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FCAT violation costs teacher's job
She rephrased questions to help special education students, which isn't allowed.
By CARRIE RITCHIE
Published June 20, 2007
Barbara Heggaton, who received stellar evaluations during her 20-year career and was named teacher of the year at Moon Lake for the 2004-05 school year, was fired for rephrasing questions for special education students on the FCAT.
[Zach Boyden-Holmes | Times]
LAND O'LAKES - Barbara Heggaton sat with teary eyes Tuesday as the School Board cast the votes that ended her teaching career in Pasco County.
The Moon Lake Elementary teacher admitted last month to rewording questions while proctoring the math portion of the FCAT for three special education third graders because she wanted to make the test experience as "comfortable" for them as possible.
But that's against the rules. School Board members said Tuesday they had no choice but to fire Heggaton, making her the first Pasco teacher to lose her job for cheating on the FCAT.
Still, board members said it was difficult to dismiss Heggaton, who received stellar evaluations during her 20-year career and was named teacher of the year at Moon Lake for the 2004-05 school year. Vice Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said she went to the bathroom and cried after the firing.
"I wish we had had an alternative remedy," Starkey said. "I don't think it was willful. There are special circumstances with (special education) students."
Heggaton, who had been suspended without pay since March 7, has maintained that what she did wasn't grounds for termination.
"Today's decision sends a chilling message in the district and statewide," said Robert S. Benjamin of the United School Employees of Pasco, who fielded all questions for Heggaton.
He said this ruling shows that even if teachers act in good faith in proctoring the FCAT, they'll face the possibility of losing their job and possibly their license. Benjamin said the state's Professional Practices Services, which has the power to yank teachers' licenses, is also investigating.
The incident happened during FCAT testing Feb. 28. Karen Middleton, an instructional assistant, said she was in her office, which is next door to Heggaton's room, when she heard Heggaton ask a student, "Why did you change that answer when you had it right? Don't you know this test determines your future?"
Middleton immediately got Fred Monfett, a behavior specialist. When they returned to Middleton's office, they both said they heard Heggaton define the term "congruent" for the children. Monfett and Middleton reported the incident to Moon Lake Principal Donna Busby.
Madeline Barbery, the district's testing administrator, then questioned the three children. The students confirmed Monfett's and Middleton's claims. Because they had received assistance, those students' FCAT results had to be thrown out.
At a May 21 hearing, Heggaton admitted that she hadn't read the proctoring manuals she received at training, but she thought the children's learning disabilities allowed her to restate the questions, since they qualify for extra assistance on the test.
But the proctoring materials clearly state that teachers are not allowed to rephrase questions, school district attorney Tammie Rattray wrote. Rattray also emphasized that at the May 21 hearing, Heggaton said she wouldn't have done anything differently if she had read the directions.
"It's a sad day," school superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Tuesday. "But she willfully didn't read the manual and she willfully didn't ask questions at training."
But union representative Benjamin and Melissa Mihok, Heggaton's attorney, said after the hearing Tuesday, Fiorentino was singing a different tune. As Heggaton huddled with her family and lawyers, Mihok said Fiorentino hugged her and said that she knew Heggaton didn't mean to violate the rules.
Mihok said she was "shocked" to hear Fiorentino say that.
"If we appeal," Mihok said, "we'll be quoting her in that appeal."