TJ Admissions Process: What’s Going On?

TJ Admissions Process: What’s Going On?

By: Riya N. Vlcan
November 15, 2020

On October 8, 2020, the FCPS school board made a decision to approve superintendent Scott Brabrand’s new plan regarding the TJ (Thomas Jefferson High School) admissions process. This plan consisted of removing the test with its application fee and eliminating all teacher recommendations. They decided that instead of having a test, they were going to switch over to a merit-based lottery where 400 out of the 500 seats in every class were going to be decided by the lottery. Furthermore, the school board decided that students who want to apply to TJ through the merit-lottery must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

The school board passed this idea in hopes that it would help make the school more diverse. As of now, TJ is about 72% Asian, 19% white, 5% other, 3% Hispanic or Latino, and only 2% black. Although the school had been like this for many years, over the last couple of years, it’s become even more Asian populated.

Agree or Disagree?
Although many students support the idea of making the school more diverse, most don’t agree with the idea and plan from the superintendent. This plan will affect people of different backgrounds, people of different color, race, or cultures, and people who are wealthier vs. people who are poor.

Every single person interviewed has agreed with taking out the application fee of $100 (which had increasingly risen in the amount of money being paid overtime). The main reason people agree with this is that it can benefit those students who previously never thought that they would even have a chance to make it into TJ. As Sean Nguyen said, “Why pay a $70 fee knowing that you have a 0% chance competing against students who prepared for years and were more equipped because they were more privileged…” Now, he mentions, those students who may have been less inclined, or had a larger disadvantage from the beginning because they come from a less privileged family, now have a higher opportunity to at least apply for the chance to get accepted into TJ. They don’t have to worry about the money. Furthermore, as Yasmin said, TJ can find ways to raise money other than having a fee to apply to TJ. It just makes it harder for those less privileged students. That’s why taking out the application fee is helping to give those students a better opportunity. That’s why most students agree with this decision.

Many have an opinion on if the test should be removed or not. Dr. Nonye Oladimeji says, “I think they should have had the test as part of a way of looking at kids… I was part of the team, like I’ve been part of making decisions of who gets into TJ in the past, so it’s a portfolio. You don’t just look at the test, it should have been in addition to looking at other factors. If you’re not very sure about a kid, you can go back to look at the test to see, okay this is one evidence. The test should be part of the evidence, but not all.” Unlike Dr. Nonye Oladimeji, people like Yasmin do agree with taking the test out and even though that’s the case for most people, a lot of people do think that there should be another element in this process. In her mind, they can’t leave it up completely to a merit-based lottery. You need more than that. Additionally though, there are still those people who believe that the tests should definitely be part of the process, and it should have remained the way it was.

One problem that everyone has noted due to the test getting removed is that you may have people getting into TJ who aren’t mentally prepared for the stress and amount of work needed to go to TJ. In my interview with Sean Nguyen, he said this: “What I’m most fearful of is that the mental health of those students may go down.” This is due to the fact that some of these students may have come from less privileged families and aren’t as prepared especially with the competitive atmosphere at TJ. Sean Nguyen and his class have already suffered from two suicides because of the stress level being really high, and people just not being ready for it. Something nice about the tests is that they can help let us know what students are actually ready for TJ. Dr. Oladimeji noted, “Cause my fear, I have to be honest with you, is that if we, if we take away everything that we’re taking away now we would include many kids who will not have the ability, or who have not been prepared to actually do well at the school, and then they will fail, and the stress level those kids will not survive or they will have lots of stress.” She also says, “I’ve had so many kids who went to the school and left the school because mentally they were not ready,” and here’s the thing, having the test in place would help make sure that the kids getting into TJ are ready for the amount of work along with the level of work.

Teacher recommendations are another part being taken out. Teacher recommendations. Teacher recommendations are being taken out. That is key,” says Yasmin. She mentions that, “It took a really long time. We have to work hard and prove ourselves to our teachers that we can work. That is a key part because you can do well on a test, you can do well on an essay if you memorize an essay, or you memorize a task, or you memorize all these things, you can do well and never do anything in school.” She says that having teacher recommendations help decide which students should get accepted because then you know which students will be able to keep up in school and will really apply themselves in school if you are going to go with the idea of a merit lottery. Otherwise, she says, they won’t know which students will actually apply themselves. Teacher recommendations are something that TJ needs to include, especially if they’re not going to do a test, and that’s something that all people can agree on.

What about the lottery system? Well, to start off, most people don’t agree with this idea that was passed. The biggest thing is that people are saying they don’t want to leave this up to chance, but although it’s a lottery, you still need a GPA of 3.5 or above. This actually has gone up from the GPA needed, so you could take the test. Some people like Yasmine believe that this is too low of a GPA. “In middle school, I have friends that have 3.5 GPAs who never tried. They never did any work,” she says. She did note that the GPA needed has gone up, but before you still had to take tests that were super hard. Now, if you have a 3.5 GPA or higher you might get in no matter how much effort you actually put in. Additionally, many people feel like they’re being cheated on. Leilani says, “You’re just taking everybody’s hard work and saying it’s not worth it. Your work isn’t worth it anymore because you’re not what we want you to be,” and this is exactly how most students are feeling. Dr. Oladimeji thinks, “The process happened too fast.” She adds, “Now they’ve just thrown away everything without, like those things had meaning, they had a reason for what, and now they’ve done away with everything. I don’t even know if I believe in the process anymore,” and to be honest, most people don’t.

What Are Our Ideas?
If people don’t like the idea of doing a merritt lottery or test, what can we do? Here are some ideas from multiple students going to TJ:

 

If you keep the test, give out free test prep materials – Sean Nguyen

Student Portfolios – Sean Nguyen

Inform families about the AAP process, so that they may be able to try again to get in – Sean Nguyen

Start at a young age – Sean Nguyen

Make sure everyone is well equipped – Sean Nguyen

Send out upperclassman as tutors for less privileged students – Leilani Harris

Have an essay about the student – Leilani Harris

 

These are some of the ideas current students have.

I hope this taught you about what’s happening at TJ right now, and how everything is working. I also hope this lets you see both sides, and helps you figure out what you think of this topic. I hope you enjoyed my article, and thank you for reading.