Florida's "Christian" alternative to the SAT won't help students
The Classic Learning Test offers no real value to students
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As part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to destroy public education in Florida, by forcing conservative zealots onto the board of a liberal arts school and suggesting they do away with Advanced Placement tests entirely, there’s been chatter between the head of the state’s public universities (a political appointee) and the founder of a company that offers a conservative “Christian” alternative to the SAT and ACT tests. The goal is to see if more of Florida’s public colleges would accept the conservative test as part of their admissions process.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the state university system’s chancellor Ray Rodrigues has been in talks with Jeremy Tate, the founder of the “Classic Learning Test.”
It’s not that the exam uses Bible passages or gives students a “God did it” option on every multiple-choice question. Instead, it focuses on the “centrality of the Western tradition,” buzzwords meant to suggest hyper-patriotism and a dismissal of ideas that challenge the conservative outlook on the world. It’s no surprise that the test’s media page highlights the company’s positive coverage—”CLT in the News”—in a slew of right-wing outlets known for promoting misinformation. Also not surprising? 85% of the students who currently take it are white. These people know their target demographic.
[Tate] said the test is meant to be an alternative to the College Board-administered SAT exam, which he says has become “increasingly ideological” in part because it has “censored the entire Christian-Catholic intellectual tradition” and other “thinkers in the history of Western thought.”
“We’re thrilled they like what we’re doing,” Tate said. “We’re talking to people in the administration, again, really, almost every day right now.”
Specifically, Tate said he is seeking to make the test an option for the taxpayer-funded Bright Futures Scholarship program, which rewards Florida high school students based on academic achievement. Students can use the scholarship to help pay for a Florida-based college education. Currently, the scholarship is tied to the SAT and ACT test scores.
While DeSantis has not publicly singled out the Classic Learning Test as an alternative to the College Board’s SAT, he has said he wants to seek out “other vendors” who can do it “better” than the SAT. A top education official in his administration has indicated interest in the CLT test.
There are plenty of problems with the ACT, SAT, and standardized testing in general. The idea that they’re too “ideological” isn’t one of them. Republicans just don’t like that the ACT and SAT are aligned with Common Core standards. That makes it somewhat harder to game the system (with, say, test prep classes available to those who can afford them) but falls more in line with what many kids are learning in school. Telling schools to accept a little-known test as evidence of a student’s academic abilities is absurd, especially when that alternative was literally created for ideological reasons.
This is all nothing more than an attempt to legitimize a conservative group’s exam that has currency mostly within Christian schools.
Roughly 200 largely faith-based schools across the country accept the assessment. Ten of them are in Florida, including Stetson University, Ave Maria University, Reformation Bible College, Palm Beach Atlantic University, Pensacola Christian College and Trinity Baptist College.
Even though DeSantis isn’t directly involved in these conversations, he’s made it clear he’ll do just about anything to appease Republican voters and infuriate everyone else. Denigrating the sort of tests most high school students take to get into college (especially out-of-state ones) by giving them an incentive to take a less-vetted test with roots in the conservative Christian world seems like low-hanging fruit for him.
It could hurt students, though, especially if these informal talks lead to the DeSantis administration pressuring schools to adopt the CLT over the other, more popular, tests. That would limit the options for Florida high school students applying to college since most schools don’t accept CLT scores. Also, if more in-state colleges accept the CLT, there’s less reason for public high schools to offer students the chance to take the PSAT/NMSQT which could give them access to scholarship money.
Not that the administration cares. Henry Mack, the Florida Department of Education Senior Chancellor, celebrated the CLT as an alternative to… Critical Race Theory. Given that the ACT/SAT have nothing to do with CRT, good luck trying to figure out what the point of this tweet is other than to send a racist dog whistle to other Republicans.
All of this could be moot as more colleges, including the most selective ones, move away from accepting standardized test scores altogether. During COVID, even as many colleges made the ACT and SAT tests optional for applicants, Florida was the outlier that required them. But instead of pushing more Florida colleges to dismiss those numbers entirely and rely on essays or interviews or other more holistic ways of assessing students, the DeSantis administration is using the opportunity to push a different kind of exam on kids, ignoring the larger trend in favor of some dubious right-wing alternative.
If the CLT becomes commonplace in the state, though, it’s possible some colleges will decide it’s just easier to ignore applicants from Florida given their inability to see how they stack up against seniors from other states. If AP classes are tossed out as well, Florida students would have a much harder time leaving the state to pursue higher education. It would be a disaster for them, which could also be exactly what DeSantis wants.
(Image via Shutterstock)