Asian American students will make up 70 percent of the incoming freshman class at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the highest percentage ever for the elite magnet school in Northern Virginia.
Next year’s freshman class reflects a widening demographic divide at TJ, as the Fairfax County school is known.
A decade ago, white students made up 53 percent of the teens admitted to the school offering courses in differential equations, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. Thirty-two percent of the admitted students were Asian.
Now, amid a similar transition happening around the county, six out of 10 students at the school are Asian, while white students make up 29 percent.
According to admissions data posted online, Asian students were admitted at a higher rate than their peers. The data also shows that for the fifth year in a row, 10 or fewer black students were admitted to TJ.
Fairfax leaders have faced criticism in recent years for TJ’s historical lack of diversity, particularly among black, Hispanic and low-income students.
In 2012, an activist group representing those students filed a complaint against Fairfax County with the U.S Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that the admission process discriminates against black, Hispanic and poor students. That complaint is ongoing.
Bob Frye, one of the longest serving black members of the Fairfax County School Board, who voted to establish TJ as a magnet school in 1985, said that the administration should take a closer look at the school’s admissions process.
“I have no interest in lowering the standards at TJ,” said Frye, 78, who served as chairman in 1999 and 2000. “I believe even now with the proper amount of preparation and interest the numbers [of black students] could surely be higher than they are now.”
The class of 2019 includes 346 Asian, 102 white, 12 Hispanic and eight black students. A total of 2,841 teens applied, and 493 were granted admission, for an overall acceptance rate of 17 percent. Of the 1,448 Asians who applied — 51 percent of the total seeking admission — 24 percent were accepted. The acceptance rate for black students was 4 percent, while the rate for Hispanic students was 6 percent and white students was 12 percent. Among low-income students, the acceptance rate was 3 percent.
Admissions statistics also highlight that more males are accepted to TJ than females. Girls compose 45 percent of the incoming freshman class, which is a smaller percentage than 10 years ago when 48 percent of the class of 2009 was female.
TJ is considered a jewel in the Fairfax County school system, and administrators and school board leaders frequently tout achievements by the school’s gifted students.
Jeremy Shughart, the TJ admissions director, said that a committee is reviewing the application process to improve diversity at the school.
“The committee is looking at a variety of admissions components and making recommendations for possible adjustments to future admissions cycles,” said Shughart. “FCPS will continue to work on increasing diversity at TJHSST and will continue to pursue outreach efforts to ensure talented underrepresented populations of students with a passion for math and science consider, apply to, and attend TJHSST as their high school option. FCPS believes in the value of diversity and the importance of fostering a challenging learning environment at TJHSST.”
One surprising detail in the admissions data shows that interest in TJ could be waning. Five years ago 3,310 students applied to TJ. Compared with this year, the number applying has dropped 14 percent .