Tenth graders at Hillsdale Academy ranked third nationally in scoring on the CLT10, the official preparatory exam for the Classical Learning Test. The CLT is a standardized test geared toward the curriculum taught in classical schools.
David Diener, headmaster of Hillsdale Academy, is also on the board of academic advisors for the CLT. He said although the Academy’s goal is never to simply produce high test scores, he and the instructors at the school are proud of their students’ performance on the CLT10.
“The purpose of Hillsdale Academy is not to make students smart; it’s to help them be good,” Diener said. “But we’re incredibly proud of our 10th graders’ accomplishment on the CLT10 and the national recognition that Hillsdale Academy has received due to our students’ performance.”
The CLT10 is comparable to the PSAT that many high school students take in preparation for the SAT. The CLT was founded in 2015 as an alternative to mainstream standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT. The Classical Learning Test’s official website states that “The CLT is the most accurate and rigorous measure of reasoning, education, and academic formation.”
“The basic idea is the test matches the kinds of things that our students learn,” Diener said. “The premise is that testing drives curriculum . As the college board has continued to align itself with the common core, what happens is schools have to adjust what they teach to prepare students for those tests.”
Instead of using classroom time for preparing for a test that has its own standards and content, the CLT’s goal is to reflect what students in classical schools are learning in the classroom. As a result, Diener said the 10th graders at the Academy who had the third-highest scores on the CLT10 spent little to no time in the classroom preparing for the exam.
“We don’t spend time preparing our students for standardized tests,” Diener said. “The goal of classical education is to cultivate human beings who are equipped to live wise and virtuous lives. High test scores are not our goal; high test scores are a byproduct of the excellent education in the classical liberal arts that our students receive.”
Kiera Weldon, a 10th grader at the Academy, said the CLT10 took less than two hours to complete and was taken on computers.
“This is only the second year we’ve taken it at the school,” Weldon said. “We found out a week before we would need to get our computers and create an account. But we didn’t know much about it.”
Despite the non-focus on preparing for the exam itself, Weldon said she felt well-prepared for the material covered on the test because of the things she’s been learning in the classroom at the Academy.
“It really played a big part, especially in the grammar and reading analysis parts,” Weldon said. “We start pretty young with grammar and it becomes pretty ingrained in our writing. The reading and analysis is something we practice daily and regularly, so that came pretty naturally for us.”
Diener said the reading passages on the CLT aren’t the same ones that show up on the SAT. Whereas the SAT includes contemporary and ideological texts that aren’t part of the curriculum at classical schools, the CLT incorporates foundational texts that include philosophy, theology, and ethics.
“These are core texts in our tradition that deal with various aspects of our human condition,” Diener said. “What it means to be a human being, what it means to live in community, what’s right and what’s wrong, and what it means to live well. Those questions are not showing up on SAT passages.”
While the CLT is just four years old, Diener said the list of colleges that are accepting the scores as part of their admissions processes is growing. Hillsdale College is one of 135 colleges and universities listed on the CLT’s website that have adopted the test as an accepted admissions exam.
“The goal is that students in classical schools have a test that allows them to demonstrate the academic skills and knowledge that they’ve gained,” Diener said. “CLT is very aggressively trying to demonstrate to colleges the impact this test can have for them.”
In addition to the content-rich alternative the CLT provides to the SAT and ACT, another advantage of the test is its scoring system, which correlates to the SAT and ACT, but better differentiates the upper end of scores, according to Diener.
The CLT is not limited to students in classical schools, and homeschooled students as well as students in private and public schools can take the test online. Scores are returned to students the same day they take the exam.