Vern Williams – More Suggestions For TJ Admissions Process

04/12/11 10:26:am

  1.     Research the math admissions test administered by the Bronx School of Science and other New York Magnet Schools. Since they select students based solely on testing (math and verbal), I suspect (I have seen some sample problems) that the test actually separates the students via their ability to study higher level math/science concepts at a fast pace. At the moment, the TJ math admissions test does no such thing. I purposely never serve as a proctor nor do I ask students to mention specific problems that they encountered on the test. I never want to be put into the position where one might suspect that I prepare my students for specific problems that they may encounter on the test. However, based on their reports of the lack of difficulty and their actual test scores, there is virtually no separation between my weakest and strongest students. In fact some of my strongest students might miss a few problems because of careless errors while the very weak ones may actually score higher. This never happens on the AMC 8 or other quality math contests containing a number of difficult problems. The fact that students who received perfect scores on both the math and verbal portions of the test while not being admitted, says volumes about the importance and respect  awarded the test.
  2.    Keeping with the theme in #1, the admissions test must not only be strengthened but it should COUNT (The New York Magnet Schools count it 100%) much more than it does currently. There is absolutely no way that a students receiving perfect scores on both parts of the admissions test should be rejected or wait listed unless they have unbelievably bad teacher recs (both teachers recommended against admission) and low grades. Even low grades and lousy teacher recs along with very high test scores, on rare occasions, may indicate that the student is extremely gifted but bored out of his or her mind by teachers who are not offering serious advanced content.
  3.    The SIS needs to be replaced by one that emphasizes ACCOMPLISHMENTS and activities related to science, math and technology. Accomplishments should always trump interest and/or participation. A student could show up at a few Mathcounts practices and state passionately that they participated and showed an interest in math. However, a student winning an award in Mathcounts translates into many hours (including weekends) of practice and that the student goes well above and beyond showing an interest in math. They may not describe their accomplishment in passionate terms but it should speak for itself, especially if it’s a high level accomplishment, i.e. an AMC8 score of 24 or 25 or captain of their school’s Mathcounts team. I coached Mathcounts for about fourteen years and you can’t fake your love for math and learning when you are selected (purely by merit) to participate at the chapter, State, and national levels. The SIS in its current form is asking students (through eight essays) to somehow convince the reader that they belong at TJ based on interests, passion, and other attributes not related to accomplishments. This really bothers me because many of the best science/math students are not excellent writers and they tell me that they are drained by the eight essays and that the SIS seems like one extremely long hideous English assignment. They have many major accomplishments but the categories are arranged so that they cannot list and describe them in a focused coherent manner. This is hurting some of TJs “would be” best future students both in academics and research.
  4.    Require THREE teacher recs, one math, one science, and one other. This was done prior to two years ago. Offer two narrative choices, one for math/science teachers and one for other (if they are not a math or science teacher). Foreign Language teachers should not be forced to discuss how the student copes in a math/science environment while the math/science teachers would love nothing more. This is why many private schools provide special recommendation forms specifically for the student’s math teacher.
  5.    Assigning category scores has been a disaster for some of the very best (and most deserving) students applying to TJ. As I discussed with you before, each student needs to be evaluated holistically by preferably more than four people who have direct experience (and success) working with bright middle or high school students. This would pretty much eliminate the very best and most qualified TJ applicants being denied admission. It would also go quite a ways in denying admission to students who have very little aptitude for science and math and who have told me that they never wanted to go to TJ. If you are going to assign scores, go all out and assign one score (a quality test) as the New York Magnet schools do. I could pretty much guarantee that complaints would virtually disappear (certainly from me) and the student population might actually become MORE diverse. A real aptitude test would put most of the test prep crowd out of business.  
  6.    Institute an appeals process that is meaningful. Giving parents scores and telling them that the process worked is not an appeals procedure. There needs to be the establishments of an oversight committee with power to REVERSE rejection decisions after students have been notified. The Illinois Math and Science Academy has such a procedure and I know that they are highly selective.