Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, known for its advanced STEM opportunities, has announced changes to its admissions process. A proposal was made by Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand to implement a merit-based lottery system.
“[The new process] would raise the GPA required for application from 3.0 to 3.5 and eliminate the standardized entrance exam. Students would still have to be enrolled in Algebra 1 or beyond in 8th grade. At this time, other aspects of the current process would also still continue, like the student information sheet, problem-solving essay and other written responses,” TJHSST Assistant Principal Cynthia Hawkins said.
The proposal, however, has stirred up quite the controversy. Previously, there have been issues regarding the school’s lack of a diverse demographic. The new system sparks even more discourse on the issue. Some believe that the current admissions process is to blame for that.
“We changed it because there was a lack of diversity in our classes and it’s pretty representative of some type of flaw in our admissions process,” TJHSST junior Jessica Feng said.
As a student, Feng sees the flaws with both systems but understands the benefits of the new one.
“I don’t think the lottery is the best way for us to decide admission because it takes away from the ability for students to showcase their STEM knowledge,” Feng said. “On the other hand, there definitely needs to be a change considering our past class statistics.”
Unline Feng, some students believe that the current system is better because it puts students through rigorous testing in order to ensure that the ones who gain entry are fit for the school’s standards.
“The students that get in may not be able to deal with the stress and everything that comes with it [the school],” TJHSST junior Ashwini Ramkumar said.
According to FCPS, the purpose of the new system is to progress the school further into a more diverse student body and open up more opportunities for students seeking advanced science and technology-based classes.
“TJ shouldn’t be out of reach to kids who have a passion for STEM and really want to attend,” Hawkins said. “Changing the admissions process is one part of changing that.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, there was a town hall meeting held to discuss the topic further. However, the final decision on the topic will not be made until Oct. 9.