School board expresses support to eliminate admission test, fee at elite Fairfax County high school

The school board in Virginia’s largest school system has expressed support to eliminate the admission test to the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The Fairfax County School Board on Thursday night also reached a consensus on removing the $100 application fee and increasing capacity of the magnet school located in the Alexandria section of the county. 

During a work session Tuesday, the school board asked Superintendent Scott Brabrand to provide more information on another aspect of the proposal to change how students are admitted: how a lottery system would change the demographics of the student body, The Washington Post reported.

The school is regularly ranked among the nation’s top high schools, but Black and Hispanic students have been woefully underrepresented in the student population, The Associated Press reported.

An earlier version of Brabrand’s proposal would have put prospective students who meet the criteria for admission — a 3.5 GPA and enrolled in Algebra 1 — in a “merit-based lottery” to fill all 500 spots. The proposal was amended earlier this week to address concerns that some top performers may be prevented from gaining entry into the school.

The revised proposal to reform the admissions process will reserve 100 of the 500 slots for the highest-evaluated students based on a holistic review of their applications, and the remaining 400 seats will be filled by merit lottery.

Members of the public raised their concerns or their support for the plan, including former and current students and parents.

Those who supported the lottery said that while the plan requires tweaking, it should still be attempted. Those who opposed the lottery expressed that it will damage the reputation of the school and that the lottery will benefit white students at the expense of Asian students.

In 2019-2020 school year, 72% of students at the school are Asian, and 19.5% are white. Black students make up 1.72% and Latinos 2.6%.

Another person brought up why Thomas Jefferson High School has had trouble reaching students throughout the county.

The board did not formally vote on the proposal, and Brabrand said Thursday that he would present another plan to the board by November.

The school board also introduced the following motions: developing and implementing a public engagement plan and instituting a governing board for the high school. The discussion on the motion to establish a plan for student talent development was postponed to the Oct. 22 meeting.

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