Every year, millions of American high school students take the Preliminary SAT, the standardized test whose highest scores are recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP). Awarded by the NMSP is one of the best academic awards available to American high school students. The achievement is a sought-after line item on college applications and often comes with a multi-thousand-dollar merit scholarship.
However, according to one parent and journalist, the top-ranked high schools in the country have neglected to notify students that they have won NMSP recognition over the years, resulting in over a thousand students being denied the opportunity to apply for the important NMSP-specific exams. college scholarships.
Why? To avoid hurting the feelings of students who didn’t win.
Last week, ex Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani published an article at City Journal alleges that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ)—a magnetic school outside Washington, DC, which is currently ranked as the best public high school in America—has been deliberately postponed, and in some cases completely cancelled, notifying officials students that they have been recognized by the NMSP. According to Nomani, at least 1,200 students have been affected during the last five years.
NMSP gives two award categories. Approximately 16,000 “Semifinalists” qualify for additional levels of competition for awards ranging from $2,500 from the NMSP alone to a litany of full-tuition scholarships. The larger group of 34,000 “Honored” students are only eligible to apply for one of the 800 employer-sponsored scholarships.
Nomani notably alleged that TJ failed to notify Commendable students, leaving it unclear whether the Semifinalists also consistently went unnoticed by administrators.
Even if the only students who don’t know their award is an Honored student, this is still a substantial denial of the opportunity to not only apply for an NMSP-specific scholarship but also enter the award on a college application. This is also a significant betrayal by the school administrator.
While failing to notify students of these accomplishments would be frustrating if only out of incompetence, Nomani reports that school administrators themselves admit that it was a deliberate tactic to belittle the achievements of the school’s best students.
“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their accomplishments,” said Brandon Kosatka, TJ’s director of student services, in a phone call with one of the parents who confronted him over confidential information. Furthermore, Nomani noted Kosatka told these parents that “he and the principal didn’t want to ‘hurt’ the feelings of students who weren’t getting awards.”
Meanwhile, according to Nomani, the school’s practices have been exposed and administrators have announced that they will be contacting the college’s admissions office to inform them of student awards, as a lot of damage has been done. For the outstanding students who have graduated—Nomani’s sons among them—the school doesn’t notify them of their awards or hand them certificates of appreciation they are required to receive from previous years. Even worse, many of these students would likely receive additional scholarships if they were notified of their eligibility.
“It makes me feel bad. My blood is boiling,” one parent told a local news station. “I hate to say it.”
This anti-achievement trend—seemingly counterintuitive to administrators in highly selective STEM-based magnet schools—is part of a wider pattern in education, where the push for increased “equality” often means depriving high-achieving students of academic opportunities.
Across the country, school districts are abolishing honors classes, doing away with D’s and F’s, and getting into magnetic schools are academically rigorous based on luck rather than skill. TJ himself has recently been embroiled in a legal battle over changes to his admissions standards, which school board officials admit were designed to reduce the number of Asian students at the school. Supporters claim such policies increase diversity—seemingly missing the obvious fact that such policies diminish academic opportunities for gifted students from all backgrounds.
While administrator TJ seems to have played a pretty dirty trick, the trend of de-centralized student achievement in favor of a downward “equals” race isn’t going away anytime soon.