Bernie Francis: Testing, Accountability Crucial for Minority Students

Dallas Morning News

Bernie Francis: Testing, Accountability Crucial for Minority Students

By Bernie Francis

July 23, 2012

Amid the noise and attacks on public school accountability and testing in recent months, I fear we’re losing sight of a common goal: improving Texas’ education system.

As a business owner, I see the looming crisis in our state. If we do not increase the number of Texans who successfully obtain technical training, certificates, associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees, our economy is doomed to underperform. Jobs and employers will flee the state.

We cannot hope to increase the completion rates of post-secondary education without first ensuring our K-12 education system is delivering on its promise.

Graduation from high school should mean a student is armed with the knowledge and skills to get a good job or be trained or educated for a better job without remediation.

As a former chair of Texas State Technical College, I can attest to the need for improved post-secondary readiness. I saw firsthand the broken contract with high school graduates, vividly reflected in the size of our remedial education budget. We must reduce the need for remediation and decrease the failure that often accompanies it.

In a recent Viewpoints op-ed, Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken weighed in on education reform, focusing on what he deems is a broken system of testing and accountability.

Having served on Pauken’s local workforce board for many years, I have the utmost respect for his analytical acumen on most topics.
However, my African-American and business background makes me sensitive to the damage a lack of school accountability has done to our supper tables.

You see, it wasn’t until 1975 that the Dallas Independent School District began testing all black students; therefore, historically speaking, we’re still basking in the “newness” of getting feedback on our kids’ academic progress, as well as data needed to facilitate improvement.

Throwing out the current testing system passed by a bipartisan majority in the Texas Legislature would be a grave disservice to African Americans and Hispanics who have benefited the most from a system of fair, scientific testing.

It means a great deal to me, for example, that since we established our accountability system, African-American and Hispanic eighth graders have improved three full grade levels in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For the first time in the history of our state, kids of color are generally ready to study the gateway course of algebra in high school.

Now that the state is moving accountability to high school to increase post-secondary readiness, this would be the absolute worst time to toss out accountability.

Let’s be clear: Accountability is about more than testing, a point where those who harbor objections over testing can agree with me. Accountability is a larger system of grades, teacher assessments and standardized testing that track a student’s academic progress. Objective, statewide testing of our students along the path of K-12 best assures that teaching and learning for all students are aligned with state standards.
As a byproduct of our accountability system, Texas has seen graduation rates dramatically improve. The Digest of Education Statistics shows a full 9 percentage point jump in graduation rates since Texas began the accountability system in 1994.

I’ve been on the front lines of working passionately for education reform in Texas for many years. I know how far all our children have come, but I know how much we still must do to ensure that Texas’ education system delivers for students, for taxpayers and for job creators like me.
It’s time to move away from unproductive rants of “drill and kill” and “test learning.” Let’s find common ground and work to make Texas’ accountability system stronger, not weaker.

Bernie Francis of Carrollton is CEO of Business Control Systems and is the chairman of the Texas Business Leadership Council’s Education Task Force. His email address is