An open letter to the kids on test day…

Dear kids,

By the time you read this, your school may already be well into the ten hours of state assessments you’ll take in ELA and Math this month if you live in New York State.  People will be reading you all kinds of directions and things, giving you tips for test taking, telling you to have protein for breakfast and all that. But here’s something else you should know…

If you are taking the tests this week, be brave. Do your best, but don’t worry too much about it. And know that you are unique and full of gifts that no test can measure.  This test may tell you you’re good at some things, and you may very well be. But I’ll be that you’re even better at other things. You can probably solve problems by considering lots of different solutions and then trying one to see if it works.  When it doesn’t – when it fails – I’ll bet you go back to the drawing board to figure out why and try again.  I’ll bet you are determined and creative and a hard worker.  I’ll bet you are fair to people and do all you can to learn about ideas before you make up your mind. I’ll bet you’re kind and funny, too. And I’ll bet you show empathy for people who are hurting. Our world needs that, so very much.  All of these things will take you far, and however you do on that test, you are so much more than the number attached to it.

If you are refusing to take the tests this week, be brave. Know that you are unique and full of gifts that no test can measure.  I’m sure that you are all of those things I talked about above. And you should also know that many people admire you for standing up for what you believe in, even some people who are not allowed to tell you so.

Whether you take the test or not, whether you pass it or fail it, you are so much more than a number. And I admire you for that.

There are so many reasons to work hard, to read voraciously, and to learn at every opportunity. So many reasons that go beyond those bubbles the state asks you to fill in every year. I wrote a poem about some of them a while back…

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 enslave.

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, and please feel free to link to this page.

But please do not copy & paste 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!

13 Replies on “An open letter to the kids on test day…

  1. I love your poem! In my son’s senior year of high school, when he already knew he was going to St. John’s College in Annapolis to read Great Books for four years, he took the AP English Grammar test. The AP exams mean nothing at St. John’s, everyone follows the same curriculum. So my son opted to make pretty patterns as he filled in the circles with his #2 pencil. The high school was not amused.

    1. Thanks, Liz – I do feel differently about AP and other high school exams, which are a) tied to specific course material and b) given for a specific, student-centered purpose.

  2. Beautiful! I am having my daughter read this before she heads off to 8th Grade this morning!

  3. Kate, this is beautiful. Thank you for posting it. I won’t share it on FB at your request but I will have my children read it when they get home from school.

  4. My 8th hour class says “This poem inspires us and other students to not allow tests to be the “where for end of all.” They want you to know that they read and write to be better readers and writers.

  5. I LOVE your letter and poem for the kids testing!! Its AWESOME!!!! I wanted to share it w/ my kids who are testing this week and next. Could you email the letter & poem to me, so I could print it out to share with them??!! I would Really Appreciate it!! Thanks for sharing