Putting the Learning Back into Education

Kenneth Palmer

CatholicVote’s Erika Ahern sat down with Jeremy Tate, the creator of the Common Learning Take a look at (CLT), an up-and-coming alternative to the SAT and ACT. 

Together they focus on the woke, far-leftist University Board monopoly – and how it really infects curriculums in schools across the place. Then study how Jeremy and the staff at CLT have been battling back!

An excerpt from their job interview is out there down below. It has been edited for duration and clarity.

>> Watch the comprehensive job interview in this article. <<

Why We Need a New College Entrance Test

EA: Can you tell us a little bit about the Classic Learning Test, (CLT), why you took on this huge project, and how it is similar or different from the SAT or ACT?

JT: Erika, thanks so much. [I’ll] explain what the CLT is and why it exists. As we realize, a lot of people still haven’t heard of this alternative to the SAT. Here’s the two minute backstory for how CLT even came about.

In 2014-15, I was running an SAT/ACT prep company. I was also working as a college counselor at Mount de Sales Academy, Dominican-run school in [Catonsville], Maryland, which is where my two of my daughters go right now.

I had previously before that, read my way into the Catholic Church while at a very reformed Calvinist seminary. Just to be clear, that was not what I had been planning on doing in seminary!

And so I got into SAT prep to just put food on the table. 

I was very surprised getting to know the College Board, not just through the PSAT and the SAT, but really through teaching AP classes as well. 

I would describe the College Board first and foremost as the most powerful, the most influential company in American education. And College Board is not neutral.

It’s very ideological. Politically, they are far, far, far left of center. And I think they push a lot of ideas and they also censor a lot of ideas, especially in the AP U.S. and AP European History courses. They neglect the contributions of the Church and of Western Civilization itself. 

The National Association of Scholars did a study recently on China’s influence on AP Chinese Language and Culture class, and it’s very much whitewashing the bad stuff and presenting a very rosy picture.

During this time, Mount de Sales realized why there needs to be a competitor to the College Board. And really, one of the ways that it happened was that everything we did at this great Catholic school to market for new students, almost all of that was connected to the College Board. We were saying this is our average SAT score, our average PSAT score. Here is how many APs we offer. 

And when it really, really hit the road, Erika, was when these Dominican sisters introduced an Intro to Philosophy, and hardly any of the girls wanted to take it. And so as a college counselor, I was talking to them about this. Why don’t you take this class? We’re talking about the big things, like,  “What is life? What is happiness? What is meaning?”

EA: I would have jumped at that.

JT: And the students did not jump on it was because it was not five AP points. It was going to hurt their GPA. 

And that was this wake up call for me – what are we doing? Here we have got this faithfully Catholic school in tension with this, in many ways, aggressively secular education empire. 

And so the CLT launched by saying, hey, if there was an alternative to the SAT and ACT, would that loosen the iron grip the College Board has on these kids?

And so, because I was also a college counselor, I quickly called up my buddies at Franciscan and Ave [Maria], and Benedictine and said, “If there was an alternative to the SAT and ACT that better reflected a Thomas Aquinas College education or a Franciscan education, would you change your admissions standards?” 

And right away they said, “Absolutely. We would love something that reflected Christian [learning].” So that was the beginning of our story.

EA: So, it seems like you’ve designed a test to pinpoint those students who have cultivated the life of the mind? Is that a fair characterization?

JT: It is. And it’s what we’re doing. 

People ask this question a lot, and it’s a great question to ask: is the CLT biased in favor of homeschooled students or even classically educated students? And that raises [the question]…  what is actually on the CLT? What are students doing?

They’re reading, and we’re testing their ability to comprehend the very best of what has been thought and said. They’re reading Dante, they’re reading Jane Austen, they’re reading Flannery O’Connor or even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. 

The SAT and ACT selections hardly ever go before the early 20th century. And the CLT goes all the way back to Plato’s dialogues. If a student has a familiarity, a fluency with those sorts of texts, he or she is going to do a lot better.

And I think that’s what we’ve seen in the results. And it’s kind of amazing now, [after] seven years. We launched in December of 2015. We just had our seven year birthday. The CLT now–more and more we just see it referenced in academic journals or various places as kind of a resource. 

A lot of folks are still measuring academic success with these measuring sticks of the SAT, the PSAT, the ACT.

And our argument is, “No.” The measuring stick itself is deeply flawed and problematic, not just as a test, as a metric, but also the kind of source material that they’re putting in front of students and what they’re not putting in front of students. The SAT right now assumes students have a certain view of the world.

[Just look at] the number of passages where you’re supposed to assume that basically every woman was miserable until the 1970s. That’s not everybody’s take on the world.

The Future of Standardized Tests

EA: Another theme we’re seeing in the news quite a bit is this move away from standardized tests. And some top universities in the United States [are] actually saying they’re not going to look at the test or [they’re] going test-optional in terms of admissions.

As a founder of a standardized test, what do you see as the drive behind that departure from standardized tests? Is it indicative of just the sort of recognition that the SAT and ACT are no longer good metrics? Or is it a move away from tests in general? And if so, what does that say for the future of the CLT?

JT: That’s a great question. The history of standardized testing is a long one.

So basically, from the end of World War II all the way to 2008, you have 60 or so years of rapid growth in higher education, more and more students wanting to go to college. And that’s really when colleges became highly selective, because they had more applicants than seats available, especially at well-known, prestigious institutions. So the test became very, very, very important to single out the top students.

But then in 2008, there was the first [real] downturn in the number of students applying to college. The SAT and ACT tests were more and more seen as barriers for a lot of colleges saying, “We don’t need to be selective, we just need warm bodies in the seats.” In some cases, anybody. Some colleges have seen a seriously declining enrollment. 

EA: It’s a huge problem for second and third-tier schools.

JT: The Ivies and top, top tier institutions survived, but now they, too, have gone test-optional, and that’s connected to something a little bit different. 

After George Floyd, Congressman Bowman on the floor of the House said that standardized testing has been a pillar of systematic racism in America. 

And there is one thing top-tier olleges don’t want to be. It’s racist.

And that was also combined with the fact that tests were hard to come by during early COVID lockdowns. And so colleges waived their fees and test requirements. So very abruptly, we went from 30-ish percent test-optional to 92{af0afab2a7197b4b77fcd3bf971aba285b2cb7aa14e17a071e3a1bf5ccadd6db} test-optional within about 18 months. It was wild how fast it happened.

Now for CLT it’s a win and a loss. In some ways it puts us on equal footing. We have a great relationship, for example, with Duke. Duke says, sure, if kids want to send us their CLT score, we’ll take a look, as we would an SAT or ACT. But we’ll also take a tap dancing video or whatever else they might want to send us.

So we’re like, okay, does that make you a partner or not? It’s a little bit more vague. But now we’ve also seen something new just in the past six or eight months, first at MIT and now with Purdue going back to requiring the SAT or ACT. 

And so, the way I would describe it, Erika, is that I think the pendulum has swung as far as it’s going to swing against testing, and it’s going to swing back a little bit, but not nearly as far as it once was.

Is a test score helpful? Yes, It gives us a snapshot into where students [are] at, in some key academic areas, at a given moment in time. But it’s not a whole lot more than that, either. 

The reason we launched the CLT, though, [was] not because we thought a college entrance exam was the most awesome thing in the world, but more because the main driver of a lot of curriculum is what’s on the PSAT and SAT.

A Key Culture War Weapon

EA: So you’re looking at a college entrance exam as one of the primary big guns on the culture war front. That’s what I’ve been hearing. Who would have thought?

JT: It sounds strange when you think about it. But this whole experience, Erika, over the past seven years, I would describe as grabbing a piece of string, and then you realize there’s this massive cobweb that’s attached to it. 

The College Board has tentacles everywhere. Everywhere. It’s shocking. It is very much immersive and [is] all the way to driving insurance. The most random things that you would never expect [are] connected to [your] SAT score.

You’re only ever taught to look at standardized testing as an evaluative tool, but it’s really also a pedagogical tool. And in a couple of ways we [can use the] test [to] teach. And [the test] also conveys to students what is important and what isn’t important.

EA: If the test is noble and worthy of the human person, you’re going to be teaching good stuff.

JT: Amen. And that is absolutely our goal. 

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