While spring usually finds U.S. high school students preparing for one or more college entrance exams, this year coronavirus restrictions have forced the cancellation of most of these tests.
Last week, the College Board informed students that even the June SAT and SAT Subject Tests were canceled, and no more SAT tests would be available until late August.
Likewise, the ACT has rescheduled its April 4 testing date for June 13 but may cancel early summer tests due to social-distancing requirements and concerns for student safety.
The test cancellations pose a challenge for high school juniors who would normally begin submitting college applications as early as July, but this year students may not have all exam scores to begin that process.
However, an innovative new company that has been endeavoring to challenge the status quo in the college testing market has continued to offer testing even under quarantine conditions.
Unlike the SAT and ACT, developers of the Classic Learning Test (CLT) sought to make their tests available to students in remote locations, and long before the coronavirus outbreak had crafted and implemented technological tools such as timestamps and video recording to ensure test integrity.
Although previous offerings of the CLT have been proctored in both in-school and remote environments, the April 25, 2020 test will be a completely online affair.
The CLT differs from the established tests in several other ways too. In response to changes in the SAT and ACT content, especially after controversial Common Core architect David Coleman became president of the SAT’s College Board, CLT founders wanted to offer an alternative.
In an interview with The Texan, CLT co-founder Jeremy Tate explained that while his organization does not believe standardized tests should be the only factor considered in college admissions and scholarship awards, he says “there does need to be some kind of external metric to measure academic excellence.”
A former New York City public school teacher, test-prep consultant, and college counselor, Tate noticed a growing dissatisfaction with the Common Core-aligned and sometimes politicized content of the SAT and ACT. He also recognized that public schools, even those in non-Common Core states, were adapting their curriculum to match the content tested on college entrance exams.
Along with childhood friend and business management consultant David Wagner and a board of advisors, Tate launched the CLT in 2015.
Rather than test students on purportedly “values neutral” informational texts, the CLT includes reading selections from classical authors and thinkers ranging from Plato to Flannery O’Connor. Far from values neutral, the reading selections often invite students to think critically about moral and ethical issues.
“We at the CLT want students to read and understand the best of what has been thought and said,” explained Tate. “Hopefully [the CLT] can help steer current schools to go back to including the humanities and liberal arts as well.”
The CLT also differs from other college entrance exams in that it is only two hours long, and, like earlier versions of the SAT and ACT, bars use of calculators on the mathematical and logical reasoning sections.
“SAT was no-calculator until 1994,” explained Tate. “When they started allowing calculators, math teachers adapted. You had a whole generation of students who became kind of dependent on a device.”
“That’s probably the thing we get the most feedback on, that schools embracing the CLT have started teaching more no-calculator math techniques.”
The CLT also differs from the SAT and ACT in that results are usually available the same day, and there are no additional fees for sending scores to participating colleges.
Since launching five years ago, the CLT has drawn increasing participation, primarily from classical public charter schools, private schools, and homeschools. Last year approximately 20,000 students took either the CLT or one of its test variations for eighth and tenth graders. This year Tate expects at least 30,000 students will take the test, although with SAT and ACT cancellations and growing discontent with those tests, the numbers may rise.
More than 150 colleges now accept the CLT; most are private liberal arts or Christian schools, and many offer score-based scholarships. Accepting colleges include Hillsdale and Wheaton colleges, and in Texas, Abilene Christian University, Baylor University Honors College, Dallas Baptist University, Hardin-Simmons University, Houston Baptist University, LeTourneau University, University of Dallas, and the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
CLT leadership includes a wide range of intellectuals, college presidents, and K-12 school leaders, including several Texas residents, such as Texas Public Policy Foundation Executive Director Dr. Kevin Roberts and Dallas Baptist University President Dr. Adam Wright.
Despite recent cheating scandals and the efforts of some colleges and universities to adopt “test-optional” admissions, SAT and ACT remain the most popular providers of college entrance exams. In the class of 2019, 1.8 million students took the ACT and 2.2 million took the SAT.
The College Board has also moved to increase market share by contracting with public high schools to offer the SAT during a regular school day, often with public school districts picking up the costs. Although technically a non-profit, the College Board reports revenues north of $1 billion annually and has come under fire for allegedly selling student data.
As providers of Advanced Placement (AP) exams, the College Board says this year it will for the first time offer AP exams in an online format to be taken at home, although with last-minute revisions to layout and scoring. The test provider has published a series of AP online classes and review sessions available on YouTube, and says despite the late adjustments, it expects most colleges and universities will still accept AP scores for college credit.
If schools are not reopened by this fall, CEO David Coleman says the College Board is working on a digital version of the SAT for use in homes later this year.
In the meantime, the CLT is the only option for students hoping to report a test score on early open applications.
Content aside, the current crisis has catapulted virtual education to the forefront. Both public and private schools have been necessarily embracing an online format, and some educators and families are finding it to their liking. Even after leaders lift restrictions on schools and public gatherings, many of these tools may remain as popular alternatives to traditional settings.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.