By Sharon Bernstein
(Reuters) -Florida's public university system on Friday approved a new entrance exam that emphasizes classical Western thought and has been used mostly by private and religious colleges, the latest move by the state to make education more conservative.
The Board of Governors of the 12-campus State University System of Florida adopted the Classic Learning Test (CLT) on a voice vote with just one dissension. The test, which will be accepted along with the more traditional SAT and ACT exams, is already authorized for use in the state's public elementary and secondary schools as a way to assess learning.
"The CLT places a strong emphasis on classical education, which includes a focus on reading, writing, and critical thinking skills," Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said in a statement ahead of the board's virtual meeting. "It is designed to align with a classical liberal arts curriculum, which some educators and institutions believe provides a more well-rounded and meaningful education."
The test's adoption marks the third time that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken on the non-profit College Board, which administers the SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in the 2024 election, previously banned the College Board's new Advanced Placement high school curriculum in African American Studies. He also tangled with the organization over the inclusion of LGBTQ+ material in a psychology course.
More broadly, DeSantis has supported attempts in Florida to limit the teaching of African American history and systemic racism in public schools, along with discussion of LGBTQ+ issues.
The College Board has pushed back against the new test, criticizing as flawed a study meant to compare students' scores on the CLT with scores on the SAT.
Amanda Phalin, who represents university faculty, said during the meeting on Friday that she was concerned there was not good data showing the effectiveness of the test. Phalin was the only member of the 15-person governors board to oppose adopting the CLT.
There was no other public discussion of the matter on Friday.
Priscilla Rodriguez, who runs the SAT program at the College Board, said in an interview with Reuters that the CLT emphasizes a particular type of learning and content, whereas the SAT is aimed at pinpointing the fundamental skills that students have developed in reading, writing and math.
As a result, lucrative scholarships and coveted spots at university could go to students who have studied the content emphasized in the CLT, even if they had lower overall reading and writing ability than some students who took the SAT, she said.
Jeremy Tate, a former high school teacher and college counselor who developed the CLT in 2015, said in an interview he was aiming to reflect the intellectual rigor and focus on Western academic thought found in Jesuit and similar educational traditions.
While Tate tends to be conservative, his test is not political, he said.
Even so, the embrace of the test by many conservatives appears to be part of a broader reaction against what they see as a de-emphasis on parts of the Western canon in favor of studies that are more inclusive of women and non-European traditions.
Tate said his ultimate goal was to restore the primacy of Western thought in education by developing tests that reward familiarity with Western philosophers and thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas or Dante Alighieri, along with authors such as the Black abolitionist and thinker Frederick Douglass and Southern U.S. female writer Flannery O'Connor.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; editing by Grant McCool)