When a Standardized Test Creates Community

Filling in Test Answer Sheet
Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu, Unsplash

The Classic Learning Test (CLT) has scored another first: a perfect score! For those not yet in the know, the CLT is a classical alternative to the SAT and ACT that is rooted in the liberal arts tradition. In place of disparate readings from contemporary op-eds, disjointed topics, and one-dimensional thinking, the CLT centers passages from classic works of literature and rigorous analysis. Most known as a college entrance exam, they have high school readiness and college-preparatory assessments down through middle school.

I’ve written before about how this test could influence and incentivize a more meaningful classroom culture. In short, no one really opposes standardized testing, per se. We need more attempts at accountability and objective measures. People oppose vacuous, meaningless standardized testing. The solution is to create a better test, not eliminate tests altogether.

That being said, I want to take this opportunity to talk about what really sets the CLT apart from its big business alternatives: community.

For example, when news came in that a student had scored a perfect 120 for the first time, the founder of the test, Jeremy Wayne Tate, drove to the child’s house with pomp, circumstance, and balloons. This child was more than a score to the company.

In reality, the CLT is much more than a test. They have a blog that features students, teachers, and academics. Tate runs a podcast where he discusses education with everyone from public intellectuals who write for our most august publications, presidents of colleges, and regular old teachers. Their conferences bring together leading Marxists and conservatives for candid, civil discussion  — a possibility that we all ostensibly want and the CLT actually makes happen.

I experienced this sense of community first hand at their Higher Ed Summit this year. I attend a lot of educational lectures and conferences. A few words usually come to mind to describe them: at times thoughtful, rigorous, well-researched, and all too often at others I think political, dry, vacuous. Conversely, while I listened to one of their keynote speakers, different words came to my mind: heart, soul, wonder, beauty.

I spoke with Chelsea Niemiec, CLT’s Director of Catholic School Partnerships, who said that “CLT does not simply offer schools a test, but a culture.” 

“When a school partners with us,” she continued, “they are pointing their students in a direction that includes, but also extends far beyond college and career readiness. They are pointing their students to virtue, ancient wisdom, and a lifelong pursuit of seeking the true, good, and beautiful. This is a culture shift, not simply the introduction of a new assessment.”

This culture includes bringing together school leaders, teachers, parents, homeschoolers, university faculty, and advocates who want to see our schools adopt a classical vision again: beautiful literature, a respect for tradition and our institutions, civic responsibility, and academic rigor. I consider myself a proud member of the greater CLT community and look forward to seeing its continued growth.

Daniel Buck
Daniel Buck is a teacher, editor in chief of the Chalkboard Review, and a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute. His writing can be found at National Review Online, City Journal, and the New York Post.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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