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A recent story headlined “FC student achievement lowest in area” drew criticism from local school officials, and Franklin County High School Principal Dr. Roger Alsup and Career and Technical Education Department Head Suzanne Mitchell told the School Board that students are performing far better than the test scores reflect.

Alsup said COVID-19 and high levels of student and teacher absences placed FCHS in one of the most unique positions it has ever faced.

He explained that tests were given amid a significant time lapse due to the school’s schedule being so greatly interrupted by COVID-19.

FCHS also operates under a block schedule where a more traditional schedule of six or seven 40–50 minute daily periods is replaced with longer class periods that meet fewer times each day and week. A typical block-schedule class might last 90 or 120 minutes and meet every other day instead of daily.

Critics of block schedules state that students — particularly at certain developmental stages — cannot stay focused for longer periods of time, that knowledge retention will be diminished if classes do not meet every day or that students will fall behind more readily or quickly if they miss a day of school. The “4x4 block schedule” has been more heavily criticized since students may end up with a half-year or even yearlong gap between courses.

Students might take algebra I during the first semester of their freshman year, but their algebra II course will not be scheduled until the second semester of their sophomore year, resulting in a 12-month gap in instruction.

Alsup provided the following explanation to the Herald Chronicle about what had happened and how the circumstances were handled:

“Since we are on block schedules, we give the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program end-of-course (EOC) exams in December and May, which is when classes end at FCHS. Last fall we had a lot of students (hundreds) and teachers miss school either because they were COVID-positive or had to quarantine because of close contact with someone who was COVID-positive.

“We were given the option by the Tennessee Department of Education to either give the EOCs at the end of the semester or the end of the school year. Since we had missed so much instructional time, due to COVID, and we had so many students and teachers miss school due to COVID, and because the tests were not going to be used against us, I made the decision to administer the EOCs at the end of the school year.

“So about half of our tested students hadn’t been in those classes for five to six months.”

Alsup said that when the tests were given, the FCHS students who had the time lapse between when their courses ended and when they were tested had been away from the course materials for an extended time and did not fare as well on the exams.

Alsup said that FCHS had been a Level 5 school for two years before COVID hit. Level 5 is the Department of Education’s highest classification of an outstanding school in student academic growth on a 1-to-5 scale.

“We are a good school, and the citizens of Franklin County should be proud of the work our teachers do for our students,” Alsup said. “Of course there is room for improvement, and we talk about improving teaching and providing our students with more and better opportunities almost daily.”