A Tuesday Poem: Revolution for the Tested

Revolution for the Tested

by Kate Messner (Copyright 2010)



But don’t write what they tell you to.
Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
Counting sentences as you go
Put your pencil down.

Don’t write to fill in lines.
For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
Handing out points for main ideas
Supported by examples
From the carefully selected text.

Write for yourself.
Write because until you do,
You will never understand
What it is you mean to say
Or who you want to be.
Write because it makes you whole.

And write for the world.
Because your voice is important.
Write because people are hurting
Because animals are dying
Because there is injustice
That will never change if you don’t.
Write because it matters.

And know this.
They’ll tell you it won’t make a difference,
Not to trouble over grownup things,
Just fill in the lines
And leave it at that.
Tell them you know the truth.
That writing is powerful.
Just one voice on the page
Speaks loudly.
And not only can a chorus of those united change the world.
It is the only thing that ever has.


But don’t read what they tell you to.
Don’t read excerpts, half-poems,
Carefully selected for lexile content,
Or articles written for the sole purpose
Of testing your comprehension.

Don’t read for trinkets,
For pencils or fast food coupons.
Don’t even read for M&M’s.
And don’t read for points.

Read for yourself.
Read because it will show you who you are,
Who you want to be some day,
And who you need to understand.
Read because it will open doors
To college and opportunity, yes,
And better places still…
Doors to barns where pigs and spiders speak,
To lands where anything is possible.
To Hogwarts and Teribithia,
To Narnia and to Hope.

Read for the world.
Read to solve its problems.
Read to separate reality from ranting,
Possibility from false promise.
And leaders from snake oil peddlers.
Read so you can tell the difference.
Because an educated person is so much harder
To control.

And know this.
They’ll say they want what’s best for you,
That data doesn’t lie.
Tell them you know the truth.
Ideas can’t be trapped in tiny bubbles.
It’s not about points
On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
And it never will be.

Copyright 2010 ~ Kate Messner

I shared this poem as part of my 2011 NCTE/ALAN presentations, and I’ve had many teachers write to ask if it’s okay to share with students and colleagues in the classroom. The answer is absolutely yes.  Share away!

But please do not republish it online without permission. The best way to share a copyright protected poem (or story, or article) with blog readers is to share a short quote from the piece and then link to the original post. Thanks!

28 Replies on “A Tuesday Poem: Revolution for the Tested

  1. Thank you. Your poems came at the right time. I’m in Honesdale at a Highlights for Children Educational Foundation workshop with David Harrison. We’re working on writing poetry for children and your poems are a reminder of why we all write (and some of the things to watch out for in our own writing).

  2. Thanks for saying it so well. I actually used to tell students before the MAP tests to rein in their creativity, to save it for me, because the test scorers wouldn’t get their really inspired leaps.

  3. I just forwarded this to my two eldest daughters – both entering the education field this spring. One will be teaching for Teach for America in Nashville – high school English. The other hopes to teach primary grades in the mountains of VA. I hope teachers of children of all ages and backgrounds have a chance to read your poem and take it to heart.

  4. Wow. I read this poem about 10 minutes ago. And now I can’t do anything. I keep returning to it. I’ve cried. Laughed. Rejoiced. Smiled. Scowled. It has done me in. Because this is everything about literacy that should be. This captures the magic that books give us. The power in our words. The ability of text to transport us, to throw us off our game, to inspire us beyond the beyond. This testing movement that has not yet invaded Canada does damage to the gift of literacy that we should be offering up in school. Thank you for this amazing piece. I will share it with everyone who needs to read it because as you say – reading can show you who you are and who you can be. Wow.

  5. I teach 5/6 grade at a homeschool co-op and as part of out state’s requirements, we just finished testing. As I prepared my kids for the exam, I told them they are so much more than a number determined by the answer they give on the test. I just shared this poem with the families and will bookmark it for future reference. Thank you for so eloquently saying what every child (and parent) needs to hear.

  6. Thank you for articulating in an inspiring and lovely way the richness and value of reading and writing. May I post this poem on the wall of our middle school media center?

  7. I just wanted to say that I had a wonderful time listening to you speak at the scholastic breakfast yesterday. You reminded me of why I do what I do. The poem is amazing and I can’t wait to get back to school to share it with my students.
    Thanks again,

  8. We are now in the middle of the testing craziness here in Washington State. Wish all the $$ spent on testing were directed to putting real books in the hands, and hearts, and homes of our children. Love your poem. Well be sharing it!

  9. A colleague sent this poem to our department. It so well expresses real reasons to read and write–real, natural reasons that are getting lost in the educational program of standards alignment and mapping. I told my colleagues I wanted to use it as my syllabus next year. Reading and writing should be liberating, not oppressive, as it has become, restricting choice and expression. Thank you for sharing this.