Home > Uncategorized > Reason Article on Elite Fairfax County HS Conflates High Test Scores with “Merit”

Reason Article on Elite Fairfax County HS Conflates High Test Scores with “Merit”

Libertarian Reason magazine writer Robby Soave wrote an article yesterday titled “An Elite Public High School Changed Its Admissions Standards To Reduce the Asian-American Student Population“. The problem, as Mr. Soave sees it, is that Thomas Jefferson High School was watering down its admission standards to provide more diversity, a diminishment of standards that is predicated on the notion that “Merit <=> High Test Scores”. Here’s his overview of the issue:

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, is one of the most elite public schools in the country. In 2019, U.S. News and World Report ranked it as America’s best overall high school.

It also educates a substantial racial minority population: 70 percent of TJ’s students are Asian-Americans—many of them children of immigrants.

You might think progressive education officials would celebrate this. Instead, they have decided to jettison the school’s famously tough admissions test in favor of a “holistic” (i.e., subjective and arbitrary) systemthat will permit officials to reject Asian-American students in favor of less-deserving students who belong to other racial categories.

There are at least two problems with Mr. Soave’s definition of the problem. The overriding problem is that a single “famously tough” pencil and paper test is the basis for admission, which presumes that this “famously tough” test separates the meritorious students from those who lack the academic talent to thrive at “one of the most elite public schools in the country”. The second problem, which is inextricably tied to the first, is that Mr. Soave uses the US News and World Report ranking as the basis for defining Thomas Jefferson HS as “one of the most elite public schools in the country”. Why is that a problem? Because the primary metric for sorting schools based on USNews and World Report is— you guessed it— standardized test scores! It stands to reason that a public school that relies on a “famously tough” admissions test would produce students who would do well on future standardized tests. This would be akin to using height as a benchmark for admission to high school and then declaring that the high school is “elite” because it has the tallest mean height in the country.

The balance of Mr. Soave’s article lambaste’s any form of admissions standards that attempt to devise a plan that results in the racial demographics of the “elite school” mirroring the racial demographics of the district as a whole with particular disdain for admitting students from each and every school into the program.

This just in: as long as test scores are the primary metric for determining “merit” those students who do well on tests will always be at an advantage over those students who cannot perform in short, intense bursts under high stress. The sprinters will always beat the cross country runners and claim that their victory in a dash is proof that they are faster and better runners. It isn’t true on the track… and it isn’t true in school.

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