One-third of the freshmen at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology -- the elite Alexandria magnet school ranked No. 2 in the nation -- have been recommended for remediation in math, science or both, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Examiner.
Math teachers at "TJ" blamed slackened admissions standards and, in analyzing the admissions test, found that the typical math question reflects the standards taught to sixth-graders in Fairfax County Public Schools.
In a letter to the Fairfax County School Board and TJ Admissions Director Tanisha Holland, seven teachers recommended the admissions test be made more rigorous and that teacher recommendations be given more weight in the selection process, given that "one-third of our freshman class is at risk and has been recommended for remediation in math and/or science."
"Simply put, these students are not succeeding, and many are not succeeding in spite of the tremendous support and remediation being offered to them by their teachers," they wrote. "We are concerned that serious damage is being done to these students, their self-esteem, and their sense of academic efficacy due to their placement at our school."
The teachers declined to comment to The Examiner on what's behind the "alarming trend" of students entering TJ with a "profound lack of preparation and readiness." Two of the teachers analyzed 50 questions on the math portion of the admissions exam, and found that the questions reflect standards of a sixth-grade education, "almost two grade levels too low."
Holland was unavailable to comment Thursday.
Principal Evan Glazer said he was not involved in the admissions process and could not speak to the entrance exam's rigor. He said he believed students were struggling because they didn't develop good study habits in middle school or had not been exposed to the rigor of TJ, where students are put on a watch list if they fall below a B average.
"There may be a perception that every student who comes to this school is a genius, is going to be a rocket scientist -- that's not true," Glazer said. "Our students face challenges in their learning just like challenges at any high school."
US News & World Report ranked TJ the second-best public high school in the nation last week, behind Dallas' School for Talented and Gifted. TJ had previously held the top spot for five years.
Grace Becker, a TJ parent and president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, said she believes changes made to the admissions process in 2004 expanded the pool of semifinalists and made the process more subjective, which may have allowed a wider range of abilities among the students entering TJ, some unprepared for the challenge.
The school system made these tweaks in an effort to increase diversity at the magnet school, which didn't work -- TJ was 4 percent Hispanic or black at the time and remains at 4 percent this school year -- but Chung believes the changes may have left unintended consequences.