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  • Zoe Becker

How Does the Walls Admissions Process Work?

Outside the Walls building March 27 / Credits: Meerabela Kempf

Hundreds of eighth-grade students came to Walls for admissions interviews earlier this month, hoping to be offered a slot in next year’s freshman class. But what exactly determines whether a student gets into Walls or not?

In recent years, the process for measuring the merit of Walls applicants has changed considerably. The current admissions process, unlike former ones, does not involve a standardized test for applicants.

In December 2020, DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee suspended the Walls admissions test over concerns that it could not be administered safely in person or fairly at home during the pandemic given the possibility of cheating.

Officials for DCPS have not publicly communicated why the test was not reinstated following the pandemic.

The former admissions test consisted of an English and Math section, similar to other standardized tests like the SAT but at an eighth grade level.

With the suspension of the test necessitated by the pandemic, DCPS began to explore whether permanent removal of the test would increase racial and socioeconomic diversity. High family income is often correlated with higher performance on tests because it allows students to access more extensive educational resources. “Despite the [suspension of the admissions test], we have not yet seen an increase in diverse representation across all wards,” Ferebee said in a statement to the Washington Post in 2021.

Given the lack of progress in advancing diversity, Ferebee said that DCPS is “in the process of evaluating additional changes to the admissions approach to recruitment, access, and student preparation to further build a process.” Thus far, the chancellor has not outlined plans to reinstate an admissions test.

Under the new admissions system, after all applicants have submitted their transcripts from seventh grade and the first term of eighth grade, those with the top 500 GPAs are offered a 20 minute interview. Interviews consist of multiple questions with students and a brief question for parents.

Ishan Hsu (‘24), who volunteered the past two years to conduct prospective student interviews, said, “Most of the questions [they] ask come from a pre-prepared list in order to maintain consistency.”

According to Noretia Hardge, the Walls admissions director, interview questions are about academic curiosity, resiliency, community, and diversity and inclusion. Parents are also asked one general question about their child. “After the interview, [interviewers] are supposed to rate [candidates] on different categories,” Hsu said.

According to a public DCPS document from 2021, the interview score — calculated based on the interviewers’ rubrics — is weighted as 86 percent of an applicant’s score, while GPA is the other 14 percent.

Ms. Hardge said the process after the interview is straightforward. “Based on the scores submitted from the interview [and previously received grades], we rank students 1-500,” she said. The top-ranked students are offered spots.


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