Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Education

Pasco teacher defends her handling of misbehaving students during FCAT

DADE CITY — Irvin Education Center teacher Migdalia Mojica stands by her decision to email her principal during FCAT testing to seek help with two misbehaving seventh-grade test takers.

She also contends she did nothing wrong in using a computer to record activities in the classroom.

Mojica said in an interview late Wednesday that she will appeal superintendent Heather Fiorentino's recommendation that she be placed on a 10-day unpaid suspension for those actions. Fiorentino wrote in a formal reprimand that Mojica violated state FCAT procedures, which prohibit recording devices in test rooms and also instruct test proctors not to send emails while students are testing.

"I do stand by what I did," said Mojica, who has taught at the east Pasco alternative school for one year. "I didn't think I was violating anything."

She explained that she sent an email to principal Nancy Guss asking for assistance because the school had gone into quiet mode for testing, and she did not want to cause a disruption by using the phone. Mojica already had called Guss once that April 16 morning and received help calming the two children, who were the only students testing in the room, before the materials had been distributed.

The students "became disruptive and defiant in the first five minutes they walked in: Rushing to the reading area and engaging in extreme physical horseplay rolling on the couch falling onto the rug fighting over a beanbag. While I am talking to them they are cursing and using all types of profanity," Mojica wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Fiorentino.

Mojica also said she did not attempt to record the students' behavior, as suggested in the district's narrative of events. Rather, she said, she was trying to record her own presentation of the testing directions to demonstrate that she had done so properly even as the students got up from their assigned seats, made lots of noise and did not listen to her.

"I thought maybe they would stop when I started reading the FCAT instructions but they wouldn't. And in reality behavior policies on FCAT day are zero tolerance for any type of disruptive behavior at any level," Mojica wrote in her letter to Fiorentino. "In one last resort to deter them from their behavior I said I would record my voice. This to the students was like a joke … not even saying they might lose their tests did they stop cursing about the test, at each other and everything in sight."

Mojica did not defend the students' language or attitude. But she did note in both the interview and her letter that the students attending Irvin already are known to have behavior problems, and they often act out during the most routine events.

But if the goal is to educate them, she said, teachers must deal with the students as they come. She said she tried her best to both handle the students and follow the increased "securitization" of the FCAT.

She suggested that the testing rules that might work at a more traditional campus aren't necessarily the proper ones for an alternative school. The rules also were unclear, she added.

"These new guidelines did not clearly state specifically what would be an acceptable way to communicate in a case of extreme misbehavior or emergency," Mojica wrote to Fiorentino. "Common sense thinking before testing began: 'Okay I can call the office' and principal came. Students had already begun testing after 9:00 a.m. But students had continued to talk all along even talking aloud after testing had begun. Common sense and judgement at this time: 'Email the principal.' "

Perhaps, she said in the interview, the state "should reconsider its policies" barring such actions.

She is scheduled to meet Monday with Fiorentino to discuss the unpaid suspension, which is on the School Board's Tuesday agenda for action.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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