Student Publishes Comparison of ACT and Classic Learning Test

Published November 15, 2017

The ACT and SAT college entrance exams are tied to the Common Core State Standards, a set of national standards dictating what students should know at the end of each grade level. The CLT was developed in 2015 to give students an alternative to the ACT and SAT. More than 80 colleges and universities accept CLT for college admission.

ACT ‘Unfair’ to Homeschoolers

Olivia Dennison, a homeschooled student from West Virginia, took the ACT and CLT within a week of each other. Dennison says the ACT was biased toward students who studied Common Core-aligned curricula.

“I have no experience with Common Core,” Dennison told School Reform News. “I’ve always been homeschooled, and so all I know about Common Core is what I’ve researched about it, and I’ve read that the ACT is very based on Common Core. The ACT is very unfair to students who are growing up in differently styled classrooms. Whether that be a homeschool, a Christian school, a charter school, whatever it is, students with no Common Core experience can definitely be [at] an unfair disadvantage.”

‘Working to the Test’

Dennison says ACT stresses test-taking skills, whereas CLT emphasizes full comprehension of learning materials.

“The ACT is based on students working to the test and not on students being lifelong learners, which is the point of education,” Dennison said. “Some pros [with the CLT] would be that I thought there were a perfectly balanced number of passages on creationism and evolutionism. I think this is necessary, because students need to hear all sides of an argument, and that will help them form and strengthen their opinions.”

“Existing standardized tests focus too narrowly on sterilized texts without allowing students to consider broader implications of decisions, ideas, and discoveries found in the rich and abundant variety of sources ranging from St. Augustine to Kant,” the CLT website states. “The CLT reintroduces this variety by focusing on sources and materials that draw upon a strong tradition and challenge students to analyze and comprehend texts that are not just concerned with one small, narrow topic but rather represent the scope and complexity of Western tradition.”

Says ACT Lacks Balance

Dennison says ACT gravitates toward trendy subject matter, unlike CLT. 

“I really, really love classic literature, and I think the ACT makers had this opportunity to choose these passages from classic literature and benefit students, but instead they chose these modern passages that are more about life events for an author instead of quality material that could benefit a student’s mind, and that almost made me cringe,” Dennison said.

Says Schools Feel Pressured

David Wagner, CLT’s chief executive officer and cofounder, says his company encounters schools that feel the need to conform to standards and sacrifice their unique identity.

“People recognize it is inherently not fair that the only two options for college entrance exams are both Common Core-aligned, really public school assessments, that all kids are required to take,” Wagner said. “It’s amazing the consistency, when we talk to headmasters, that they feel the pressure from parents who say, ‘I like all the classical stuff you’re doing, but what really matters is if [my children are] going to be seeing what’s on the SAT.’ With that they feel this pressure to conform to a testing standard that is very disconnected from their values and their principles and their own curriculum as a school.”

More Colleges Adopting CLT

Wagner says CLT is experiencing great early success.

“Our strategy has changed a little bit,” Wagner said. “CLT was really born with a Catch-22 problem, where we want to have widespread college adoption, but in order to get that, you need students using it first to really interest the colleges. At this point, we’re probably seeing two to three college adoptions a week. One school actually dropped the ACT and SAT altogether.”

Teresa Mull ([email protected]is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.


Olivia Dennison, “The ACT vs. the CLT from a Student’s Perspective,” September 18, 2017: