TJ Math Teachers Note “Lowering of Standards”

by Asra Q. Nomani

On May 31, the public relations team at Fairfax County Public Schools scored a big “hit,” as it’s called in PR, getting the stories of four hand-selected students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology featured in a Washington Post article by education reporter Hannah Natanson, headlined: “Hear from four TJ freshmen admitted under controversial circumstances.”

In the article, Natanson disparaged a “a group of disgruntled parents” that filed a lawsuit against new race-based admissions changes to the school, even though a federal judge, Claude Hilton, ruled earlier this year that the changes are illegal, “patently unconstitutional” and anti-Asian. That would be like calling the Brown family in Brown v. Board of Education “disgruntled.”

Weaponizing innocent students for its PR, the school district used the article to try to vindicate the school board’s failed policies with America’s No. 1 high school. School board chair Stella Pekarsky shared the article on Facebook with the hashtag: #studentvoices.

The next week, school board members posted photos and video from TJ’s Class of 2022 graduation with vice chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer posting a breathless message about student “pride in your TJ family and community.”

‘Hi Math 4 Students’

But days later, parents, students and alumni are sharing a frank email — “Hi Math 4 Students” — which Math 4 TJ teachers sent to students this past Thursday, that keeps things real.

The teachers said that the average score for their final exam for Math 4 — equivalent to trigonometry — was “in the low 70s with a substantial minority scoring below 50%,” calling the results “the lowest scores we’ve ever seen,” even amid a “lowering of standards” at the school for the course. (It isn’t clear yet the identities of the teachers.)

The teachers wrote:

These scores are deeply disappointing, and are the lowest scores we’ve ever seen as Math 4 teachers on a Final Exam.

The math teachers noted that the final exam was “substantially easier” than final exams given to previous classes. The teachers said the students had “unprecedented supports provided to you this semester, including extra practice quizzes, bonus quizzes, practice worksheets, and a practice final exam, all things that were not given to previous students.”

The teachers continued:

We expected to see scores rise, not drop, with our lowering of standards.

The juxtaposition of the school district’s PR hype with this email reveals once again how school board officials, educrats and the school principal are more concerned with face-saving PR and activism than actual excellence in education. While the tone of the email — harsh to some parents, fair to others — puts the onus for the failing grades on the students, some of them as young as 14 or 15, the bottom line for the failures at TJ rests with the school board, school district officials and the school principal, Ann Bonitatibus, who many parents say has undermined academic advancement since her start at TJ in the summer of 2017, literally bringing a program called “Challenge Success” to the school in 2018.

Why ‘lowering of standards’ matters

The students in the spring semester course of Math 4, which the email is about, include Class of 2024 students, the last class admitted through the merit-based admissions tests that the school board eliminated in December 2020, and students from the Class of 2025, admitted through the new race-based admissions process.

This is the translation of courses at TJ:

  • Math 1 and 2 = geometry;
  • Math 3 = Algebra 2;
  • Math 4 = trigonometry;
  • Math 5 = precalculus.

As a solution, the teachers said:

We will curve the exam by 10 percentage points (which means 7.5 points, out of 75), but you should know that this curve is artificial and not deserved.

The teachers admonished the students for not attending after-class tutoring with teachers, held during something called “8th period,” and scolding them also for not submitting test corrections.

They wrote:

This indicates to us that you either didn’t study, or you studied poorly. Even worse, the preponderance of evidence indicates that many of you weren’t willing to change how you learned or studied since the start of Math 4.

Why does an email to a group of math students at one school in Northern Virginia matter?

The “lowering of standards” that the math teachers acknowledge is happening across the country with a national war on merit, advanced academics and fair competition, as school districts eliminate failing gradesadvanced placement courses, merit admissions and even valedictorian honors, in the misguided name of “equity.”

The “lowering of standards” at TJ matters. The school has graduated future inventors, researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators since its launch in 1985, and the “lowering of standards” reveals a national security threat for the U.S., as it attempts to compete with nations like China in science and technology. Advanced math is a critical element for success in careers from computer science to astrophysics and aeronautical engineering.

The “lowering of standards” reflects the failure of the school board and principal to help some of the school district’s brightest — and most academically motivated — students. And it underscores the point that “disgruntled parents” (including me) have been arguing for two years now to deaf ears from the principal, school board and school district officials: education, not activism, should be the priority of school officials.

Punctuating with “❤️”

Most recently, the Fairfax County school board ignited parental backlash with the news that it would discipline elementary school children for the “malicious misgendering” of other children’s pronouns.

One former TJ parent said: “Looks like the teachers have had it. ‘Our lowering of standards.’ ‘Either you didn’t study, or you studied poorly.’ ‘This curve is artificial and not well deserved.’ ‘This time, it’s on you.’ WOW.”

At the end of the day, our obligation as a society is to support and encourage youth to be the best they can be. We can scrutinize the tone with which the teachers lectured the students — on the eve of summer vacation — and we can hyper-analyze the way students manage their time.

But ultimately this is a failure of leadership — from the school board to the school principal and superintendent who love to brag about the success of TJ students but do little to actually support these remarkable students who accomplish despite these bureaucrats.

The lesson from this email is that educrats need to start spending their time less on PR and more on actual educational supports that help students and teachers succeed.

And with the “❤️,” with which the Math 4 teachers signed off, they remind us that the best gift we can give our children is accountability but also unconditional love — so no matter what the email received or the grades earned, they know they are adored, cherished and precious. That’s simple math.

Asra Nomani is a senior contributor at The Federalist and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Network. This column has been republished with permission from Asra Investigates.

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41 responses to “TJ Math Teachers Note “Lowering of Standards””

  1. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    And these so called students are the future of industry? Wait another 10 years when the planes start falling from the skies.

  2. A lot of people predicted that the new admissions policy at TJ would lead to a lowering of standards… and they were right. The teachers’ memo is a devastating rebuke to the TJ administration and Fairfax County Public School leadership.

    Here’s what’s especially concerning to me. The math 4 class was comprised of students admitted under the old admissions regime; they were accepted only after passing the challenging, merit-based admissions test. If their performance collapsed, what does that portend for the “new” students? We’ll find out in the next year or two.

    As Matt Hurt frequently reminds us, student achievement largely reflects the standards and expectations of teachers and administrators. Lower the standards, and you get lower achievement. That seems to be what’s happening at TJ. From Nomani’s account, it sounds as though students are responding to the signals sent by the school administration.

    I just returned from my 50th high school reunion. As we sat around the dinner table and reminisced, we shared recollections of the outstanding teachers we had. Perhaps the one we remembered most vividly was Ferdinand Ruge, an old-school teutonic teacher of English who tolerated no foolishness, set high standards, and had little regard for our precious little feelings if we fell short of those standards. We trembled in fear of him (well, I did), but we all remember Mr. Ruge with great fondness and reverence more than five decades later, and we all credit him with much of whatever facility with the English language we now possess.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: ” The math 4 class was comprised of students admitted under the old admissions regime;”


    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      You are just assuming the standards were lowered. The only “evidence” of such a lowering is in the e-mail, which is highly suspicious. (See comment below.)

      1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

        Come on Dick. It’s been clear to any current and former residents of Fairfax County who follow education that the administration and school board was going to change anything and everything to reduce the number of Asians at TJ and boost the number of blacks and Hispanics. I have a friend who watches & summarizes every school board meeting and work session. She has done so for years. Also, people that obtained intra-division email messages and other documents have shared them. They all support this conclusion.

        Trump cheated in a failed attempt to stay in the White House. The Wilson Administration covered up the President’s inability to function during the latter part of his second term. Many school boards in Vinia flouted the law to stop integration. FCPS has purposely hidden data from the public to avoid being proven wrong; adjusted budget & annual report titles and descriptions to avoid being proven wrong; adopted a controversial educational plan for autistic kids after a trial showed little benefit and the administration concluded it was not cost-effective so as not to have a charter school in Fairfax County. Indeed, in a face-to-face meeting the assistant superintendent for special ed told me that the division had no way of measuring true success or failure for the program.

        The Schools purposely sabotaged a plan by the County to consolidate printing operations and to privatize school bus maintenance. A former superintendent wrote me that the division would never reduce headcount to achieve efficiencies. The Schools refused to examine contracting out for school meals and bus service, despite countless school systems doing the same, because they could not take the chance of having students mix with non-employees, only to agree to put schools in the same building as other businesses.

        Fairfax County Public Schools is the most dishonest institution with which I’ve ever dealt in my life. It will do anything and everything to do what staff wants irrespective of the facts or the law.

        I submit that no one without substantial contact with FCPS staff and school boards over time is in a position to argue it has credibility in the TJ matter.

      2. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Can you for once make a comment that isn’t rooted in an argument from ignorance.

        “Argument from ignorance, also known as appeal to ignorance, is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false or a proposition is false because it has not yet been proven true”

  3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “The teachers said that the average score for their final exam for Math 4 — equivalent to trigonometry — was “in the low 70s…”

    aka… a “C”…?

    “…with a substantial minority scoring below 50%…”

    Normal curve…??

  4. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Pretty much – the admonishing of students in this email is really inconsiderate and not within good pedagogy. When students, especially gifted students, fail “enmasse”, it is I , the teacher, that needs to think about the needs of the students and how I addressed those needs when I taught. When more than one teacher fails, as in the case here, the pronoun we magnifies the problem considerably. The first step of good pedagogy, identify background knowledge of the learner.

    This is not evidence of lower standards, it would have been reflected in the questions on the assessment. The questions should match what was taught, not last year’s exam. This is evidence of very poor pedagogy.

    That email should not have been sent. I hope it was at least blind copied to those that failed, less it be a family privacy failure as well.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    There is a special sauce of student success at schools, such as TJ or Loudoun Academies, and it came from students banding together and teaching each other the difficult concepts not mastered in class. That is what I remember former students telling me. Surviving the trials of a magnate school is sort of like surviving Captain Sobels and the boot camp from Band of Brothers. This key ingredient of student self help, collaboration, and emotional support might have been buried by the education calamity of the past 3 years. If true, than TJ is only number 1 on paper now.

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    What bothers me about the Math 4 teacher email is that the schoolteachers squarely place the blame on the shoulders of the students. They should do as Robert E. Lee did after the disastrous results of Pickett’s Charge. Lee never blamed the soldeirs, Pickett, and Longstreet. He simply said this:
    “It is all my fault.”

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      yes. If you _believe_ the email – all the teachers are blaming the students for the failure …. in a public forum!

      as Kathleen pointed out – this is not kosher much less professional…

      and thus, once again, we wonder about the author and whether she is misrepresenting an issue or even fabricating …..

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    First, the lockdowns. Student results are flagging all over the country – especially so in counties like Fairfax and Loudoun which extended the remote learning unnecessarily (IMO). Even high performing students are going see an educational gap.

    Second, the standards. Of course the lottery requires lower standards or lower achievement of the existing high standards. By my calculation, the old merit based approach took in about the top 1.5% of students. The new approach opens the door to a large minority of far less capable students (even though those students may be capable in general). Either you lower the standards or you flunk out the lottery attendees.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      in terms of remote learning, I can be convinced it was a failure for k-5 or so but with the advent of YouTube, TED, the Khan Academy and countless other resources, high school age kids are more than capable of learning that way.

      Indeed, right here in BR – here is an oldie but goodie:

    2. oromae Avatar

      Upon 2nd reading, this musing retracted.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Another anonymous troll / coward. Par for the course among liberals on this blog.

        Read the e-mail from the teachers quoted in the article, coward. What do those teachers who interact daily with students have to say?

        Mathematically speaking, what do you think happens when you replace a purely merit-based admissions system with a system that is partially merit-based and partially lottery-based? Does the overall capability of the admitted students rise or fall?

        This isn’t hard, even for an anonymous troll / coward.

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          Why do liberals hide behind bogus names? I am with you Mr. DJ. Namby pamby posters are difficult to take seriously.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            geeze, I though oromae was a hard right guy… in DJ’s tent usually. no?

          2. oromae Avatar

            I blew it reading the OP. Sorry there.

        2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          I, too, would prefer that people use their names, rather than pseudonyms. However, if you are going to label as cowards those who do not use their real names, you should not restrict it to liberal commenters. I refer you to some conservative pseudonyms: Baconator with extra cheese; Anonymouns Bosch; Lefty665.

      2. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        “oromae DJRippert • an hour ago
        And you would know this from daily interactions with the students.
        Oh! Wait. It’s the teachers who do that.
        You speak from nothing. Just STFU.”

        “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell”

        It’s evident where you’re standing.

        1. oromae Avatar

          I misread/misinterpreted DJRipperts points.
          I too espouse meritocracy. Haste makes waste 🙁
          My apologies.

          1. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            “oromae 29 minutes ago
            You don’t have any facts with you.
            “When meritocracy served your purpose, espouse meritocracy. When meritocracy is in your way, shove it aside.”

            “It’ [sic] evident that you’re standing in a pile of intellectual poo. You just don’t like being called out.”

            So quoting Carl Sandburg regarding you shouting down other posters is “standing in a intellectual pile of poo”?

            What did you “call out” and what’s the point of putting quotation marks around a fake quote?

            Furthermore, learn what meritocracy is before you invoke it. As if standards have been lowered and barriers to admission have been modified it’s no longer based upon merit.

          2. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            “oromae 29 minutes ago
            You don’t have any facts with you.
            “When meritocracy served your purpose, espouse meritocracy. When meritocracy is in your way, shove it aside.”

            “It’ [sic] evident that you’re standing in a pile of intellectual poo. You just don’t like being called out.”

            So quoting Carl Sandburg regarding you shouting down other posters is “standing in a intellectual pile of poo”?

            What did you “call out” and what’s the point of putting quotation marks around a fake quote?

            Furthermore, learn what meritocracy is before you invoke it. As if standards have been lowered and barriers to admission have been modified it’s no longer based upon merit.

          3. oromae Avatar


  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “This teacher is very hard. It is difficult for the average student to make an ‘A’ in this course.”

    1. WayneS Avatar


      To be fair, though, all the students at TJ are supposed to be above average.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        And all the women are strong…

        1. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          And all the men good looking? Damn he was funny….What did he do to get cancelled? I forget.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Alleged sexually inappropriate behavior towards co-workers at Minnesota Public Radio, I think.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Grabbed booty? What seems to do in the best? I was never a fan, but Click and Clack, and Wait, Wait, never miss ’em.

          3. WayneS Avatar

            Yes. The Tappet Brothers were awesome. I learned a lot of helpful tips from them.

  9. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The origin of this e-mail is highly suspicious. As Nomani tell us, “It isn’t clear yet the identities of the teachers.” (Yet, she chooses to treat an anonymous e-mail as real, probably because it suits her agenda.) Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that teachers would send out a broadcast e-mail brimming with such critical comments about students. If there are teachers at TJ that are unprofessional enough to send out an anonymous e-mail broadly criticizing their students, they should be fired. The chances are good that this is a prank or, more likely, a malicious e-mail.

    Turning to the substance of Nomani’s complaint, she explains that the Math 4 class included kids from the Class 0f 2024 (admitted under the old admissions criteria) those from the class of 2025 (admitted under the new criteria.) She does not bother to tell us the percentage breakdown between the “old” students” and the “new” ones. Because Math 4 is second from the higher level of math, it would seem reasonable to assume that most of the Math 4 students were from the Class of 2024, who had already taken Math 1,2, and 3. So, it would seem that the students admitted under the former admissions standards are most of those getting those bad grades. That is, if this e-mail is to be taken seriously at all.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Yep. Anything from this woman is to be taken with a large grain of salt. She’s clever with her presentation but at the end of the day , it fails the smell test.

      No matter, apparently JAB considers it worthy of BR.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      I agree that the email is suspicious.

      It might turn out to be genuine but I’m withholding judgement for now.

      The header of the email includes the name “Juster, K”. There is a math teacher named Kathleen Juster at the school. Maybe relevant, maybe not, although it is pretty easy to ‘fake-up’ a name or email address in the ‘To:’ or ‘Cc:’ line of an email – or even the ‘From:’ line.

  10. “In the article, Natanson disparaged a “a group of disgruntled parents” that filed a lawsuit against new race-based admissions changes to the school, even though a federal judge, Claude Hilton, ruled earlier this year that the changes are illegal, “patently unconstitutional” and anti-Asian. That would be like calling the Brown family in Brown v. Board of Education “disgruntled.” ”

    The author compares herself to the Brown family, which is pretty rich, considering she is trying to keep people out and Brown was trying to get them in.

    (fixed quote in edit)

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Did the judge ever cite the specific law and Constitutional provision that were violated?

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      She failed to mention that the Court of Appeals has stayed that order and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        “Dick Hall-Sizemore ARL • 17 minutes ago
        She failed to mention that the Court of Appeals has stayed that order and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.”

        Appeal to Authority, pointing out that you’re not using logic is like shooting fish in a barrel.

      2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

        Neither the 4th Circuit order nor the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene at this stage represents a ruling on the merits. There is strong evidence that Fairfax County’s school board is using race as a criterion. I doubt that, when the trial is completed, the board will be able to pass strict scrutiny required to make government decisions based on race.

  11. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    So, who voted for the racist, anti-achievement, LGBTQ authoritarians on the School Board? I am glad (not GLAAD) that Asra and some others have awakened from Wokism’s patent harms, but the rest of the County needs to break out of its lethargy, but many…most?…are somehow affiliated with sucking on the govt teat. Either directly, or as a contractor, or in some support role.

  12. Gandalf Avatar

    Without seeing the actual test questions and the student responses, it is not possible to judge. Also, we would need to see the homework that was assigned throughout the semester. There is, frankly speaking, no reason to assume the teachers are particularly competent, either as mathematicians or as teachers. After all, the standards to be a teacher in the US are quite low.

    However, one thing is certain: had I been teaching the trig classes, I would have made it clear to each student that the half-angle formulas would be on the final, and I would be regularly quizzing them on the formulas (and other trig identities) throughout the semester so that it was drilled into them.

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