Local: Education

Blacks, Hispanics still scarce in Thomas Jefferson's new class

Local,Virginia,Education,Lisa Gartner
Fairfax County's nationally ranked magnet school inducted another class of students dominated by whites and Asians, while just 4 percent of students are black or Hispanic.

Black and Hispanic students were also underrepresented in the pool of applicants to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology -- 13.5 percent of applicants, despite making up 28.2 percent of the public school system's middle school students.

The numbers
2015 admissions
No. appliedNo. admittedPercentage of all admitted students
2010 admissions
No. appliedNo. admittedPercentage of all admitted students
White1,338 254 50.10%
Black145 10 1.97%
Hispanic186 18 3.55%
Asian960 192 37.87%

Fairfax County Public Schools has been fighting to close a persistent achievement gap between its black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers, who typically score higher on standardized tests and post higher graduation rates.

Black and Hispanic students make up 10.4 percent and 18.1 percent of the school system, which is the largest and one of the most diverse districts in Virginia.

But of the 480 students accepted into Thomas Jefferson's class of 2015, just six students -- 1.3 percent -- were black, alongside 13 Hispanic students, or 2.7 percent.

Meanwhile, 273 Asian students and 161 white students were admitted to the freshman class, while more than 1,300 from each group applied.

This is not a new challenge for Thomas Jefferson, an elite magnet named the top public school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for four years in a row. During the 2009-2010 school year, 38 students were Hispanic and 28 were black of the 1,783 students across all grade levels. Last year, just 0.8 percent of students admitted to Thomas Jefferson were black.

School officials have maintained that the race-blind application process -- which weighs math and science scores, essays, teachers' recommendations and students' grades -- creates a legal barrier to balancing the school's minority population.

Requests to speak with the Thomas Jefferson admissions office through a school system spokeswoman were not answered Wednesday.

Louise Epstein, president of Thomas Jefferson's Parent-Teacher-Student Association, noted that 82 percent of the class of 2015 had taken geometry in the eighth grade. Thomas Jefferson's admissions reflect those classrooms' uneven racial compositions, Epstein said: "The statistics don't tell us what's going on with these students when they're in elementary school, and that in turn doesn't tell us what they learned by the time they got to middle school."

School board member Jane Strauss said that the board has always promoted diversity "because it adds to the value of the learning environment at Thomas Jefferson."

The school's sterling reputation has created an applicant pool in which many students begin prepping for admission in elementary school.

"There are so many families and traditions, parent support groups out there, working hard at a very young age to get [children] into this school," Strauss said. "It's a highly sought-after school for Northern Virginia; it's a highly sought-after school for people living outside the U.S."

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