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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2 replies to this post
  1. I’m an old father now. Suddenly, it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt. I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

    When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

    So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs. Someone mentioned that my grandfather had a birthday in a few days … and that little-bitty mention sprung my father’s mind.

    “So, young Denis” said my father, “ how long would you like to live? What is a good, long life?”

    Right off the bat I’m thinking this is a trick question … because my father was never familiar with the obvious. So, there I sat … and my brothers had caught wind of my dinner-table distress … and they were loving every minute of it.

    Meanwhile, my father was sipping his usual cocktail and pushing some food around his plate … which means he’s kinda waiting for an answer … to the trick question. And I don’t have much in the way of trick answers … because … I’m nine. Gimme a break.

    After several long minutes he leaned over and asked, “And?”

    I went full-out bravado … more for my brothers than for any other reason. I gotta live in this family after all, right? Strong is the key. Trust me.

    “Seventy. Seventy years old is a good, long life.”

    I was so pleased with my answer, I smirked at every guy at the table … until I noticed that my father was completely unimpressed … still sitting there … at the head of the table … playing fork-hockey with his peas.

    And me? I’m waitin’ for a sign … any sign! … that my skinny answer is sufficiently smart. I’m dreaming of the big back-slap … or even the dreaded hair-muss.

    There was none.

    In fact, it seemed I was completely off his radar for a long moment.

    I shouldn’t have been surprised. My father didn’t do that sort of stuff. I must’ve had him confused with my best friend’s father … who was really normal.

    After a few long minutes, he clasped his hands and leaned over toward me. And then the verdict.

    “You’re a silly boy.”

    Mind you … he said it softly. No mocking at all. Just a soft, blunt statement … designed to make me think all over again. To spin my brain-gears a bit more. And I did. Even my brothers were cranking their brains. I think that was part of my father’s strategy … to make the moment belong to everyone. To glue everyone into the lesson.

    Then he leaned over once again … and in a loud whisper … so all could hear … he said …“If you live to be seventy … you will have lived just 840 months. Does that seem long enough for you?”

    And, of course, it didn’t then … and it doesn’t now. And I learned the lesson he intended me to learn … to be careful with numbers and to respect time. And to not waste time … or let others waste my time.

    So, from this old father … to you young fathers and young mothers … mind the time.

    Mind those sweet moments with your children and seldom say “Hurry up!”. Don’t wish for anything except this moment. Leave tomorrow alone. Tend to today.

    Don’t let anyone hurry your child.

    Don’t let anyone sandpaper their softest years with grit or rigor … because there’s plenty of that stuff in the eight hundred months ahead.

    Don’t let anyone run innocence out of your child’s life. It has its own cadence and rhythm … and it’s plenty fast enough.

    Don’t let others spin those clock hands faster than they already spin.

    Mind the numbers in your life as never before. Pay as much attention to the little moments as you do the big moments.

    Remind yourself that a five year old is sixty months on this planet. Less than 2,000 days old. They’re still brand new people! No one has the right to whisper anything about college or careers to a child determined to conquer the monkey bars. All adults should respect the Law of the Chair … if a child’s legs do not reach the floor … well … they are reality-exempt.

    That eight year old … the one who sleeps in his Little League uniform? He’s a third grader. Not yet 100 months old. Let that sink in. Why is he rip-roaring mad at himself over some junk-test? That’s not the worry of an 8 year old. He should be anxious about base hits … not base line scores. His only career thought is what professional team to sign with … and that’s heavy enough.

    That music-blasting “tween” is maybe 150 months old. At that age their job is to not walk into door jambs … and to try to put a lid on some hormone havoc. They’re still closer to babyhood than adulthood. Why do we let schools bum-rush them into anxiety-hell over tests? Mother Nature has already over-supplied them with all the anxiety they can barely handle. Why don’t we just lay off ‘em … and let ‘em outgrow this messy moment? It’s bad enough as it is … leave it be.

    I’m glad my father cured me from becoming number-numb.

    My hot-seat moment has served me well for … for lots of months. Maybe this will shake up your consciousness … and slow you down some. And maybe … maybe you won’t say “Hurry up!” quite so often. And perhaps you’ll remind that school to slow down … that there are children on board … and they are entitled to every last drop of innocence.

    Don’t let them tug your child into their warped world. If they think education is all about numbers, well, they’ve already forfeited their privilege to enjoy your child. They’re just as silly as I was … but I was only about a hundred months old. What’s their excuse?

    Denis Ian

  2. “– and the future is in STEM”

    To be fair, the engineering schools are doing a good job, just look at the success of the space program. But liberal arts schools are not, mainly because they’ve been infested with left wing ideology. Students are “Taught” history courtesy of Howard Zinn and politics from Noam Chomsky. They are being brainwashed, not educated.

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