Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Teachers face suspensions over FCAT lapses

DADE CITY — Migdalia Mojica had problems with the behavior of the two seventh-graders she was proctoring as they took the FCAT exam this spring.

The first time they misbehaved, before she even gave them their testing materials, she called Nancy Guss, the principal at Irvin Education Center, an alternative school for students with severe discipline problems. Guss came to the classroom and got the students back on track.

The second time they started acting up, Mojica set up her classroom computer to video record their actions. Then she sent an email to Guss asking what to do next.

What Mojica thought to be a proper reaction to protect herself, according to district records, ended up being the moves that got her into trouble.

State FCAT administration guidelines clearly forbid recording devices in the testing rooms. They also instruct proctors not to use their computers or email, or do anything that might distract them from monitoring the students.

"She should have called again for more backup from the administrators," Pasco schools district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said, noting that the rules allow proctors to make calls for emergencies. "Instead of calling the administrators again, she decided to videotape students without their permission."

Now Mojica faces a 10-day unpaid suspension and a formal reprimand in her personnel file. The School Board will consider her case next week.

Mojica, 54, could not be reached for comment. Her phone numbers had been disconnected, and people at her listed home address said they never had heard of her. There was a "for sale" sign on the front lawn.

In an interview with a district employee relations supervisor, Mojica said she never intended to break the rules.

"You stated that you could not believe how the students were acting and that you have never been in a testing situation such as this before," superintendent Heather Fiorentino wrote in her official reprimand letter. "You explained that you decided to record the students because you were by yourself and wanted evidence of the students' behavior. You stated that the students were taunting you by asking what you were going to do about their behavior and would not stop talking to each other."

"You stated that you felt vulnerable to be alone with these students and are used to having another adult in the room during testing," Fiorentino wrote.

But that explanation was not acceptable, the superintendent continued.

The teacher had signed papers that same day agreeing to abide the state's testing protocol, less than a week after having been trained in the procedures. Moreover, Fiorentino added, this lapse in judgment came just days after Mojica left her students unattended for two class periods.

"Both of these incidents could have resulted in significant consequences for students, as well as for your school and our district," Fiorentino wrote.

She found Mojica in violation of the district ethics policy and the state's professional code of conduct.

This is not the first FCAT-related problem for Pasco teachers this year.

Earlier in June, the School Board suspended Gulf Middle School teacher Janet Deshotels for five days without pay for mishandling FCAT materials. Next week, the board will also consider suspending Wesley Chapel Elementary School teacher Wanda Colon for five unpaid days, for allowing three students to leave the FCAT testing room at the same time, unattended, while the exam was being given.

The state takes a dim view of teacher FCAT violations.

The Florida Legislature and Department of Education have strict rules on the administration of the annual assessment because the results factor heavily into so many decisions made about schools. Even relatively minor infractions have resulted in teachers losing their jobs and their certification to teach in Florida.

In 2007, Moon Lake Elementary teacher Barbara Heggaton lost her job for rewording questions on the math FCAT for special education students. In 2006, the state revoked a Hillsborough teacher's certification for an FCAT violation despite a hearing officer's recommendation for a lighter penalty.

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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