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We Can Dump The Useless, Politicized SAT Without Dumping Standardized Testing Altogether

States are realizing there is a much-needed alternative to today’s watered-down, useless standardized tests: the Classic Learning Test.


The days of needing flashcards to study SAT vocabulary words to get into college are over — but not just because more and more schools have decided to jettison standardized testing entirely. Today’s SAT is a shadow of its former self, having been dumbed down and manipulated over the past several decades to serve political ends. In its current form, the test has outlived its usefulness.

In fact, Florida lawmakers have affirmed as much in a recent education bill that passed the Florida House unanimously Wednesday. The broad bill includes provisions that would allow an alternative standardized test, the Classic Learning Test (CLT), to compete with the SAT and ACT.

It wasn’t always this way. The first SAT offered by the College Board nearly a century ago consisted of difficult questions that evaluated mathematical reasoning skills and probed a student’s ability not only to remember the general meaning of a word but also to apply the subtle shades of meaning that enrich the English language. The famous SAT analogy questions used an eclectic selection of “SAT words” that rewarded students who spent more time reading books and less time playing the latest Xbox games.

Analogy questions are now gone, and with more recent changes, the test rewards those who never crack open a book or daydream during math class. Now you can just use a calculator to solve a narrower and easier set of math problems. Taken together, the math and verbal will be cut down by a third when the all-digital SAT takes over in 2024.

“The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant,” College Board Vice President Priscilla Rodriguez explained, making clear the organization’s priorities.

This is the culmination of a decades-long watering-down process. In 1994, for example, the College Board grew ashamed of the idea that it had been testing “aptitude” all these years and banished the word. The “Scholastic Aptitude Test” was relaunched as the “Scholastic Assessment Test,” a tortured and repetitive phrase that was dropped a few years later as the organization decided that SAT no longer stands for anything.

The confusion continues to flow from the top. David Coleman has led the College Board since 2012, having completed his service as the architect of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core was an effort to nationalize the teaching curriculum in K-12 classrooms. The initiative leveled the playing field between states by lowering standards so everyone would perform equally poorly.

The folly of this race to the bottom quickly became apparent, and more than 16 states either never adopted or enacted legislation to get rid of Common Core. Most of the rest have taken steps to undo the damage already done. It is widely recognized as a failure on both sides of the political spectrum.

But not College Board. In 2020, the most recent data available shows Coleman paid himself a cool $2.5 million at the “nonprofit” to continue aligning its testing methodology with Common Core standards with the explicit goal of narrowing the difference in scores of the rich and the poor and engineering outcomes based on racial considerations. The path he has taken to accomplish this, as discussed above, has been to dumb down the test and even to enhance the presentation of certain students’ results over others through the now-abandoned adversity score program. The College Board continues to fumble about with pilot projects seeking to reestablish “relevance” to modern students.

Parents today who have a son or daughter aspiring to attend college can be forgiven for assuming the SAT they took a generation ago is the same as what is being offered today. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And that’s what inspired me to create the Classic Learning Test as a necessary alternative. CLT is an assessment designed to cultivate wonder and joy in students, not to achieve modern political objectives. The exam is built around writings from history’s greatest minds from the ancient to the modern era. These texts challenge students to raise their thoughts beyond the present to tackle difficult, but rewarding, concepts of truth, goodness, and beauty.

At a time when schools are dumping standardized testing requirements outright, one might rightly wonder what’s the point of having another college admissions test. The ambition of CLT is to encourage schools that “teach to the test” to switch to a higher, reinvigorated standard based on the back-to-basics approach that has worked for centuries — not a curriculum hatched by a handful of academics motivated by agendas that have nothing to do with arming students with the math, science, and reading skills they need to succeed.

There has been a welcome renaissance of classical schooling in this country, with demand surging for schools that offer a timeless curriculum all the way from kindergarten through the college level. Institutions following in the footsteps of Common Core and the SAT, by contrast, are mired in an enrollment crisis. This suggests the best remedy for the relevance problems facing modern education is a deliberate return to the proven methods of the past.

While the CLT is used heavily by private school and homeschool students immersed in classical, liberal arts programs, we believe it can also be employed by top students at public schools who love to read classic literature and are looking for ways to further differentiate themselves from their classmates who spend a bit too much time on social media or video games.

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