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Fairfax considers whether Thomas Jefferson High School enrolls the wrong students

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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 school officials will take a hard look Monday at whether the county's most elite high school is enrolling the wrong students.

The school board's governance committee has since early October been examining the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology after learning that a third of the elite school's freshmen were struggling with their classes last school year.

The full school board on Monday will consider what kind of students it should be admitting to the Alexandria magnet school, recently named the No. 2 public school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Should it admit only students with the highest grade-point averages and math scores? Or should TJ continue to consider factors such as "intellectual curiosity" and student essays about commitment to science?

The Washington Examiner first reported in May that one-third of TJ's freshmen were struggling academically and needed help -- often tutoring sessions with teachers or other classmates -- in math, science or both.

Students are admitted to TJ based on their grades, teacher recommendations, essay responses and scores on a math exam. In a letter to the school board, seven TJ teachers said the current admissions process failed to produce the most capable freshman class.

"My concern right now is that the recent issues raised by the faculty, principal, parents and students is that the practices in place are just not identifying and selecting the best students that we could," said Megan McLaughlin, a member of the school board's governance committee from the Braddock District. "We do take this seriously, that something needs to be done, and now the question is how extensive should the change be."

The school board decided this summer not to alter the admissions process for fall enrollment. But governance committee Chairman Dan Storck, of Mount Vernon, said his panel does want to see some change.

Much attention has focused on a policy provision that compels TJ to enroll "those who have demonstrated high achievement, aptitude, commitment, intellectual curiosity and creativity in mathematics, science and technology."

For instance, the school board could decide to define "aptitude" as achieving a certain score on a math test, or achieving a particular grade-point average.

"The board doesn't do enough talking about what we really want and what is our vision," Storck said. "Such as, what type of student should be at TJ to take advantage of it, who should be here, and if the right kids are getting in."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner