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Florida is poised to accept 'classic' learning test that focuses on the Western intellectual tradition

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Florida is poised to become the first state to embrace the un-woke Classic Learning Test for public college admissions.

It comes down to a vote by the State University System of Florida's Board of Governors later this month, after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis already ratified legislation in May, authorizing school districts to select the CLT as an alternative to the SAT or ACT for administration to public school students in grade 11.

As with many initiatives that hearken back to the West's once and future cultural greatness or inspire confidence in the tradition of America's forebears, critics have suggested that it is problematic to place emphasis on Western and European thought, reported Axios.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, provost and vice president at Western Michigan University, has suggested that "classical education is really a wolf in sheep's clothing," adding, "what it's about is using selective Western thinkers to foment a specific moral ideology."

Other critics suggest it is part of an "attempt by Florida Republicans to reshape the state's education system, basing it on more conservative teachings," reported NewsNation.

Like the SAT and ACT standardized tests, the CLT, launched in 2015 and used early on by homeschooling families, assesses students' reading, grammar, and math skills, emphasizing foundational reading skills.

Besides consisting of only 120 questions and taking two hours to complete, the test differs greatly from others in that it focuses on "meaningful pieces of literature that have stood the rest of time."

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the test is rooted in the classical education model, focusing on the "centrality of the Western tradition."

Jeremy Tate, the founder and president of the CLT, told the Florida Standard that the College Board, which administers the SAT, "is a pretty radical organization. They don't try to hide it. ... They're very much one-sided [politically]. Most of the source material leans heavily into 20th century progressives and they really ignore the Western intellectual tradition that was foundational for America."

Rather than cramming in preparation for an engagement with the writ of middling leftist intellectuals and literary unknowns, students who take the CLT will instead enjoy exposure to Western greats, from Aristotle and Plutarch of antiquity, to St. Thomas Aquinas and Geoffrey Chaucer of the Middle Ages, all the way to modern American giants like Thomas Jefferson.

The stated purpose of this particular test is to "reconnect knowledge and virtue by providing meaningful assessments and connections to seekers of truth, goodness, and beauty."

Clay Daniel, founder of Clayborne Test Prep and Tutoring, told BestColleges, "It doesn't feel like you're just taking a multiple-choice test because, in the process, you might be comparing the work of Plato and the Federalist Papers, and really thinking about the interplay between the two. It's kind of a rich experience, taking the test, which isn't something that you normally associate with standardized tests."

Having an alternative to the ACT and SAT is critical, according to both Tate and the CLT.

CLT notes on its site that "standardized testing provides an invaluable opportunity to engage students with the texts and authors that have shaped history and culture," especially since teachers have the tendency to "teach towards the test."

Tate suggested that it was long understood that the "goal of education was always about human formation, especially the cultivation of virtue. ... It's why you educated the next generation. You're passing down an inheritance. You're teaching them integrity."

While the CLT seeks to once again pursue this goal, Tate has indicated that is not a common aim among all examiners and educators.

"That purpose for education has been lost in this age of credentialing," said Tate. "It's just about college and career readiness."

The Pensacola News Journal reported that there are presently four CLT exams students can take: CLT, the college entrance exam for grades 11 and 12; CLT 10, the college preparatory exam for grades 9 and 10; CLT 8, the high school readiness program for grades 7 and 8; and CLT 2-6, a diagnostic exam for grades 3-6.

Over 100,000 CLT tests have been administered so far.

Presently, over 200 colleges and universities accept CLT scores in the United States and in Canada, including Hillsdale College, Baylor University Honors College, and John Brown University. Many of the schools appear to be religiously oriented.

New College of Florida became the first public university in the state to accept the CLT as an alternative to the SAT and ACT in May, with Richard Corcoran, interim president, noting it was "an exciting step for educational choice and freedom in our state as well."

In addition to ratifying a bill funding all school districts in Florida to use the CLT for 11th-graders back in May, DeSantis also enabled the CLT to be used by students in order to qualify for the state's Bright Futures college scholarship.

Axios reported that the Florida Board of Governors is expected to vote on Aug. 30 concerning CLT adoption.

According to board spokesman Altony Lee III, if adopted at the end of the month, then universities could start accepting CLT scores for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle.

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