An Open Letter to Bill Gates From an Overwhelmed Teacher

Katie Lapham May 26, 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

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