Fairfax Co. could change admission to elite Thomas Jefferson High School

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — The head of Fairfax County Public Schools is proposing a radical overhaul of how it admits students to an elite magnet school in an effort to develop a more diverse student body.

The proposal touted Tuesday by Superintendent Scott Brabrand would eliminate a high-stakes admissions test used to judge applicants for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, as well as a $100 application fee. Instead, students who meet qualifications that include a 3.5 grade-point average and an algebra background would be admitted on a lottery basis from multiple geographic regions within the county.

The school is regularly ranked among the nation’s top high schools, and many families plan their children’s educational careers around gaining acceptance to TJ. But Black and Hispanic students have been woefully underrepresented in the school’s student body.

“We have been working to understand why the talent at TJHSST does not reflect the talent in FCPS,” Brabrand said in a news release. “We believe there has been over-reliance upon the current admissions test, which tends to reflect upon the socioeconomic background of test takers or the ability for students to obtain private test preparation instead of students’ true academic potential.”

The proposed changes are similar to changes being those considered statewide for 19 selective “Governor’s Schools” across Virginia, including TJ.

“We also recognize that changing the admissions policy alone will not promote access to underserved students,” said Brabrand. “We need to enhance the pipeline of potential students and enhance wraparound support for all TJ students.”

Opponents of the change say it would dilute the quality of education that TJ could offer its students. Some also have criticized the changes as anti-Asian because Asian American students now represent about 70 percent of the TJ student body and would likely see diminished representation under the new plan.

There will be a town hall regarding the proposed admissions policy changes on Wednesday, Sept. 23, starting at 7 p.m. Families and community members can watch online, submit comments and questions, or call into the town hall live at 1-800-231-6359.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.

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