The Washington Post

Fairfax board decides against changing TJ admissions process

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology junior Michele Lee, 15, in 2011. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County Times)

The Fairfax County School Board has decided against altering the rigorous admissions process for students applying this year to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The magnet school, known locally as TJ, is one of the most prestigious public schools in the country. About 3,400 students in the Washington region apply each year. Only 480 are accepted, for an admission rate of about 14 percent.

In July, the school board voted to reexamine the school’s admissions process after about 15 percent of freshmen were found to be struggling in math and science — the school’s core classes.

The board debated Monday night whether to change the weight given to different parts of the application. Candidates for admission receive 45 percent of their total score for an essay portion and information sheet; 20 percent for recommendations from two teachers; and 35 percent for math scores from an admission test and middle school grades in math and science.

School board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said too much emphasis is placed on the essay in the application for a school focused on math and science.

In the end, the board voted against changing the weighting system for this year’s applicants. Instead, the board directed its governance committee, chaired by member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), to review TJ’s admissions policies in search of a longer-term solution.

“We as a board recognize there are some things we want to consider doing differently but we need to spend a little bit more time on it,” Storck said Tuesday.

Storck said the committee would examine the school’s current admissions policies to determine whether they are attracting students who will be successful. The committee will present its recommendations to the full school board in October, Storck said.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.

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