Sybil Low by Sybil Low

In a controversial move, Florida’s state university system has become the first in the nation to accept the Classic Learning Test (CLT), an alternative to the more established SAT and ACT exams. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • Florida’s state university system now accepts the Classic Learning Test (CLT) as an alternative to the SAT and ACT for college admissions.
  • The CLT focuses on Western classical and religious texts, and its effectiveness in assessing college readiness is debated due to limited empirical evidence.
  • The decision has sparked controversy about educational reform and the validity of using different standardized tests for college admissions.

Pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as part of an educational overhaul, the decision has ignited a fierce debate on whether the CLT adequately measures college readiness. The decision by the governing board for Florida’s state university system marks a significant shift in the landscape of standardized testing. For decades, the SAT and ACT have held sway as the de facto metrics for college admissions, not just in Florida, but nationwide. Now, students applying to Florida’s state universities can choose to submit scores from the CLT—a test most commonly taken by those in private schools or home-schooled.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been at the forefront of this change, arguing that it is an antidote to what he terms “woke indoctrination” in schools. While the CLT was already an accepted metric for the Florida Bright Futures scholarship program, this latest development allows it to be used more widely for undergraduate admissions.

“We are always seeking ways to improve.”

Ray Rodrigues, the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, made his statement. But the move has led many to question whether the CLT is a credible alternative to the SAT and ACT.

What is CLT? 

The Classic Learning Test (CLT) originated in 2015 as an answer to what its founders deemed a heavy reliance on “current trends in American culture and legislation” in modern education. It is built on a classical education model that emphasizes texts from Western canon, heavily featuring Greek, Roman, and early Christian thought. The test aims to gauge verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and grammar and writing skills in students. An optional essay section is also offered.

What is CLT? 

Taken online, the CLT is a two-hour test, about an hour shorter than its SAT and ACT counterparts. Its academic advisers include conservative activists like Christopher Rufo and Mark Bauerlein, as well as those affiliated with religious schools like Hillsdale College.

During the test, students might encounter passages from Plato’s ‘The Republic,’ Cicero’s ‘On Friendship,’ and Thomas à Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ,’ among others. In its “author bank“—a range of writings that could appear on an exam—the CLT includes a wide variety of works, from the Mesopotamian poem “The Epic of Gilgamesh” to writings by Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglass, and Mohandas K. Gandhi. It heavily features Judeo-Christian thinkers like Saint Augustine, Maimonides, and Martin Luther.

Jeremy Tate, the founder of Classic Learning Initiatives, insists that the CLT is apolitical.

“It’s an effort to avoid educational fads and expose students to rich intellectual material.”

However, the test does aim to be a part of “the larger educational freedom movement of our time,” aligning itself with the rhetoric of conservative supporters of private-school vouchers and tax credits for home-schoolers.

How does CLT compare to the SAT and ACT? 

While the CLT positions itself as a “more rigorous and comprehensive measure” than the SAT and ACT, the organizations behind these established tests have raised doubts. The College Board, the entity that oversees the SAT, has pointed out that there is little empirical evidence to show the CLT’s effectiveness in assessing college readiness. Amanda Phalin, a governing board member for Florida’s state university system, expressed similar reservations.

“I am not against allowing the use of the CLT. I oppose the use of it at this time because we do not have the empirical evidence to show that this assessment is in the same quality as the ACT and the SAT.”

The College Board also criticized the CLT’s own study comparing its test with the SAT, saying it had no part in the study and therefore couldn’t validate its findings. Additionally, the ACT organization noted that it was uncertain how its test compares to the CLT due to the absence of a formal comparative study.

Moreover, some classics scholars have expressed reservations about the CLT’s approach to classical education. Sarah Bond, a historian at the University of Iowa, said:

“I could never support a test or an approach that privileges one religion and one culture above all others.”

While both the SAT and ACT include reading comprehension and grammar sections, they generally incorporate a more diverse range of modern-day people and texts, often avoiding religious ones. This brings into question the universal applicability of the CLT, which leans heavily toward Western classical and religious texts.

Despite the debates, Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, finds the emergence of an alternative like the CLT “healthy and overdue.” But with only about 21,000 students having taken the CLT from 2016 to 2023, compared to 1.7 million for the SAT and 1.3 million for the ACT in just the class of 2022, the CLT has a long way to go before it can claim parity.

Test Duration2 hours3 hours~3 hours
SectionsVerbal, Quantitative, Grammar/WritingReading, Writing, MathEnglish, Math, Reading, Science
Optional EssayYesYesYes
FocusClassical and religious textsDiverse contemporary and classical textsDiverse contemporary and classical texts
Empirical EvidenceLimitedExtensiveExtensive
ScopeMostly private schools and home-schoolersNationwideNationwide

The decision to adopt the CLT in Florida is part of a larger discussion on educational reform, made all the more pressing by the announcement that the SATs will be different in structure and format. Yet questions about the validity and universal applicability of new tests persist. While providing an alternative can potentially diversify the educational landscape, whether the CLT can stand as a reliable alternative to established tests like the SAT and ACT remains to be seen.


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