A recent article in The Wall Street Journal focused upon Florida’s decision to allow prospective college students to take the Classic Learning Test (CLT) as an alternative to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Testing Exam (ACT) to gain admission to its state-supported universities.
At first blush, this may seem to interest only to Floridians and college administrators. However, it is much bigger than that. It may be an opening salvo in the fight to reclaim American education.
The College Board, Arbiter of Academic Excellence?
The SAT is the flagship product of the College Board, which also administers the Preliminary Scholastic Test (PSAT) and the popular Advanced Placement (AP) program. As such, the Board is the ultimate arbiter of academic excellence in the United States. Indeed, the College Board’s home webpage begins with a boast that “College Starts Here.” It also boasts that “Each year, College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success.”
The relationship between the College Board and the State of Florida was already rocky. Specifically, the State objects to some of the Board’s AP Psychology and African-American History standards. In both cases, Florida declared that the standards violate recently passed state laws. In the face of Florida’s opposition, the Board is unrepentant.
Competitors or Collaborators?
The ACT has long competed against The College Board’s SAT. However, regarding its stand on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) issues, the ACT moves in lockstep with the College Board and the current academic environment.
“From our grassroots, we have fought the good fight for equity in education, and we remain devoted to helping anyone who struggles to access that power…. Today, too many students, families and educators are battling to overcome systemic inequalities, such as discrimination and a lack of access to knowledge and resources. Coupled with increasing socio-economic uncertainty, those most in need continue to be held back by the widening of opportunity and equity gaps.”
Both the College Board and ACT joined in an Amici Curiae (Friends of the Court) Brief when Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. opposed the racial elements in the admissions policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina before the Supreme Court. Both organizations are on record in opposition to the Court’s decision in that case, striking down racial preferences in college admissions.
Attacks from the Left
These two academic powerhouses dominate the lucrative business of college admissions testing. Despite their loyalty to DEI, the two giants find their “cash cow” under attack from the left, who want to eliminate all testing in the name of equality.
Many of the radicals in academia have called for setting aside the exams. For instance, Student Voice demanded that “all colleges and universities…“Eliminate standardized testing requirements and adopt test-optional application policies for all applicants” and “Reflect on the value of standardized assessments in the college admissions process and the implications testing requirements have on equitable access to the college application process.”
In 2021, Inside Higher Ed argued that “if the College Board is continuing to fill its coffers and colleges and universities are continuing to tie scores to their admissions decisions, the only losers are the students themselves…. It’s time to set them free.”
A More Traditional Response
This may be an ideal time to attack from the right.
Enter the Classical Learning Test. The CLT’s publishers claim that “Thousands of students, parents, and schools trust CLT exams to provide valuable academic insights and pave the way to a college education. CLT’s alternatives to the SAT®, ACT®, PSAT®, and more uniquely showcase students’ analytical and critical thinking skills.”
The fundamental difference between the CLT and its competitors is the source of the questions it asks.
“The ‘classic’ in Classic Learning Test refers to our use of classic literature and historical texts for the reading selections on our exams. By engaging students with this meaningful content, CLT assessments offer a more edifying testing experience and reflect a holistic education.”
Who wrote those “classic literature and historical texts?” They run the gamut from the ancients like Homer, Aeschylus and Aristotle to “late moderns” like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Friedrich Hayek and Albert Einstein.
From a Catholic perspective, the most refreshing part of the CLT list is the number of those whose names would never appear on a similar list from the SAT or ACT. The “Ancients” list includes Saints Athanasius and Jerome. Saints Gregory the Great and Catherine of Siena are among the “Medievals.” The “Early Moderns” include Saints Thomas More and Saint Teresa of Ávila. The “Late Moderns” list is a bit lighter on great Catholic thinkers.
Some, and this author is inclined to include himself among them, might argue that the list is polluted by including the likes of Luther, Calvin, Rousseau, Marx and Freud. However, that exposure can benefit a well-educated Catholic if taught to expose the errors each of those men represented. No one can contend against arguments that they do not understand.
Chances of Success
Can the CLT thrive? Can it displace the SAT and ACT?
The SAT and ACT have massive institutional acceptance. Virtually every college and university acknowledges them. Doing well on either can help a student get anywhere from the lowly community college to the Ivy League.
On the other hand, the CLT claims only 250 “partner colleges.” Most have some religious connection and claim to be on the conservative side of the political divide. Thus, Florida’s decision to use the CLT in its state system is a significant breakthrough. Other “red states” may well follow.
Future Vicious Attacks
Expect the leftist radicals to resist the CLT. The postmodernist faction will see it as too concentrated on worn-out ideas and names from the past. Post-structuralists will argue that oppressive systems of power and narratives dominate the CLT. The anti-racists will scorn the list as a primer for white nationalism. Each “-ists” will have its reasons for opposition.
Unfortunately, all these factions still occupy positions of great academic power. They will fight to prevent their institutions from admitting that this upstart exam even exists.
The CLT does, however, represent a whole set of exciting possibilities. Whether the academics want to admit it, tests often determine the curriculum. Teachers, of necessity, teach the material they think will be on the standardized tests.
That fact could be the reason that the CLT eventually succeeds. As the SAT and ACT increasingly embrace the “woke” mindset, they help to create an academic environment that discourages knowledge, replacing facts with the worthless notions of professors who, as the saying goes, “know more and more about less and less.” In addition, the logical outcome of these ideas is to abolish testing and the need for the two giants.
The CLT can provide an alternative capable of measuring true knowledge. If more states and institutions adopt it, the CLT could be an essential asset in reversing the trend to abolish testing and cancel Western thought.
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