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Teacher may lose job over testing

The superintendent recommends a longtime teacher be dismissed for allegedly cheating to help students and then denying it.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000

A Pinellas County elementary school teacher could lose her job for allegedly cheating on the school district's practice FCAT by writing in answers on her students' tests and then trying to cover it up.

Superintendent Howard Hinesley is recommending that teacher Helen S. Hoss of Clearview Avenue Elementary School be fired when the School Board meets next week. Though the case involves only the district's practice test, officials say it is considered a serious matter because it involves dishonesty both in the cheating and in deception afterward.

"This is serious for a teacher, but for an experienced teacher, it is especially serious," Hinesley said. "And to do it and later say I didn't."

The recommendation for dismissal bodes ill for another Pinellas County teacher being investigated in a separate test security case involving the state's real Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That case, involving a teacher at Brooker Creek Elementary School, is still under investigation, and no recommendation has been made.

Hoss' case will be sent to the Florida Department of Education for possible suspension or revocation of her teaching certificate. She has been suspended with pay since Feb. 22. Hoss' attorney, Mark Herdman, said Tuesday that he plans to contest the recommendation for termination and will ask for an administrative hearing.

"Obviously, she's a long-term teacher who has done good things for the district," Herdman said. "We're going to challenge their conclusions in a hearing."

Herdman estimated it could take up to six to nine months before Hoss' hearing could be scheduled. Until the hearing, she would be suspended without pay.

Reached at her home Tuesday, Hoss declined comment. She has been with the school district since 1987 and has served in several elementary schools as a classroom teacher and as a curriculum specialist. She has received a series of satisfactory evaluations. She has been a classroom teacher at Clearview Elementary since October, with a class that combines fourth- and fifth-graders.

The practice test she is alleged to have cheated on is called the PR-FCAT (the Parallel Reading FCAT). Pinellas educators developed it as a tool for preparing elementary schoolchildren for the types of questions found on the state's rigorous FCAT. But it is used for more than just practice.

The PR-FCAT is one of several indicators used to determine which students need to go to summer school and which students will be promoted to the next grade.As Hinesley explained in his memo detailing his recommendation to fire Hoss, the teacher's actions "could have a direct negative impact on her students' progress by denying them access to needed academic remediation."

The PR-FCAT is given three times a year -- in September, January and in May -- so teachers can chart their students' progress.

During the January test, Hoss allegedly directed her students to go back and write more on their tests, a violation of test rules. Also when one student turned in her test without answering a question, Hoss allegedly wrote in an answer for her. After denying it when investigators asked, Hoss later admitted it, according to Hinesley's memo.

Then sometime in the two weeks after the test, Hoss is alleged to have written in additional answers on students' tests, while attempting to make her handwriting look like her students' writing. She also is accused of trying to make it appear that another teacher helped her "dual score" the tests (these tests are commonly scored by the classroom teacher and another teacher), when in fact Hoss scored them herself.

Jacqueline Spoto, an attorney for the school district, said Hoss' behavior merits firing because, "the whole level of deception" has "impaired" Hoss' effectiveness as a teacher.

Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said the district is overreacting by recommending that Hoss lose her job.

"They're taking test security very, very seriously," Moore said. "I do think that any other year, this wouldn't be a firing offense. The question is not whether a teacher should give answers to answers. Of course teachers shouldn't do that. The question is whether it is a firing offense."

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