Bill Gates – excessive accountability at the expense of teaching


Hi Bill and Melinda,

I have some good and bad news for you. The good news is that last Friday was my first day back in the classroom after having to abandon my teaching program on April 11 due to state testing. I’m excited to be finally doing meaningful work.

My second graders are doing an author study on Ezra Jack Keats, a fellow Brooklynite, and this may lead to a study of Cubist art since Keats used collage art in his illustrations. Because my fifth graders just completed a science unit on the human body, my fifth grade co-teacher and I are going to begin a unit on nutrition during the ESL/literacy block. Our students – many of whom feast on giant bags of potato chips washed down with Chubby kids soda that’s sold at the local C-Town supermarket for 5/$1 – will compare organic and processed foods. They will analyze processed food labels, which will then lead to a discussion of food chemicals. One of our vocabulary terms is Yellow 5 Lake.

Now for the bad news. Yesterday I was told that the NYSED (NYS Education Department led by Dr. John King) has required that we justify the ESL (English as a Second Language) program placement for our ELLs (English-language learners) not being serviced in a bilingual program. They are being serviced through freestanding ESL. The spreadsheets contain outdated (2011-2012) data and list students in grades K-5 who are no longer at our school because they either moved away or graduated. For each student listed, I must provide a copy of the parent program selection form, and I must give the state copies of the parent orientation sign-in sheets and orientation agendas. This is due by Friday, which means more lost instruction time as I’ll have to gather and photocopy the documentation -dating as far back as 2008 – during the school day.

When funding your next education project, please keep in mind the negative impact of excessive accountability. I will use my inferencing skills to conclude that a greater importance is placed on monitoring ELL program placements using outdated data than monitoring the actual teaching of ELLs, which is mandated.

Kind regards,

Katie Lapham
NYC teacher
Check out our Facebook page: Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates


On Facebook: Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates

Hi all, if you are on Facebook please LIKE a new page I created. Search for Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates. He needs to hear teachers’ experiences and perspectives so that he can better grasp what he is funding. That is, if he’s willing to. I have really appreciated reading your stories and they need to be shared with a wider audience. If you wish to post anonymously, please private message me at: I will re-post as anonymous to protect your identity.
If we collect enough anecdotes, perhaps we can send him a book.
Thanks, Katie

An open letter to Bill Gates from an overwhelmed teacher

Please join the Facebook page Teachers’ letters to Bill Gates.

May 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Gates,

I recently watched an interview you did with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (12/9/08) in which you said, “We need to make more investments, and I do think the teachers will come along, because, after all, they’re there because they believe in helping the students as well.” Indeed, that is why I became a teacher. However, I believe in helping students through meaningful instruction and connections, not through excessive test prep and standardized testing, and data collection and analysis for accountability purposes.

In the 2012-2013 school year, I spent 40 school days away from my students in order to help with state testing: LAB-R, Common Core ELA, Common Core Math and the NYSESLAT. As an out-of-classroom ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I am pulled from my mandated program to prepare and organize testing materials and to proctor exams. Together with a colleague, I am also responsible for administering the lengthy NYSESLAT (NYS English as a Second Language test in speaking, listening, reading and writing) to our 156 English-language learners (ELLs).

One of my professional goals for 2013-2014 is to maximize my teaching time. With this in mind, and because you believe in helping students, I am appealing to you for help in the coming school year. Investing your time at my public elementary school in Brooklyn, New York would require more effort than writing a check, but it would be more valuable to me as a teacher. Your assistance would allow me to spend a greater number of days in the classroom doing what I love: teaching kids. Here’s what you can do:

1.) Because of your background in computer science, you can investigate why the NYC Department of Education’s SESIS, SEC and CAP accountability systems do not match in recognizing that a student with disabilities is receiving her mandated ESL services. I’ve been instructed that documents must be checked for consistency and continuity, but I don’t know how to do this. Do you?

2.) Photocopies (two of each) need to be made of ELL program parent choice forms. One copy goes into the student’s record folder and the other is filed at school. Sometimes our photocopy machine breaks down so this task can take a long time to complete. Please also go into the ELPC screen in ATS to indicate program parent choice for each ELL in our building. While you are on ATS, go to the BNDC and BEPG screens to input the mandated number of minutes of ESL services that each ELL is receiving (in theory): 180 minutes/week for advanced ELLs and 360 minutes/week for intermediate and beginners. Use teacher file numbers to indicate which ESL instructor or bilingual teacher is providing the service.

3.) Meetings need to be set up with parents to discuss important issues such as poor attendance and intervention strategies for struggling students. Do you speak Spanish? That would help a lot.

4.) Preparing and organizing state testing materials is a mammoth undertaking and takes days to complete. Tasks include, but are not limited to:

*Counting and re-counting testing grids and testing booklets; check against class lists
• Bubbling testing grids to indicate any test accommodations and to provide biographical information
• Double-checking testing grids to ensure that all information is bubbled
• Counting rulers and protractors for students in grades 3-5
• Creating student labels and affixing them to test booklets
• Transferring (bubbling) student answers from grades K-2 test booklets to answer grids (for the NYSESLAT listening, reading and writing tests)
• Transferring (bubbling) scores from the NYSESLAT speaking test (grades K-5) to answer grids
• You can’t help me score the NYSESLAT writing test because you aren’t a licensed teacher, however you can help me by organizing testing booklets to ship back to the assessment company.

o Separate scoring materials into stacks by modality: speaking and writing.
o Separate the remaining test administration materials into two stacks, DFAs and test booklets, and then each of those stacks by modality: speaking, listening, reading and writing.
o Within each modality, organize the materials in the stacks by grade bands: K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6.
o Complete the return summary sheet by verifying that the quantities in the return shipment are in agreement with those originally shipped on the packing lists.
o Pack all materials in the boxes in which they were shipped to the school.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. If you are interested in volunteering at my school next year, please contact me at the email address listed below. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,
Katie Lapham (

Cc: Dr. John B. King Jr., NYS Education Commissioner
Cc: Dennis Walcott, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education

Over-testing ELLs

After speaking with a 4th grade dual language (Spanish/English) teacher at the Courageous Schools conference (5/18/13), I decided to detail a likely standardized testing schedule of a 4th grade ELL (English-language learner) in a NYC public school bilingual program.

In the 2008 – 2009 school year, I taught a 4th/5th grade bilingual bridge class and was rattled by the amount of standardized testing my students were subjected to. This pre-dated the advent of the new Common Core-infused state ELA and math tests, which I feel are educationally unsound in both length and content.

Here’s a likely 2012-2013 SY standardized testing schedule for the above-mentioned student (note: this does not include teacher-generated, content area tests):

*2 English-language Arts (ELA) Acuity Benchmark Assessments

*2 Math Acuity Benchmark Assessments

*2 ELL Periodic Assessments (optional)

*3 days of high-stakes Common Core ELA state exams (April) – ELLs with less than 12 months in the system are exempt

*3 days of high-stakes Common Core Math state exams (April)

*4 parts of the lengthy Common Core-fortified NYSESLAT (NYS English as a Second Language Achievement test): speaking, listening, reading, writing (April and May)

*1 ELE (el examen de lectura en espanol) Spanish reading comprehension test (spring 2013)

*2 days of the Grade 4 Elementary-level Science Test (June)

My heart goes out to the teachers and students of these classes. I’ve been there and feel your pain. I also recognize how much more draining the testing is today (as compared to 2008-2009). Hang in there.

Teacher or assembly line worker?

I am really struggling to balance the factory/assembly line part of my job with teaching children and addressing their individual needs. NYSESLAT – the state ESL test – listening and reading answer sheets are due at noon today and I have a lot more bubbling and grid organization to do before the deadline.

It’s also the last day of make-up testing and I have two students who need to take the writing test. They are fifth graders and their test includes multiple choice questions, a descriptive writing paragraph and a non-fiction essay.

One is an old soul; wise beyond his years. He has excellent listening comprehension skills but struggles to focus and is a slow reader and writer. This is why he hasn’t tested out of ESL (the NYSESLAT is the sole factor in determining whether a student is English proficient or not). He is not a true ELL (English-language learner). It is unlikely that he will finish the test, which means he will be pulled out of his sixth grade classes next year for ESL services.

While a colleague and I race against the clock to bubble and double-check 312 grids, an activity that requires undivided attention, I must also administer the writing test to these students. The other student has an IEP and gets directions and questions read and re-read. It should be noted that the NYSESLAT is administered right after the ELA and math tests (6 days of testing, 13.5 hours long in total for ELLs who get extended time). Their classroom teacher and I had to bribe the students with a pizza party to get them take the NYSESLAT seriously.

Fretting about what’s in store for me this morning is why I am awake at 4:00 am.

40 days of testing

By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, I will have spent at least 40 school days (there are 180 in total) doing standardized test-related work. In September, I had to administer the LAB-R to identify new ELLs (English-language learners). Because of my out-of-the-classroom teaching position, I also proctored the ELA and math exams (each test lasted three days plus I did make-ups), and I assisted with the testing materials organization effort (cutting labels to affix on booklets, bubbling and counting answer grids, counting rulers and protractors and other thrilling activities). There is no money to pay a sub to do this work. Right now I’m wrapping up the administration of the NYSESLAT exam to the 150+ ELLs in my building. The 2013 NYSESLAT reflects the Common Core State Standards and is comprised of four parts: speaking (administered one-on-one), listening, reading and writing. Next week my colleagues and I will score the writing part.

22% of my time at school this year will have been spent doing state test work, NOT teaching. That’s 40 days of lost instruction. Did I mention that ESL (English as a Second Language) is a mandated program? ELLs are among those most in need of academic support (scaffolding) and small group instruction. I cannot support national standards that encourage such excessive testing. The slogan “Children first. Always” should be removed from the NYC DOE’s website.