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Fairfax school officials decline changes to Thomas Jefferson admissions

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Photo - Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax (Examiner file photo)
Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Education,Lisa Gartner

Fairfax County Public Schools officials are planning to examine the math curriculum and instruction across the entire school system in light of issues at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a nationally ranked magnet school where teachers say students are struggling.

But the school system's staff is not recommending any tweaks to the elite school's admissions process, which has been criticized by parents and teachers as putting too much weight on factors unrelated to math and science achievement. Sixty-five percent of each admissions decision is based on writing samples and teacher recommendations.

Instead, Superintendent Jack Dale wants to focus on math throughout the school system, suggesting that shallow instruction in earlier grades may slip by the "TJ" admissions test but show up in freshman classrooms.

"It's not just TJ -- we've got to deal with that across the system," Dale told the school board Monday evening. He also wants to investigate whether the system's other high schools are seeing more students take lower-level math courses than in the past, as at TJ.

One-third of last year's freshman class at TJ was recommended for remediation in math, science or both by their teachers, The Washington Examiner first reported in May. In a letter to the school board, TJ teachers said students weren't ready for the magnet's rigor and questioned whether a math test used to select students was tough enough.

According to data provided by the school system, the admissions process is about 30 percent predictive of a TJ freshman's grade-point average in math and science courses. Lidi Hruda, manager of the Office of Program Evaluation for FCPS, said they toyed with admissions models that weighted math performance more heavily but saw a larger number of students get kicked out of the pool than those who weren't making the grade. These models were not presented to the school board.

While some board members believed a wider probe could shed light on TJ's problems, several others said they disagreed with the recommendation to back away from the weighting question.

"I'm just disheartened," said Megan McLaughlin, who represents the Braddock District. "I feel this board was very clear in saying, 'Can we look at the models?' There're no models to look at."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner