for practitioners to use than continuous recording." Overall, they "recommend the use of continuous recording if ease and efficiency of data collection are not a top concern."

  • Specific vs. unspecific recording

    Some clinicians record specific values for every variable, including the prompt type. Others find that they don’t need data on the specific prompt. Researchers from the 2011 paper call these two types of data collection "specific" and "nonspecific." They write: "Specific recording may increase the sensitivity of the measurement system to changes in the learner’s performance. Instructors, however, may find nonspecific recording easier to use because less information is documented." Most clinicians like to use specific, continuous data collection where they record the response and prompt for each trial.

  • Method of recording variables (response and prompt)
    • Abbreviated variablesOn some DTT collection sheets, clinicians split a response into discrete variables indicating whether the patient responded correctly or incorrectly. Usually, a BCBA or technician enters, checks off, or circles an abbreviation after the patient responds. Here are common ways that BCBAs annotate a patient’s response and prompt. Note: this list is not exhaustive, and many ABA clinics use their own system of abbreviations.
      • (+) sign signifies "correct," and a (-) sign indicates incorrect.
      • "C" for "correct," "NR" for "no response," and "IC" for incorrect.
      • A checkmark indicates a correct response. No checkmark indicates an incorrect response.
      • Common prompt abbreviations include “c” for cue, “v” for verbal and “g” for gesture.
    • Free response variableSome clinicians prefer a blank box to write a specific response or prompt.
    • Blank cell formatHere, the BCBA writes the patient’s response in a blank cell.
  • Programs per day vs. multiple days per program
    • Program per dayMost ABA clinics use data sheets that track the progress of a single DTT program across multiple dates
    • Multiple days per programIn classroom settings, you may encounter data sheets that organize multiple days across a single program. These sheets suit classroom settings where programs don’t last long or different people take data every day.
  • Mode of collection

    Today, most ABA technicians use software to collect data. Some experts consider electronic data collection methods less prone to error and easier to analyze.

  • Graphing

    Some BCBAs collect data directly onto a graph to easily see progress and identify challenges. Usually, the clinician collects the data electronically, and the software creates an immediate graph. Graphing by hand is uncommon.

Free Discrete Trial Training Data Sheet Templates

Your data collection system should be designed to help you offer your clients the best level of care. No single data system will work for every clinician. Explore our free, printable data collection templates to find your preferred method.

Download these free and printable discrete trial training data sheet templates:

Best Practices for DTT Data Collection

Follow data collection best practices to ensure high-quality data. For example, technicians should define their trial success and failure criteria before recording data. Also, create a set of data collection guidelines to ensure all technicians collect data the same way.

First, you should follow best practices for data collection in general. These practices include defining variables and abbreviations, preparing material beforehand, and establishing a system for correcting errors.

Here are the best practices for DTT data collection from Jester:

  • Ensure all your staff understands the different stimuli and target responses.
  • Regularly supervise your staff to ensure that everyone follows clinic and case data collection guidelines.
  • Capture accurate data for each trial.
  • Establish clear error correction procedures with staff.
  • Follow minimum and maximum trial numbers.
  • Ensure that reinforcers are varied and valuable to the child.
  • Regularly monitor and analyze data to inform each patient’s DTT program.

Along with these tips, consider collecting data digitally with robust practice management software.

Electronic DTT Data Collection Vs. Manual DTT Data Collection

Data collection software speeds up data collection, can reduce human error, and quickly graphs your data. However, some clinicians manually collect data so they can customize their sheets. Also, electronic data can be lost if a server malfunctions and it’s not backed up, although that’s less common these days.

A growing number of ABA clinics have adopted practice management software that digitizes large parts of a practice, including data collection. This trend remains strong for a good reason: Digital systems can automate tedious tasks to save you time and money that you can reallocate toward patient care or clinic growth.

Both paper-and-pencil and electronic data collection produce high levels of accuracy, according to a 2022 paper, “Accuracy of paper-and-pencil systematic observations versus computer-aided systems,” published in Behavior Research Methods.

One person who welcomes the transition to electronic transition is Penelope Johnson, Ed.D, BCBA. She holds a doctorate in neuroeducation from Johns Hopkins University with over 15 years of clinical experience working with children and adolescents on the autism spectrum.

“Technology is embedded in our daily lives,” says Johnson. “It is only natural for the field to turn to electronic data collection. Everyone has a phone or iPad and can easily input qualitative or quantitative information. Many of the data points we collect are based on observation, which can be difficult to record accurately. Also, different providers working with the client may use different methods of recording. An electronic collection system provides a standard, established means to document data. Electronic collection also helps organize, graph and analyze data so that the provider can make treatment decisions informed by the data leading to improved outcomes.”
Penelope Johnson, Ed.D, BCBA


Although most BCBAs today swear by electronic data collection, some continue to collect data manually. Jester uses practice management software to collect data electronically. But Jester also has first-hand experience with manual data collection.

Here's Jester’s list of the pros and cons of electronic data collection:

Pros:

  • The software stores the data electronically, and clinicians can retrieve data quickly.
  • You can graph data easily for visual analysis.
  • You can perform treatment fidelity checks quickly to ensure that all technicians are recording the data in the same way.
  • You can date and time stamp the trials and attach the provider’s name.
  • The clinician can update the relevant DTT programs and procedures electronically.

Cons:

  • If the software is unintuitive and difficult to use, you may need to train staff extensively, or clinicians may not use the software correctly.
  • Some rigid software may not allow clinicians to customize data collection.
  • Poor software may have a limited selection of prompt types.
  • Most significantly, software with an unreliable server may cause you to lose critical data and documentation. You can avoid this with proper setup.
Advantages of Electronic Data Collection


How Artemis ABA Practice Management Software Improves Data Collection

Artemis ABA practice management software adapts your practice to a digital space. Secure data collection systems integrate seamlessly into the software. The intuitive system offers many customizations and clear data inputs for DTT and other interventions.  

The Artemis practice management software can play a vital role in both patient progress and clinic growth. With this integrated data collection system, you won’t need to worry about spanning your practice across multiple software systems.

For example, Penelope Johnson previously used practice management software and a separate electronic data collection system.  

“It was time-consuming to cross-check and ensure we had documentation supporting each appointment before the claim was submitted,” Johnson says. “Combining practice management with electronic data is a huge time-saver.”

Katherine Jester is another Artemis fan. She praises the Artemis ABA data collection platform

“Artemis has visual reminders for minimum and maximum trials per target, it has clear and intuitive buttons for inputting data, and it has unlimited, completely customizable prompt types. Technicians can navigate at the domain, skill, or target level and build intervention plans. Finally, Artemis uses the Salesforce cloud, which boasts an impressive 99.9% uptime — you won’t need to worry about losing data or documentation.”

Digitize your practice and gain a 360-degree view of your business with Artemis ABA.


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