FCAT testing guides unread

Barbara Heggaton testified she thought restating questions was allowed.

Published May 22, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Moon Lake Elementary teacher Barbara Heggaton made her bid Monday to avoid becoming the first Pasco County teacher fired for helping students on the FCAT.

Her argument went something like this:

Heggaton said she believed the testing procedures allowed her to restate FCAT questions for three third-grade special education students, who qualify for extra assistance on the test. If that was incorrect, she told the School Board during a five-hour hearing, no one told her during training to give the exam.

Never, Heggaton said, did she ever intend to cheat on the test.

"I really didn't think they were possibly going to pass the FCAT, " she said of her students, who she described as having a first-grade reading ability. "I just wanted to make it as pleasant ... How do I say it? As successful as I could possibly do."

In defending the recommendation to fire Heggaton, superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff held steadfast to one simple tenet: Ignorance of the rules is no excuse to violate them.

And the rules, they pointed out with manuals and other documents, clearly state that rewording FCAT exam questions for students is strictly forbidden. If Heggaton had read the manuals or asked questions of her school testing coordinator - things she admitted not to have done - perhaps she would have known better, they suggested.

"She's a professional. First time, last time, every time should be done correctly, " Fiorentino said, insisting that it did not matter that Heggaton never had proctored the FCAT before.

As to whether Heggaton willfully and knowingly violated the rules, Fiorentino said simply, "When you don't follow the procedures, that's willfully. When you are given the manual and you don't follow the instructions, that's willfully."

The story runs along this line.

Heggaton, who has taught special education for 20 years including five in Pasco, administered her first FCAT exam this year. On Feb. 28, a teacher's aide was getting a drink of water when, through a door, she overheard Heggaton leading students on the test.

"I heard her say, 'Why did you change that answer when you had it right? Don't you know the test affects your future?' " aide Karen Middleton told the board.

Middleton found school behavior specialist Fred Monfett, who came to listen, too. He said he heard her say she couldn't give an answer, but then restate a question about congruent triangles and tell the students the definition of "congruent."

Though he didn't know the exact question, Monfett said, "I think giving the definition is like giving the answer."

The two reported what they heard to the principal's office right away. The principal and her staff quickly began an investigation. That included having district testing administrator Madeline Barbery come to the school to interview the students.

All quickly came to the same conclusion, that Heggaton had improperly helped the children. The children's tests were invalidated, but that did not change whether they will be retained or promoted.

Principal Donna Busby, who sat in the student interviews, said one thing stood out in her mind - one of the students told Barbery that Heggaton "helped on the easy ones and he didn't want help on those, he wanted to do those by himself."

Heggaton explained that she believed the children's individual education plans gave her some leeway in administering the math test in question. Those plans say that the teacher can restate test directions, and allows for reading questions aloud, she said. So she assumed that rephrasing a question was acceptable.

"I was taking the same question and taking the same words and putting them in a different order. That's what I was doing, " she said.

The administration's lawyer, Tammie Rattray, pointed out that the testing manual allows for clarifying directions and not questions. Said Heggaton: "I'm aware of it now."

Rattray and Heggaton's lawyer, Melissa Mihok, have 15 days to submit final documents and proposed findings of fact to the School Board. The board is scheduled to deliberate on the matter at 4 p.m. June 19.

Heggaton remains suspended without pay.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Q & A

Teacher: Barbara Heggaton

What did she do?

She's accused of having rephrased FCAT questions for students and told one he got an answer wrong, against state procedures.

What does she say?

"I was taking the same question and taking the same words and putting them in a different order. That's what I was doing."

What's at stake?

Heggaton, the 2004-05 teacher of the year at Moon Lake Elementary, could lose her job. She has taught in the Pasco district for five years.

What's next?

The School Board will deliberate Heggaton's fate at its June 19 meeting.