ERIN, Tennessee (WTVF) — The TCAP test is never far from the mind of fourth grader Cortlyn Burnaine.

She wakes up thinking about it. She goes to bed talking to her mom about it. It comes to her mind when she is in class at Erin Elementary School, where her friends talk about spelling or math tests.

“They just mention test, and I think about the TCAP,” the 9-year-old said. “If I don’t pass it, I get held back. I am worried.”

Cortlyn is one of 12,000 fourth graders who could be forced to repeat the fourth-grade thanks to the state’s controversial Third Grade Retention Law which was enacted in 2023. Thousands of kids across Middle Tennessee took part in summer school and tutoring while in fourth grade in hopes of showing enough improvement to move to fifth grade.

The Burnaines appealed her score, but that effort failed. Cortlyn attended reading camps over the summer, but instructors said she didn’t show enough progress.

This is all frustrating to Cortlyn, who said comprehension is her hang-up. She said it takes her a couple of read-throughs to understand clearly what she just read. In her mind, it just takes a little extra time to read, and not a reason to keep her from going to the fifth grade.

“I shouldn’t be held back,” she said. “I have been working really hard in all of my classes and doing other tutoring stuff. I study. I don’t think I should be held back.”

Her mom, Casey, said Cortlyn and other kids are being unfairly targeted, particularly because they started kindergarten in 2019. When the pandemic struck in 2020, their whole education was disrupted.

“I think it affected not only her but all kids her age,” Casey said. “When schools went virtual, you lost the closeness of teaching. We try our hardest, but I am not a teacher. I do think her age group is at a disadvantage and they are being targeted. I don’t think it’s a fair law to now target third and fourth graders.”

Earlier this month, the Tennessee Board of Education approved a formula that will calculate how much improvement Cortlyn needs to show to go on to the fifth grade. School board members said they wanted to approve a formula they didn’t like rather than provide no direction for school districts and administrators this close to the TCAP test.

Testing starts mid-April.

In the meantime, the Burnaines are waiting for that improvement calculation from Houston County Schools. Cortlyn attends after-school tutoring two days a week. She travels 45 minutes from her home another two days to go to the Sylvan Learning Center in Clarksville.

She said the adults who are making rules about her education don’t understand what they are putting her through or how it feels. She makes the A-B honor roll at her school, and she feels she should go on to the fifth grade because of how much she’s worked on her reading outside of school.

“I want them to hear I am working hard to pass, and I am doing after-school tutoring and Sylvan and feel the understanding of extra school tutoring and all that,” Cortlyn said.”

Her mom has tried to get the attention of lawmakers to no avail, including Rep. Jay Reedy, who is a Republican from Houston County.

“She’s developed extreme anxiety over the school she once loved and enjoyed,” Casey said. “ It’s disheartening to not hear back. It breaks my heart to see other kids out there who are going through this. It’s a daily struggle.”

The proposed formula is a little hard to follow. Essentially, the state takes your child’s third-grade TCAP score, compares it to test scores of other students with similar testing history, and comes up with a number.

That number is subtracted by 50% and divided by eight. That’s supposed to represent academic progress from third grade into high school.

That final number will determine how many percentage points your child’s fourth-grade TCAP test score needs to improve.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to 10 districts in Middle Tennessee.

Their advice?

Keep communicating with the local district — teachers, principal, school board members, and superintendent. State officials said all information will come at the local level, and that it will not come directly from the Tennessee Department of Education.

If you are still waiting for an adequate growth percentage, districts said to hang tight as they are calculating those as quickly as possible.

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