D.C.'s National Merit winners aren't all from D.C.
Poor Washington D.C. Not only does it not have full representation in Congress but, it turns out, its residents don’t get full representation in the National Merit Scholarship Program either.
The academic scholarship program offers cash awards to high achieving students who are initially screened by their scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which is usually taken in the junior year of high school.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which administers the program, says that the country’s top students win, though the test scores that make a student eligible are not the same in each state.
The reason, corporation spokesman Eileen Artemakis explained, is that program officials want each state and the District of Columbia to be recognized in the talent pool. The number of students named semifinalists in each state is proportional to that state’s percentage of the total number of graduating high school seniors across the country.
So the qualifying score is different in each state and changes from year to year.
One might assume that scholarship winners live in the state in which they are named, which would provide the proportional representation that the National Merit folks say they want.
But that’s not always the case.
For example, not all of the winners in Washington D.C. live in the city. Some reside in Maryland or Virginia and attend private schools in the District.
Last year, nine students in D.C. schools were named National Merit finalists. Only four were D.C. residents, and only one of the nine attended a public school, Wilson High School. The rest attended private schools.
This past October, about 55 students from 12 schools in the District were named. Seven are from two public schools, Wilson and Banneker High Schools. The rest are from private schools, although I don’t know where they live. I’m betting a good percentage don’t live in the District.
I asked Artemakis about this and she said that students are recognized as semifinalists through their high schools, which receive the applications for consideration.
“If they do go on to become scholarship winners... they are announced in their town of residence,” she said.
She didn’t explain why it was done this way.
The D.C. representation issue has been raised before. A District resident, John J. Sullivan, sent a letter to the corporation in 2004, asking that the methodology for selecting winners be changed. Sullivan's daughter was a National Merit winner who happened to live in the District. His letter said in part:
“I do not see how the present selection process , as currently applied in the District of Columbia , serves the clearly articulated and laudable goal set forth by the NMSC program. To the contrary, I am convinced that due in part to the geographical size of the District of Columbia and the manner in which the NMSC selects the District of Columbia participants, it serves to deprive a significant number of District of Columbia public school students and residents of the public honor and achievement which appropriately and deservedly accompanies those students who are identified as National Merit Semifinalists, Finalists and/or Scholars.
"Conversely, it serves to increase the number of National Merit Semifinalists who are residents of Maryland and Virginia. While they are Maryland and Virginia students that clearly deserve recognition, such recognition should not be at the expense of District of Columbia public school students and residents.
“I understand the administrative convenience that is served by using the location of the high school as a short hand proxy to identify the eligible residents from a given jurisdiction. In the overwhelming majority of instances this does serve as an acceptable proxy for identifying the residents from the jurisdiction. It does not, however, do so in the District of Columbia. To the contrary, it serves to exclude many well qualified District of Columbia public school students from participation in this wonderful scholarship competition. Much as it would, I suspect if students attending exclusive private schools located in New Hampshire such as Phillips-Exeter and St. Paul’s were included in the New Hampshire results for purposes of determining the New Hampshire participants.”
Sullivan's offer to share remedies to the problem went unanswered.
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| February 22, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: College Admissions, D.C. Schools, Standardized Tests | Tags: National Merit Scholarship program, college admissions
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