tampabay.com

FCAT missteps justify teacher losing her job

By Times editorial
Published May 29, 2007


Teacher Barbara Heggaton offered a litany of reasons for her shoddy performance proctoring the state's standardized test for a trio of special-education third-graders at Moon Lake Elementary in late February.

She thought what she did was permissible.

No.

She wasn't properly trained.

Nice try.

The kids weren't going to pass anyway, so she wanted to make it as pleasant as possible for them.

Right.

Heggaton provided everything but the dog-ate-my-homework excuse for assisting the children during the math portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

It is an unfortunate shirking of her responsibilities as an educator.

What Heggaton did went beyond reading directions aloud to the children as is permitted for special-education children. At least once, she provided the definition of the vocabulary used in a question and gave the correct answer to another after inquiring why a student had changed his original response to a wrong answer.

Both instances were overheard by other educators. In addition, one child said afterward that Heggaton offered help even when he didn't need it. He'll never know how he did because the security breach invalidated his test.

State law says teachers may "repeat, clarify or summarize test directions, " not the questions. Specific instructions to teachers list prohibited activities as "interpreting or reading test items for students" and "changing or otherwise interfering with students' responses to test items."

The directions are clear. But Heggaton admitted she never read them. Nor did she contact the school's testing coordinator for instructions or clarification. But, ignorance became her defense last week as she fought a recommendation from superintendent Heather Fiorentino that the School Board fire Heggaton.

The School Board is scheduled to consider the recommendation next month. The punishment is severe, but it is difficult to challenge Fiorentino's reasoning.

Most disappointing is the failed proctoring assignment - Heggaton's first - contradicts written documentation of her career in Pasco, where she was teacher of the year at Moon Lake two years ago. Heggaton is "dedicated to meeting the needs of her students, " "has high expectations for her students" and her "patience, creative lessons and communication skills are a valuable asset to her students and good model of professionalism for the staff, " administrators have written in her evaluations. Heggaton is a 20-year teacher with five years in the Pasco district.

At one point, in coaching the child to change his answer back to a correct response, Heggaton asked the student, "Don't you know the test affects your future?"

Teacher and pupils all would have been better-served if Heggaton had remembered it affects her future, as well.