In a flash, the Classic Learning Test (CLT) has gained a foothold in the field of college-entrance testing dominated for generations by the SAT and ACT.
It operates in a philosophical world apart from the two standardized behemoths and the Common Core standards that now influence them. CLT asks aspiring college students to delve into the works of the greatest minds of Western thought, across literary and mathematical content, and show they understand timeless lessons concerning truth, ethics, and morality. The test incorporates both theistic and secular perspectives.
Great writing that receives short shrift from Common Core is at center stage, from Plato to the likes of C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Unlike the “value-neutral” SAT and ACT, CLT openly embraces the pursuit of virtue as classically understood. CLT’s developers hope students will complete the test thinking not just about numerical scores but how to live their lives.
Modern vs. Classical
Jeremy Tate and David Wagner, two friends since fifth grade, long had pondered the troubled state of contemporary education before deciding in fall 2015 to start the Annapolis-based Classic Learning Initiatives, of which CLT is a part. They bring complementary know-how to the task.
Tate, a graduate of Louisiana State University and Reformed Theological Seminary, is a test-prep consultant and college counselor. Wagner, a business graduate of the University of Maryland, is an experienced manager of early-stage and established enterprises.
As Tate sees it, two schools of thought clash in the education world: “The modern approach, as seen in many public-school systems, reflects a utilitarian view of education, where the main function of education is skill development and résumé building. The classical approach, in contrast, understands that character development, even over the acquisition of knowledge, is the true purpose of education.”
A Growing Option for Colleges
Indicative of pent-up demand for an alternative to the SAT/ACT juggernaut, 18 liberal arts colleges have already accepted CLT as an option for their applicants. Some of them are Thomas Aquinas, Patrick Henry, Thomas More, The King’s College, and St. John’s.
Not surprisingly, the initial signees are from Catholic, evangelical, or “great books” traditions. Tate expects the number of participating colleges to double by this fall. Furthermore, he projects growth to about 20 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities within five to 10 years. That assumes the addition of “liberal arts colleges with strong core curricula and the objective of being formative as opposed to just imparting a skill set.”
A Straightforward Exam
CLT is a two-hour test taken online at testing sites to which students bring their laptops, and unlike most other entrance exams, students receive their scores before they leave the testing site.
The test has three sections: verbal reasoning, grammar/writing, and quantitative reasoning (the mathematical component). From the first CLT, which debuted June 2016, Tate disclosed how one question featuring a George MacDonald short story, The Lost Princess, required students to engage their moral compass for full comprehension.
“In the story, a young princess is given everything she ever wants from the time she is a young child,” Tate told School Reform News. “She is never told ‘no,’ as her parents give in to her every demand. And in giving her everything, her parents failed to give her that which matters most—a kind and generous heart.”
Common Core Competition
Undoubtedly, the push to make Common Core all-controlling for K–12 schooling and college-entrance testing has stoked a desire for competing tests among homeschooling parents, classical educators, and others who abhor enforced intellectual conformity. Another budding SAT/ACT alternative is Vector ARC, which recently underwent beta testing. Approaches may differ—not all necessarily will follow the strong values emphasis of CLT—but diversity will be a plus for choice and competition.
Tate foresees one certainty: “We are not going to be aligned in any way with Common Core, and we will be around long after Common Core is gone.”
Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education with The Heartland Institute.