The SAT and ACT Fall Short, But Now There’s a Better Alternative

Parents, test prep experts, and college counselors give careful thought in working with students as they approach the crucial “college entrance exam.” Which of the two exams should they prep for? Which of the two exams will they do better on?

After running an SAT/ACT Prep company for a couple of years, I became convinced that the “SAT or ACT” question is even less important than “Coke or Pepsi?” Anthony James-Green, test prep expert and “tutor to the 1 percent,” argues that “The New SAT, which launched on March 5th of 2016, is basically a carbon copy of the ACT—it was designed to be just that.”

These two testing giants, which now use tests of nearly identical content, also communicate a similar philosophy of education. For these two behemoths, it is all about “college and career readiness.” In fact, the College Board, which creates the SAT, lists “college and career readiness” first when stating the purpose of the test.

But what is the purpose of college and a career? A nice paying job? A respectable title? Nicer stuff?

Those questions are important as they ultimately shape the content of the test. The reading texts used in the SAT/ACT reflect that content really doesn’t matter.

Professor Andrew Seeley of Thomas Aquinas College articulates this well. After reviewing a practice SAT, Seeley wrote, “One widely available practice test is dominated by selections that present information of little to no interest to anyone without a particular, momentary need, in language typical of textbooks or newspapers.” Seeley goes on to list and describe numerous passages from the SAT and ultimately concludes that “high scores will be achieved by those who can analyze and edit such meaningless selections.”

All testing is pedagogical. When logic, philosophy, theology, and ethics are missing from the most important test a student will take, students may reasonably conclude that those subjects don’t matter.

The SAT and ACT have a far bigger impact than a few lost Saturday mornings spent preparing for and taking a test. These tests affect school curricula. Over the past year, I have discussed the larger role of the SAT/ACT with dozens of headmasters and high school principals. Many have relayed to me their conversations with parents and the pressure they are under to put students in front of the type of material they are most likely to see on the SAT/ACT.

Unfortunately, the content of the SAT/ACT reflects an impoverished philosophy of education that stands in sharp contrast to the traditional or classical understanding of why we educate our children. For those in the Western tradition, the formation of the human person, the formation of the heart in virtue, always stood paramount when considering the rationale for education. Plato put it this way: ”The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.”

If developing virtue in our young people is the basic purpose of education, then the most important test they take in their young lives, the college entrance exam, should reflect that purpose as well.

With this in mind, I wanted to create a solution by offering a third alternative for college entrance exams. In December of 2015 I co-founded the Classic Learning Test (CLT) with my lifetime best friend and business development expert David Wagner. Here is our website. To date, 22 schools have chosen to accept the CLT from students applying for admission, including Grove City College, the University of Dallas, and Belmont Abbey College.

We launched the CLT with high hopes, but have been shocked by the amount of enthusiasm traditionally-minded educators and families have expressed towards the new test. The feedback we hear most often from families is simply, “we have been waiting for this.”

Our goal in offering an alternative to the SAT/ACT is to reconnect intellectual pursuit and virtue. We believe that the ultimate testing standard, the college entrance exam, should be full of the greatest writers and thinkers in the history of Western thought. From Aristotle to Immanuel Kant, the leaders of the Western thought tradition have shared a profound concern for what classical educators refer to as “the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

The writers and thinkers students encounter when taking the CLT point them to the reality and existence of absolute truth, the sanctity of human life, and the irreplaceable value of personal character development.

Some readers may react with skepticism. After all, we are talking about tests that a student only takes at most a few times, so how impactful could an alternative be?

Shortly after launching the CLT our team began receiving emails from parents asking, “What type of curriculum would best prepare students for the CLT?” Those emails confirmed our belief that college entrance exams drive curricula in secondary schools. We realized that an alternative test could be impactful enough to refocus secondary schools on the disciplines that shape the human heart.

If a college entrance exam tests for ethical literacy, then student, parents, and schools will prepare accordingly. CLT tests have included passages from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Augustine, and Flannery O’Connor. The passages engage the moral compass and conscience of a student rather than his or her intellect alone. If you want to check out our exam (and perhaps compare its questions with those on the SAT and ACT), you can do so here.

As serious thinkers know, ideas have consequences and what people read shapes who they will become.

Twenty years from now the measuring stick for the success of the CLT will not be found in the bottom line of corporate profits. Rather, this endeavor will be gauged by the fruit it produces in the lives of the next generation and the degree to which it can contribute to a renaissance of virtue in America.

  • DrOfnothing

    I am surprised to see the Pope Center, whose authors have repeatedly argued _against_ the promotion of ideology in education, endorse a testing system that is so blatantly ideological in nature. The slant of the CLS is clear from the founder’s enumeration of “the sanctity of human life” as one of its core elements. This impression is further reinforced by the CLT’s adoption patterns–largely, it has been favored by private Catholic secondary schools. The SAT and ACT are not good tools of assessment either, to be certain. They are for-profit companies that hold a monopoly on the college entrance exams. The obvious solution to this is the construction of a more neutral, publicly-funded system. But since the ideology here adamantly opposes government regulation and public investment in education, it is unlikely to see it advocated by the PC. Replacing one profit-driven test with another one that has an even stronger bias in the _other_ direction is hardly a wise solution.

    • Dave Burton

      “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” – Theodore Roosevelt

      If you don’t respect the sanctity of human life, and acknowledge the intrinsic evil of killing helpless, innocent people, of any age, then you are exactly the sort of man President Roosevelt was talking about, DrOfnothing.

      Morality is critical to America’s national health. Most nations are grounded in ethnic commonality, but America is different. America is founded on an Idea: a faith that the common man can be good enough, and wise enough, to be entrusted with personal liberty and the sacred responsibility of national sovereignty. To think we can abandon moral instruction without grave peril to the fabric of American society is deadly folly.

      “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
      – Alexis de Tocqueville

      “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
      – John Adams

      “If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments.”
      – G.K. Chesterton

      “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under.”
      – Ronald Reagan

      “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed… No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
      – Noah Webster

      “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
      – George Washington

      • DrOfnothing

        You need to distinguish between secular ethics and religious-based morality. The first is both essential and laudable in democratic society. The second, especially if it is proposed to bind it to the laws of the land, is in contravention of the basic separation of Church and State, a principle that forms the bedrock of this nation’s political edifice.

        To cite Reagan, whose secret interventions in Central America resulted in the destabilisation of whole nations and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents, as some type of paragon of either ethics or morality is patently absurd.

        It’s not 1775 any more, or even 1875, so it’s time to adjust your ethical paradigm to one more appropriate to a nation where Protestant Christianity will soon be a faith in the minority.

        • piper60

          When somebody promotes an idea on the basis that it’s time has come, it usually means its a /bAD idea!

          • goldushapple

            “It’s about time we had a black president!”
            “It’s about time we had a woman president!”

        • Dave Burton

          How confused you are, DrOfnothing!

          You apparently don’t know what “separation of church and state” means. It doesn’t mean “stamp out small-minded Christian moral opinion.” I’ll bet you’ve never actually read the exchange of letters in which President-elect Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase, have you?

          Here’s a quote from that exchange:

          “the national government cannot destroy the laws [establishing official State religions] of each State”
          – The Danbury Baptists, in letter to (and in agreement with) President Thomas Jefferson

          Does that surprise you? Does it surprise you that Jefferson agreed with that?

          “As a matter of history, the First Amendment was adopted solely as a limitation upon the newly created National Government. The events leading to its adoption strongly suggest that the Establishment Clause was primarily an attempt to insure that Congress not only would be powerless to establish a national church, but would also be unable to interfere with existing state establishments… Each State was left free to go its own way and pursue its own policy with respect to religion. Thus Virginia from the beginning pursued a policy of disestablishmentarianism. Massachusetts, by contrast, had an established church until well into the nineteenth century.
          So matters stood until… this Court’s decision in Cantwell v. Connecticut, in 1940.”

          – Justice Potter Stewart, in his famous Abington v. Schempp dissent

          You may have noticed that atheism breeds tyranny. (If not, you haven’t been paying attention!) The countries which built walls to keep their people from escaping were atheist countries. From the French Terror to the Soviet Gulag, the German Third Reich, and the Cambodian genocide, atheist rule has meant misery, oppression and death.

          There is no liberty without religion. “If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments,” wrote Chesterton, but America’s greatest founding fathers understood it much earlier.

          “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed… No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
          – Noah Webster (preface to Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828)

          “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
          – George Washington

          “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
          – John Adams

          You’ve not only swallowed the leftist propaganda about Reagan, you’ve you’ve also swallowed the even more outrageously revisionist propaganda about the founding and foundation of America. America is not based on the separation of church and state. The real foundation of America is the American Idea.

          Most nations are based on shared cultural identity. American is a very unusual exception, because she is based on an Idea.

          The American Founders expressed the American Idea in the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created by God in His own image, and are therefore endowed by God with fundamental dignity and rights that no man has the right to take away, and that the protection of those fundamental, God-given rights is the sole legitimate purpose of government.

          In the words of Alan Keyes, “we [Americans] are a nation of nations, a people of many peoples.” The glue which holds us together is that American Idea.

  • Rafterman

    There is an even easier option: stop requiring tests for admissions. Many colleges and universities have already gone test-optional for admissions. Instead of looking at tests, these schools focus on high school transcripts because these transcripts are a better indicator of success in college. Why require a test when it is expensive and redundant?

    Wake Forest University went test-optional a few years back. This is an excellent university, and this policy is working for them. It could work for many universities.

    http://www.fairtest.org/sats-drop-again-testoptional-movement-surges

    • piper60

      It’s amazing that colleges left the business of college admission testing to private entities. Surely administrators could cook the results tp get the desired racial outcomes-and keep the testing fees as “recovered”income as well as mere ordinary people chasing after (ugh!) profits?!

  • piper60

    The purpose of college credit is to permit metering tuition and provide a basis for churning and burning the junior faculty!Beyond that, credentialism exists to qualify the children of adminitrivians to get jobs that are prestigious and well paid-telling other people what to do!