A quick and dirty guide to getting into Dallas’ top magnet high schools

Applications are available online and at Dallas ISD campuses starting next Monday, Dec. 5, and are due at the end of January. A lot happens in between, and if you’re just now tuning in, you’ve missed a lot already.

The kick-off for the process is DISD’s annual magnet school fair, which this year has been expanded to include all of the district’s 228 schools. Rebranded “Discover Dallas ISD,” it takes place this Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Ellis Davis Field House. Everything from dual language to personalized learning to pre-k to International Baccaulaureate will be showcased along with the magnet school programs.

While there, you can chat up representatives of the school or schools you’re interested in attending, and don’t miss the information sessions on “The magnet school application process from A to Z” (12:30-1:15 p.m. for elementary parents and 2:30-3:15 p.m. for middle- and high school parents).

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Then come the open houses, which are different dates for every school, so check the calendar. All of them will take place between Dec. 5-22. Some schools offer tours on specific days and times each month, too.

Each school also has particular requirements to attend. These are not the same as the requirements to apply; most schools require a minimum 75 or 80 GPA and a baseline STAAR or standardized test score in order to apply. After meeting that initial requirement, there is an audition, observation, exam, essay or some combination of the above to gain entry to each school, and each school has its own scoring system or multiple scoring systems depending on the student’s chosen track.

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Another important thing to keep in mind is that, though the deadline to turn in magnet applications isn’t until Jan. 31, 2017, the onsite assessments (those auditions, exams, etc. mentioned above) are given Dec. 5-Feb. 11. There are assessment dates and registration deadlines specific to each school, some that we could find online and some that we couldn’t.

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As it has been pointed out, information can be hard to find and requirements difficult to fulfill. But here’s what we do know about criteria for three of the most popular magnet high schools (information coming next week on elementary and middle schools):

• The Science and Engineering Magnet (SEM) High School at Townview uses 1) an onsite English essay exam, timed and held under SEM supervision (40 percent of total); 2) an onsite math exam consisting of problems, timed and held under SEM supervision (40 percent of the total); and 3) an onsite interview which includes a logic/reasoning component (20 percent of total). (This is according to SEM’s PTA page; the SEM DISD website doesn’t have this information.) Dates for SEM’s onsite assessments weren’t available on its website or the DISD website.

SEM also offers shadowing for prospective students. At least, it did last year. The SEM PTA website gives information on shadowing for 2015 (which the DISD website links to) but not for 2016. That shadowing period may have passed, however, as last year it took place in October and November. Its open house is Wednesday, Dec. 7, 6-8 p.m.

• Townview’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) High School has its full application packet online in downloadable PDF form. The application consists of 1) seventh- and eight-grade GPA (10 points); 2) an off-site creative project (15 points); and 3) an onsite critical reading component (15 points), interview (15 points), essay (25 points), and reading and math activity (20 points). TAG notes that these onsite application sessions are Feb. 4 and 11.

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TAG also offers shadowing, this year Oct. 3-Dec. 15, so there is still time, but the website notes that spots are limited. The school already held its annual information night on Nov. 17; its open house is held in conjunction with the other schools on the Townview campus, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 6-8 p.m.

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• Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts has different audition processes and scoring systems for dancemusictheatre and visual arts, all of which are available online (and a bit too lengthy and complex to post here).

Its open house is Thursday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m.; its next school tour is Friday, Jan. 13 at 9:30 a.m.; its audition workshops are Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 5 p.m.; and its auditions are Saturdays, Jan. 28 and Feb. 4.

After all the auditions and onsite assessments, these schools accept the top 30 percent of applicants districtwide, then the remaining spots go to the top applicants from each of the district’s geographic divisions. Out-of-district applicants are accepted only if spots aren’t filled by qualified DISD students (at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work).

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