Florida Approves Classic Learning Test for Use in College Admissions

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Florida’s state university system approved on Friday the Classic Learning Test for use in undergraduate admissions, elevating the little-known exam as an alternative to the SAT and ACT.

The vote from the system’s board of governors is the latest push by Gov. Ron DeSantis to remake Florida’s education system, from the elementary school curriculum to college. The CLT is currently taken mostly by religious home-schoolers and private-school students.

The governing board approved the exam over the objections of its faculty representative, Amanda Phalin, a business professor at the University of Florida. She said she could not yet support use of the CLT, as it is known, because it lacked “empirical evidence that it is of the same quality as the SAT or ACT.”

The Florida university system approved Classic Learning Test scores for use in admissions.Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Why It Matters

The CLT tests similar skills to the SAT and ACT. But in the exam’s English section, there is less emphasis on contemporary fiction and memoir, and more on Christian thought and excerpts from the Western canon — C.S. Lewis, Saint Augustine, Erasmus.

The CLT started in 2015 as a for-profit company, and, up until now, mostly Christian colleges accepted its scores.

The exam has a thin research record, with little information available on how well the test performs in predicting college success, especially for more diverse groups of students from public schools and secular private schools.

Its proponents, however, see the exam as a way to nudge public schools to change their curriculum, using classical Christian academies as a model.

“This test is hopefully universal as a standard,” said Jessica Hooten Wilson, chair of great books at Pepperdine University and a member of the CLT’s academic board. “They are trying to have passages that are not just of contemporary relevance, but have had longstanding relevance.”

The CLT has diversified its bank of authors, according to Jeremy Tate, the company’s founder. Students might encounter passages from Anna Julia Cooper, the turn-of-the-century Black feminist, or Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine surrealist.

Mr. Tate said that his test was apolitical, despite the fact that it was mostly conservatives, like Governor DeSantis, who had sought to expand its use. He noted that the program’s academic advisers included Christopher Rufo, the right-wing firebrand who has helped lead the attack on critical race theory, and Cornel West, the progressive activist and professor who is currently running a third-party bid for president.

“We are trying to build a broad coalition of folks who want to get back to the basics,” Mr. Tate said. “This kind of education really does transcend ideology and contemporary politics.”

A Challenge to the College Board

The CLT has operated on a tiny scale compared with the SAT or ACT. From 2016 to 2023, just 21,000 high school juniors and seniors took the exam; in the high school class of 2022, 1.7 million took the SAT and 1.3 million took the ACT.

Promoting the CLT fits within Governor DeSantis’s broader goal of taking on the education establishment, particularly around how it deals with race, gender and sexuality. He has continuously challenged the College Board, the nonprofit that runs the SAT and Advanced Placement programs, banning its African American studies course and questioning content in A.P. Psychology.

“This College Board, like, nobody elected them to anything,” Governor DeSantis has said. “They’re providing service — so you can either utilize those services or not.”

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