‘This test is dumb’: Tennessee third grader pens letter to lawmaker over TCAP concerns

Despite making all As in school, the student faces summer school or tutoring after not passing the TCAP test.
Third grader shares thoughts on TCAP test
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:22 AM CDT
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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – A Cookeville third grader who did not pass her Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test has penned a letter expressing her concerns over her fourth-grader status being in limbo.

Harper Burnett, 8, wrote the letter to State Representative Ryan Williams after hearing the news she did not pass her TCAP, a standardized test taken by Tennessee third graders to gauge readiness for the fourth grade.

Despite making all As in school, Harper will be required to attend summer school or receive tutoring after not passing the initial TCAP test or her retake.

“I think this test is dumb. It’s really frustrating, and it’s tearing apart all third graders and making them upset. (It’s making) teachers upset, too,” the Capshaw Elementary student wrote in the letter.

Credit: Leah Burnett

“I have worked so hard for the TCAP test. I’ve got all As and my teacher Ms. Williams has made sure I was ready for fourth grade. And this test score, decided by people who don’t know me, says I’m not prepared for fourth grade, and I’m positive I’m ready. I want to be with my friends. I’m sad and mad. And I don’t feel smart just because of a test. The people that grade my test scores aren’t even teachers and don’t know if I’m ready or not. Just so you know, if you think I’m not ready for fourth grade, so be it but I know I am because I am so smart and I know that you should know it, too.”

At the end of a video of Harper reading the letter, she invites Williams to meet with her and talk to her about it. Harper’s mother, Leah, said Williams reached out and they have a meeting set up to discuss the TCAP.

Harper’s friend, Vera van Aalten who’s also a Capshaw Elementary third grader, was inspired by Harper’s letter. Vera didn’t pass the test either but doesn’t believe it should reflect her overall academic success.

“It made me feel mad, it made me feel judged and it made me want to talk to them and tell them that this is not okay. And if we learned that lesson to not judge people by a test score, I think it’s time that they do it,” said Vera van Aalten.

Vera’s mother, Prudence van Aalten says it’s important for kids to have confidence.

“There’s so much pressure put on these kids for one day and one time,” said Prudence van Aalten.

However, the pressure that’s been placed on Tennessee third graders has been daunting. These parents want lawmakers to know this.

“I want to say it’s important that you look at each child individually and that everybody learns differently and at a different pace.”

In a Facebook post, Harper’s mother said her daughter had plans to attend two drama camps, a church camp, and a fun week at the YMCA. Now, she must attend summer school, despite working with determination to get all As.

“I hope these lawmakers will listen to my little girl’s big voice and she can say hey this isn’t right,” said Leah Burnett.

Harper’s not alone in TCAP struggles. The Tennessee Department of Education released TCAP scores that show about 60% of Tennessee third graders face retention.