What Should we Test in Public Education?

What should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

There’s been a lot of talk this past year about standardized testing in public education. To get a teaching degree requires a lot of discussion on this. There are many points being made on the internet and in books about how standardized tests are not the best assessment of the quality of schools. So what should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

Practical job skills are missing in our k12 system now. There are some classes in high schools across the country that attempt this but it should have precedence over all else if we are to prepare our students for a rough economy. Think tanks, collaboration, parent groups, and administration need to come together and brainstorm on this sort of curriculum. Teaching online is proving to be one innovative method toward this. It will have to be a malleable framework since the marketplace changes year to year and sometimes even sooner. One question these think tanks might address is this: “What skills have been universal through the decades in productivity at work.” I think this is the #1 Topic “A” priority item we should address as we reform public education. Teaching to a test gets very few people hired after graduation.

Traditional academic skills should still have priority as well. Language arts and math and crucial to surviving and thriving at work. We should keep the standards and standardized test models and use them but at a second priority. As it has been, the standardized test has been given more attention and focus than it merits, in my opinion. It does however give us a measuring stick that can be useful in planning classroom goals and lessons. This should be woven into the practical job skills aforementioned.

Finally, students need to be taught citizenship. As our system goes through the major changes it is going through now in attempt to escape the recession, our students should be prepared to make their contribution to keep the country strong. There is much material out there on teaching citizenship and behavior skills. This should be sorted through and a new “curriculum” of citizenship should be created. Tests of citizenship would do well to model what good citizens do in America. Very soon, our students will be the citizens of America and the world. How will they be prepared if we don’t guide them with our public schools.

To conclude, I do agree with many out there saying standardized testing is not the answer. At the same time, I feel it may be the answer if the test is based on the right priorities. If we focus on the practical first, we will be doing our students and country a much better service as public educators. Just like the road showing how to be a teacher, every child should have a clear path whatever she/he wants to be.


Having been a public school teacher since 1997, I've gained valuable classroom experience. Sometimes a great tool is a dynamite lesson plan. These posts are from a real teaching journey. I hope they inspire you. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “What Should we Test in Public Education?”

  1. No, Mr. Riley, it’s a bit more complicated than this. As a music teacher (band), I do agree with you that there is a tremendous over-reliance on standardized testing as a measure of school effectiveness and overall student achievement. Finland, globally one of the highest achieving systems in the world, reformed their education system by reforming their economic policy, something the US and Wall Street seem quite unwilling to do.

    Furthermore, education isn’t about the subjects we teach, it’s about how we teach them. Our objective in schools is to engage students in learning that enables them to learn more effectively on their own. Making a perfect score on a standardized test doesn’t mean you can learn effectively on your own any more than missing every question determines you cannot learn on your own. Standardized tests are insufficient measures of student achievement for this very reason.

    As for the question of what to test in public education – we should start by testing the politicians and billionaires on what they actually know about teaching, then the administrators. We should test the college education curriculum and state licensing standards that enable dispassionate, uncaring teachers to enter the classroom and abuse their union-supported profession. We should test the system at the top first, because that’s where all the problems in education continue to originate.

  2. ¬†You make some good points. I agree it is not as important “what” teachers teach as much as the way they teach it. Thank you also for teaching music/band. I believe musical influence is so important to our world.

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