Lincoln College Preparatory Academy waives standardized test requirements amid equity concerns
Kansas City Public School officials said existing inequities in testing for students of color are being exacerbated by standardized testing companies not updating their grading systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Standardized testing will not be a part of the admission process at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy for another year, following a nationwide trend of schools dropping test requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until last year, students were required to test into Lincoln Prep. The school temporarily waived test scores for admission with the onset of the pandemic, but that has now been extended through the 2022-2023 school year.
School district officials said at a Wednesday board meeting that they’ve been discussing the change with Lincoln students, parents and teachers this semester. They found that standardized testing wasn’t as high of a priority for anyone this school year.
“A common theme that we saw is folks really thinking that the students really need to want to be at Lincoln, and need to be committed to the IB (International Baccalaureate)
program,” said David Rand, the district’s executive director of research and accountability.
Rand said at the meeting that another factor is that standardized testing companies haven't update their grading scales during the pandemic, meaning students’ scores are being compared to those taken in 2019.
He said that’s causing serious equity concerns for the school’s students of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“So not only do we already have some wondering around inherent biases and standardized testing even before COVID,” Rand said. “But now our population, the ones most affected by COVID, those students are being compared against pre-COVID students.”
By waiving testing requirements, Rand said some students may show up not ready for the school’s rigorous coursework. According to data comparing this fall’s first-quarter grades with those of 2019, the percentage of D or F’s have about doubled at both Lincoln’s middle school and high school.
Rand said the district is looking into approaches to support students who may need extra help keeping up. Ideas discussed at the board meeting included a boot camp to get students up to speed before classes start or a support class during the school year.
Rand said the district is also looking into providing additional emotional support to students facing trauma from the pandemic that may follow them into the classroom.
“If you lose your parent during the school year, you're probably not going to have the greatest grades, the greatest attendance,” Rand said.
Tanesha Ford, an at-large school board member, asked how the policy would affect the changing demographics at Lincoln and how those changing demographics might negatively affect students of color — the issue she said she's heard about the most during her time on the board.
She also raised concerns about how equity will be considered in relation to GPA scores, which can also be a barrier for students.
Rand said those considerations are why it’s important the district is committing to a year-long engagement with its community to reconsider what school admissions should look like — not just at Lincoln, but all of its “signature” schools with selective enrollment criteria.
The move follows a national and local trend of universities, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas, making standardized tests optional.