Others have said that ninth-graders’ trouble this year could be traced to the admissions process — which, critics say, overemphasizes written essays, underemphasizes teacher recommendations and features an exam that allows too many middling math students to squeak through.
“Exceptional math students are being rejected every year, and record numbers of students are struggling in math at TJ,” Grace Becker, president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, wrote in an e-mail. “It’s unfortunate to see bright students who would otherwise be blossoming in base schools being put in an uncomfortable position at TJ.”
The teachers who wrote to the School Board studied TJ’s entrance exam and concluded that the math portion was written at a sixth-grade level, which they said was inappropriate for identifying the brightest eighth-graders.
Admissions officials said they have asked the company that created the test, Pearson, to address the criticism. The admissions process was last changed in 2009, so it’s not clear why significant problems did not arise until this school year.
“I believe it’s premature to single out the admissions policy as the root cause of the TJ teachers’ concerns,” said Tanisha Holland, the school’s admissions director. But, she added, “it is appropriate to examine the selection criteria to ensure that it is effective in identifying students for TJ.”
TJ’s admissions policy is the subject of perennial debate. It has been tweaked over the years in an effort to ensure that the student body, which is mostly white and Asian, better reflects the county’s racial and ethnic diversity. In July, the school board will consider whether the policy needs to be revised again.
Meanwhile, TJ officials said they will try to head off potential problems next school year by giving incoming freshmen a diagnostic exam. Those with gaps in knowledge will be invited to a summer “boot camp” to sharpen their skills.