New College Entrance Exam Targets Liberal Arts Students

New College Entrance Exam Targets Liberal Arts Students
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As a former college counselor, Jeremy Tate was unhappy with the direction the SAT and ACT were headed. So much so that, in the fall of 2015, he decided to create his own college entrance exam from scratch.

Less than two years later, the Classic Learning Test (CLT) is now partnering with 37 colleges and universities. On Monday the CLT will announce it has secured its newest and one of its highest-profile partners to date: Hillsdale College.

Tate, now the president of the test's parent company, Classic Learning Initiatives, says the CLT was conceived after he started his own SAT prep company and became very familiar with the exam. He was “shocked” by the direction of the test and how “politically charged” it had become. Tate believes that the SAT and ACT now favor science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) over the liberal arts, and, as a result, push high school students away from pursuing a classical education.

“Every teacher knows that testing is inherently pedagogical,” Tate said in a phone interview last week. “Testing teaches. It doesn't just evaluate.”

He was also opposed to the College Board, the organization that develops and administers the SAT, aligning the test to the Common Core State Standards. Tate doesn't agree with the Common Core approach and felt that the revised SAT would sway his students' educational emphasis.

Initially, he began searching for an alternative test to steer his students toward. However, he quickly realized that the SAT and ACT owned the marketplace. So Tate took it upon himself to start an alternative exam that specifically catered to religious liberal arts colleges and universities.

The first one to accept the CLT was Northeast Catholic College, a small New Hampshire school with less than 100 students. After that, St. John's College, St. Thomas Aquinas College and Liberty University -- among others -- followed suit.

One reason for the warm reception, Tate explained, is that many religious liberal arts institutions are losing students to larger public universities. “The SAT and the ACT, at the end of the day, are college matchmaking engines as much as they are anything else,” he stated. “They drive kids to big research universities over Christian liberal arts colleges.”

Reached by email for a statement, David Coleman, president and CEO of the College Board, did not comment directly on the CLT but emphasized his support for the role of religion in education and pointed to his remarks at the recent Foundation for Excellence in Education summit where he described the “gifts” religious education can instill, and stressed that a proper education involves “the life of the soul.”

Tate readily concedes that his ultimate goal is not to overthrow the nation's two largest college entrance exams but to provide high school students seeking out a religious liberal arts education an exam that better caters to their interests and courses of study. For example, where the SAT might include reading passages from writers like Virginia Woolf, the CLT selects texts from works by C.S. Lewis and Flannery O'Connor.

Of the CLT's 38 partners, Hillsdale is one of the best known and most influential institutions. The Michigan school requires each student, regardless of major, to complete a rigorous classical liberal arts core curriculum, which includes a course on the U.S. Constitution, as well as courses on history, western civilization, logic and rhetoric, theology and the Great Books, among other subjects. A New York Times' headline dubbed the school a “‘Shining City on a Hill’ for Conservatives” in a recent article.

Hillsdale put the CLT through an intense 10-month vetting process before accepting it. The two-hour exam can be administered online at local testing centers and features three 40-question sections: verbal reasoning, grammar/writing, and quantitative reasoning.

Tate hopes the CLT's success will encourage high schools to emphasize classical literature and rethink the entrance exams they prep students for. “I think they [the SAT and ACT] are really fostering a disconnect with the Western thought tradition,” Tate added. He also believes that employers are attracted to students from high-quality liberal arts programs because of their well-rounded educations and ability to think critically. By taking on two giants in American education, he's literally putting his beliefs to the test.

Christopher Beach is the editor of RealClearEducation

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