© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Florida approves conservative-backed Classic Learning Test for college admissions amid criticisms

The Westcott administration building on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. on April 30, 2015.
Mark Wallheiser
The Westcott administration building on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. on April 30, 2015.

Supporters tout the newly approved Classical Learning Test for its focus on a classical education curriculum. But opponents say there's little evidence the CLT is the same quality as the SAT and ACT college entrance exams.

The Florida Board of Governors last week approved the little known Classic Learning Test to be used in undergraduate college admissions across the state's 12 public universities.

The CLT has a strong conservative backing and is modeled after a classical education curriculum, which has become popular among Christian and private institutions for its focus on works from the Western canon and Christian thought.

According to the CLT website, more than 200 colleges and private institutions accept the CLT or is a "partner school." About a dozen are in Florida.

The state legislature also approved a bill earlier this year that allowed students to use the CLT to qualify for state scholarships like the Bright Futures Scholarships that help students pay for tuition.

But the decision on Friday makes the state the first to approve its use as an entrance exam in a statewide public university system.

Florida is also the largest public university system — comprised of 12 universities and over 400,000 students — to still require standardized entrance exams in its admissions process.

Where did the test come from?

The test was developed in 2015 by the for-profit company Classic Learning Initiatives.

Its founder, Jeremy Tate, describes the CLT as a part of the "larger educational freedom movement of our time."

As a former English teacher, Tate believed modern education had become too "utilitarian" partly because of high-stakes standardized testing, and yearned to reengage students in classical works that taught themes like "truth, goodness and beauty."

CLT supporters say that the test focuses on critical thinking, logic, and reading skills, which contrasts with the SAT and ACT that focuses more on gaming the test through tips and tricks.

Conservative backers believe the classical education curriculum the test is modeled after provides an alternative to contemporary education that they believe has become too involved with divisive political issues and social movements.

What do supporters and critics say?

Supporters say the CLT gives students an alternative to the SAT and ACT exams and, therefore, will reach a "wider variety of students from different educational backgrounds."

But critics, including Board of Governors member Amanda Phalin, question the test's quality and reliability.

"I oppose the use of it at this time, because we do not have the empirical evidence to show that this assessment is of the same quality as the ACT and the SAT," said Phalin, who was the only member to oppose the test at last Friday's board meeting.

In 2018, the CLT conducted its own concordance study to measure the exam's comparability to the SAT. But the College Board criticized the study for not meeting industry standards.

About 21,000 high school students have taken the CLT, whereas more than a million students take the SAT and ACT each year.

"CLT has not published evidence of validity or predictiveness of college performance," wrote the College Board, which oversees the SAT exam and AP curriculum.

The State University System of Florida did not address concerns about the test's ability to measure academic success, but defended its approval of the CLT.

"Not intimidated by controversy or critics, our focus is on the success of our students, and the State of Florida," wrote the State University System of Florida in a press release.

United Faculty of Florida president Andrew Gothard said he doesn't believe the test will make a substantive difference in making college more accessible to students.

"If the Board of Governors is looking for ways to open up those pathways, they need to stop canceling DEI programs," said Gothard. "No one who's actually in higher education was asking for yet another test that students could use to get into colleges and universities. This is entirely politically motivated."

The state still has yet to publish guidance on how universities will implement the CLT into their admissions process.

However, some public universities, including Florida State University, said they're already starting to accept CLT scores on their website.

Others, like the University of South Florida, are still working with the Board of Governors on making the CLT one of their accepted exams.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.