The Classic Learning Test (CLT) is a new alternative to the SAT and ACT. By creating a new standard that is distinctly Western and drawn from the richness of our intellectual heritage, the CLT hopes to encourage secondary schools to return to teaching the great classics…

James_Campbell_-_News_from_My_Lad_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Classic Learning Test (CLT) is a new alternative to the SAT and ACT.  In a test-saturated educational environment, one might ask: why is another college admissions test needed? The best way I can answer this question is to tell you the story of how the CLT came to exist.

In 2014, after graduating from seminary and spending a few years in the public school system, I accepted a job as a college counselor at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, Maryland. At the same time, to supplement my income for a growing family of six, I began a SAT Prep company.

As I began to immerse myself in the SAT, I was shocked to discover how much the test had changed since I graduated from high school in 2000. The most salient aspects of the SAT that I remembered had disappeared. The infamous analogies had been replaced with reading passages that were often politically charged and almost always championed the views of the political left. For example, I came across one reading passage from a 2013-14 SAT practice test which featured a passage from Susan Glaspell’s novel, The Glory of the Conquered. In the novel, Glaspell, an early feminist, presents marriage and family life as simply the total loss of freedom. I would have found no reason to complain if this passage had been countered by other reading passages that reflected on the sacredness, beauty, and wonder of marriage and family life. However, every passage that touched on the subject reflected a similar perspective to Glaspell’s. As a former teacher, I understood that tests don’t just evaluate – they teach. Tests are inherently pedagogical. In using this passage (and many similar passages), what was the SAT teaching our students about the reality of truth, the beauty of family life, and the dignity of the human person?

At the same time, my role as a college counselor opened my eyes to another major role that the SAT and ACT play in higher education. Not only are they college entrance exams, they are also college match-makers. As a college counselor, I had several experiences working with students who initially wanted to attend a small liberal arts college. However, after taking the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, these students would get flooded with junk mail from large state universities. Their names and contact information had been sold on the open market, and the colleges with the best marketing machines would end up getting the students. Sometimes the junk mail would include a personal letter from a college admissions representative, and often the student would end up committing to a large research university instead of a small liberal arts college.

These students’ decisions not to attend a liberal arts college was often compounded by input from parents who would tell me, “my son (or daughter) will need a job after college – and the future is in STEM.” STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) has been a buzz word in education for the past several years. The CLT loves math and science, but serious people recognize that STEM is not simply about math and science. David Wagner, co-founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Test, spent more than a decade in the health care industry before co-founding the CLT. Mr. Wagner has drawn attention to the lobbying efforts of big pharmaceutical companies who seek to undercut their own product development costs by having research universities do it for them. This is one of the origins of the STEM propaganda narrative, which is now being pushed by both the SAT and ACT. The STEM narrative asserts that most of the good jobs in the future will come from STEM majors. This claim contradicts the consistent insight of many of America’s top business leaders who see the liberal arts as the future. Steve Jobs once said that “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” In a recent interview, billionaire Mark Cuban echoed the same viewpoint, stating his belief that in a decade, there will be a greater job market demand for students with liberal arts majors than students with programming or engineering majors.

Nonetheless, many liberal arts colleges are suffering a downturn in enrollment as students continue to flock to large research universities. The CLT hopes to change this reality. Just as the SAT and ACT play in the arena of college match-making, the CLT endeavors to do the same. However, we at the CLT believe that the best colleges are the colleges that have held onto a traditional understanding of education. In the West, education has historically been focused on the cultivation of virtue and wisdom and not on the nebulous idea of making someone “career ready.” Paradoxically, when colleges focus on cultivating true character and virtue in young people, they end up graduating students who are far more “career ready” than students coming from universities that fail to educate the whole person.

To date, CLT has been adopted by forty colleges, all of which offer a strong liberal arts program. However, for the CLT to truly compete against College Board (SAT) and the ACT, we will need widespread adoption of the new test from like-minded parents and students. Every college to date that has taken the time to do a thorough review of the CLT has adopted it as a third option. It is the only college admissions test offered which is not aligned with common core standards and it is the only test that has retained elements of a true aptitude test. In fact, Hillsdale College, after an extensive six-month review of the CLT, noted that as an aptitude test, the CLT was “superior.” To the extent that the CLT is an achievement test, it measures mastery of better content. Rather than relying on meaningless texts that nobody would read if he or she was not taking a standardized test, the CLT puts students in front of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western thought. By creating a new standard that is distinctly Western and drawn from the richness of our intellectual heritage, the CLT hopes to encourage secondary schools to return to teaching the great classics.

To answer my initial question of why another college admissions test is needed, we at the CLT respond thus: another test isn’t needed. The right test is needed: a test that embraces the values inherent in our intellectual heritage, is free from common core political agendas, and remains committed to testing aptitude.

View a full-length practice CLT here and consider sending this essay and this link to a young person who may benefit from this new test. Unlike the SAT and ACT, the CLT allows students to send unlimited scores to colleges for free. The test is online and students who test receive their scores on the same day. The deadline to register for the March 18th CLT is March 14. We believe that the CLT is part of a movement to reconnect knowledge and virtue.

Please consider joining us.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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