Florida to Vote on Using Classical Learning Test Instead of SAT, ACT

Florida to Vote on Using Classical Learning Test Instead of SAT, ACT
A statue of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides outside the Austrian parliament in Vienna. (sianstock/Shutterstock)
Catherine Yang

Only about 200 of the nation’s nearly 4,000 colleges accept the Classical Learning Test (CLT) as an alternative to standardized testing like the SAT and ACT, but Florida could this month become the first state to adopt the CLT across the board.

Education experts and advocates have long criticized traditional standardized testing, but this alternative test measure comes at a time when the nation is engaged in a culture war often involving children and public schools. Florida has been particularly spotlighted as Gov. Ron DeSantis has promised constituents to remove critical race theory, gender ideology, and other Marxist agendas from public education, even clashing with the College Board over AP courses.

Based on the classical education model, CLT has become popular in Christian and conservative circles as many see the SAT and ACT increasingly adopting progressive agendas.

Jeremy Tate, the founder of the CLT, told NBC News that Florida’s move was indicative that many are frustrated with the status quo in education.

“It’s certainly a lot bigger than just the test itself,” he said. “I think everybody knows there’s something deeply, deeply wrong in mainstream education right now.”

If the Florida Board of Governors approves the measure, all public high schools will adopt CLT in the fall, and students will be eligible for the state’s Bright Futures Scholarships with CLT scores.

The announcement first came in May, just as the New College of Florida became the first public university in Florida to accept CLT for admissions.

“As New College strives to become a world-class liberal arts educational institution, adding the CLT as an accepted testing option for admissions will ensure we are reaching and welcoming students from all walks of life,” said New College Interim President Richard Corcoran.

“Not only is this a tremendous opportunity for New College, but with the growing popularity of the CLT among Florida homeschoolers and classically educated students, we believe this is an exciting step for educational choice and freedom in our state as well.”


Mr. Tate, an English teacher, had realized that high-stakes testing was in part to blame for the loss of the true, the good, and the beautiful in modern education, that “transcendent, moral, and ethical ideas had been gutted from the classroom,” according to the CLT website.

If teachers inevitably teach toward a test, he reasoned that the test should engage students with some of the most important ideas, texts, and subjects. So he did “something radical.” He threw out the textbook and sat down with his class of students who had all failed their English classes. He promised “no homework, no test, no quizzes, no busywork, and no textbook.” Then he bought everyone copies of Flannery O'Connor’s short stories, which they read every class.

“It was the most successful semester I ever had. Students previously checked out became obsessed with the shocking nature of O’Connor’s writing. These students had gone through an education system that neglected any consideration of religion, philosophy, ethics, or the nature of good and evil. They were starving for truth, and O’Connor finally gave them a taste,” he wrote.
An example test on the CLT site shows a 40-minute, multiple choice verbal reasoning portion with passages in literature, science, philosophy/religion, and history/founding documents. It’s followed by a 40-minute, multiple choice grammar/writing portion on similar topics, and then a 45-minute, 40-problem, multiple choice quantitative reasoning (math) portion. The test is administered online.
In addition to the standard CLT test for high school juniors and seniors, the CLT10 was developed as an alternative to the PSAT and ACT Aspire for high school sophomores, and the CLT8 was designed for 7th and 8th graders preparing for exams. Though it has roots in classical education, it can be taken by any student as it was designed to “emphasize intellectual aptitude and achievement which is not limited to classical curricula.”

New Criticism

The College Board published a brief on the CLT ahead of the Florida vote, pointing out that the test doesn’t meet the industry standards set by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Proponents of CLT may be choosing the test and classical curriculum for that very reason.

The APA, for example, has stated that college-level courses, like AP classes, should include a foundation in sexual orientation and gender identity. AERA’s upcoming annual conference theme is “Dismantling racial injustice and constructing educational possibilities: a call to action.” NCME’s upcoming annual conference theme is “Reconceptualizing measurement theory and practice to reduce inequities.”
Progressive education’s focus on social justice is contrary to the humanities’ focus on the transcendental and universal, which is central to classical or liberal arts education. Homeschoolers were the first adopters of CLT; today, the organization has 86 members on its advisory board.

“You don’t want them battling against each other like the SAT is the liberal test, and CLT is the conservative test—I don’t think that’s a great place to be,” CLT board member Jessica Hooten Wilson, a literature professor at Pepperdine University, told NBC News. She added that CLT “doesn’t leave anybody out.”