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What to know about Florida's 'classic' alternative to the SAT

The Westcott administration building on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. on April 30, 2015.
Mark Wallheiser
The Westcott administration building on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. on April 30, 2015.

Updated September 11, 2023 at 5:40 PM ET

Students applying to Florida's state universities will now be able to submit exam scores from a conservative and Christian-backed alternative to the SAT and ACT, known as the Classic Learning Test.

The CLT is most commonly taken by students who are in private schools or home-schooled. Over 200 colleges currently accept the test, many of which are small, private or faith-based. The test was launched in 2015.

On Friday, the governing board for Florida's state university system approvedthe exam for undergraduate admissions — making Florida the first state in the country to accept the CLT on a wide scale.

It's the latest change pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has set out to overhaul the state's schools and fight against what he calls "woke indoctrination."

Prior to the governing board's vote, the CLT scores were already allowed in applications to Florida Bright Futures, a statewide scholarship program.

Here's what to know:

What is it?

The CLT is based on a classical education model. Like the name suggests, it focuses on classical texts like Shakespeare and Aristotle. Jeremy Tate, the founder of the CLT, told NPR that he hopes by focusing on the classics, which explore topics of human nature, logical reasoning and lessons from history, the exam would not only test college readiness, but reinforce a passion for learning.

"We're measuring your ability to read the most important texts that have driven the development of history and culture for thousands of years," he said.

The test was also born out of concerns that today's education relies too heavily on "current trends in American culture and legislation." Its board of academic advisersincludes conservative activists such as Christopher Rufo and Mark Bauerlein, as well as people affiliated with religious schools like Hillsdale College.

The CLT is two hours, about an hour shorter than the SAT and ACT. It's taken online and divided into three sections — verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and grammar and writing. The essay portion of the test is optional.

In a practice test providedby the CLT, passages are used from Plato's The Republic, Cicero's On Friendship and Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ.

How does it compare to the SAT and ACT?

The CLT calls itself a more "more rigorous and comprehensive measure" than the SAT and ACT. But organizations behind both tests say otherwise.

The College Board, which oversees the SAT, saidthere is little evidence proving the CLT can adequately assess college preparedness. It specifically pointed out that in a CLT practice test, a quarter of math questions appeared "below high school grade level" and statistics concepts were not tested.

When asked about the lack of statistics concepts in the CLT, Tate said the CLT simply does not test in concepts that require a calculator, unlike the SAT.

The College Board also took issue with the CLT's study, which found that the CLT's standards for college readiness were on par with the SAT's. The College Board argued that it was not involved in the study and therefore could not validate the results. In response to College Board's concerns, the CLT said it reviewed its study and stood firm on its findings.

The ACT also told NPR that it was uncertain how its test compares to the CLT because there has been no formal study on the two.

On Friday, Amanda Phalin, who serves on the governing board of Florida's state university system, raised similar concerns when she opposed the approval of the CLT.

"I am not against allowing the use of the CLT. I oppose the use of it at this time because we do not have the empirical evidence to show that this assessment is in the same quality as the ACT and the SAT," Phalin said in the board meeting.

Tate defended the existing research on the CLT's success, adding that it was inaccurate to compare the amount of research on the CLT vs. the SAT or ACT because the latter two have been around longer.

"They want to say that anyone who doesn't have as many data points as they do isn't valid," he said. "We haven't been around for a hundred years."

Tate added that he is open to working with the College Board or ACT on a joint review.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.