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Defective booklets doom admissions test at Fairfax school

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By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thousands of applicants to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County will have to re-take an admissions test because of problems with the initial exam.

When the multiple-choice test, developed by Pearson, was administered Saturday at 15 sites in Northern Virginia, scores of students sat down to testing booklets with missing or out-of-order pages.

A statement released Tuesday by the London-based testing company said the problem was caused by a third-party printing contractor that assembled some of the booklets incorrectly.

Given the pervasive nature of the problems, "we decided it's only fair that everyone retake the test," said Paul Regnier, spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Fairfax officials said that Jan. 23 is the "expected date" for the makeup test and they plan to mail more information to parents of the applicants. The printing errors will probably delay admissions decisions, which were scheduled to be made by early April. "It's a pretty tight schedule to begin with," Regnier said.

More than 3,000 students were registered to take the exam Saturday in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties. The two-hour verbal and math reasoning test constitutes the first stage of a multi-step application process for the elite magnet school. Semifinalists are determined by the test results and student grades. Final admission decisions take into account additional factors, including student essays written on test day and teacher recommendations. About 480 students will be admitted to the Class of 2014.

Test day is stressful for many students who are facing stiff competition for the high school that some rankings list as the best in the country.

One parent posted about her daughter's frustrating experience at Longfellow Middle School on the listserv for the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted at http://fcag.org. According to the post, the girl's booklet was okay, but others were defective, so she was not allowed to complete the test.

The students were sent to the cafeteria to wait while others in the building finished the multiple-choice test until it was time to write the essays.

"My daughter was so set and so psyched to take the test Saturday and get it behind her and now we're in limbo," the parent wrote.

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