Superintendent Presents Recommendations to Improve Diversity at TJHSST by Establishing Merit Lottery Admissions Process

News Release
September 15, 2020

Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand has presented recommendations to the Fairfax County School Board to revise the admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), the governor’s regional school, in order to promote access to historically underserved students. The Board is required to submit a report to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam by October 1 of each year on its diversity goals and status of those goals for its student body and faculty. The submission deadline this year is extended until October 9. 

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has made a series of changes to the admissions policy in order to promote greater diversity at the school. Since 2011, it has hired an outreach specialist to recruit minority students from middle schools across the county, and revised the student information sheet, implemented a problem-solving essay, and new tests. The changes have not made a significant impact on the application pool or admitted student demographics.

“We have been working to understand why the talent at TJHSST does not reflect the talent in FCPS,” explained Brabrand. “We believe there has been overreliance 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. This can discourage potential candidates from applying or advancing to the pool of semifinalists.”

Currently, the admissions policy includes that candidates have a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) in core classes, be taking Algebra 1 in eighth grade, take the admissions test, submit teacher recommendation letters, complete a student information sheet, write a problem-solving essay, and meet minimum math and science GPAs. An application fee of $100 is also required.

Recommendations presented to the Board include the elimination of both the admissions test and the $100 application fee.  Lottery pathways based on geographic location will be developed, while the core class GPA will be raised from 3.0 to 3.5.  Selection to TJHSST will be made by merit lottery.  Pathways have been designed to ensure equitable access for students across all regions in FCPS and participating jurisdictions: Arlington County, Falls Church City, Loudoun County, and Prince William County.  These changes will remove many barriers now faced by students from culturally and ethnically diverse socioeconomic backgrounds while ensuring that TJHSST maintains its top-tier academic standards. The proposal would implement the new process for the next admissions cycle. 

“We have heard from many members of the TJ community—current and former—who have raised concerns about diversity at the school,” added Brabrand. “TJ must reflect the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness that is core to the mission and values of Fairfax County Public Schools. We have outlined a new admission process that will accomplish that, and we look forward to the input and feedback of students, families, and citizens that will help shape our work going forward. We also recognize that changing the admissions policy alone will not promote access to underserved students.  We need to enhance the pipeline of potential students and enhance wraparound support for all TJ students.” 

There will be a town hall regarding the proposed admissions policy changes on Wednesday, September 23, beginning 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.   

Additional details about the plan are available here

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The video from the FCPS School Board Work Session on September 15 where the TJHSST admissions policy proposal was discussed is available.