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Thomas Jefferson High School to probe admissions process

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

The admissions director for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is investigating how the admissions process at the elite Alexandria magnet school allowed so many struggling students into its freshman class, The Washington Examiner has learned.

One-third of freshman students at "TJ" have been recommended for remedial sessions with their teachers in math, science or both, The Examiner first reported last week. Now, Admissions Director Tanisha Holland says she is investigating how the situation developed by examining the applications of students who are now falling behind.

"We are looking into the admissions process to determine whether there are any other issues with students' performance, if there were things in the admissions process we could have identified to better select this group of students," Holland told The Examiner. "Not necessarily anything we overlooked, but any trends we could examine."

School officials review the application process every year, and instituted significant changes in both 2004 and 2009. But Holland said this investigation is unique in that she is specifically looking at the materials of students who aren't succeeding at TJ.

However, she said, "There could be a number of reasons a student might need additional support, and I don't think its fair to just look at the admissions process as the root cause of that."

Seven Algebra II and Trigonometry teachers at Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Holland and the Fairfax County School Board detailing "serious concerns" with the admissions process. Two of the teachers analyzed 50 questions from the math portion of the admissions exam and found the typical question to be at the sixth-grade level.

"It is clear that the process is failing to ensure that all students admitted to our school have the potential to succeed and that other highly able students are not being given the chance to attend," they wrote.

Biology, foreign language and English teachers at TJ had similar concerns as they "observe similar trends of poor student performance." The teachers said they were concerned that struggling at TJ was damaging the self-esteem of students who would otherwise be leaders at their base schools.

US News & World Report ranked TJ the second-best public school in the nation earlier this month. The magnet school held the top spot for the five years prior.

Sandra Evans, the Fairfax County School Board member who represents TJ, said the teachers' claims caused her concern. The School Board sets the admissions policies, while Holland's office enforces them.

"This concerns me a great deal," Evans said. "We need to revisit out admissions process to see what it is that we're doing that's creating a situation like this."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner