Interview with
Dean of Academics Michael Adkins
on the CLT3-6

As part of CLT’s commitment to provide the best possible testing experience, we conducted a pilot this past spring of our new assessments for Grades 3-6 that will be available to the public in Spring 2024. The pilot was conducted at schools all across the country; afterward, both students and teachers submitted detailed feedback on the assessment and CLT employees interviewed a few teachers to gain a deeper understanding of their experience.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Adkins, the Dean of Academics for Grades K-12 and the Director of the Lower School at Saint Agnes School in St. Paul, Minnesota. He spoke of his excitement to administer a test that truly aligned with the values of his school and the importance of getting test results that not only help teachers nationally compare their students, but discover specific ways to improve their education.

CLT: How would you describe the students’ experience with the CLT3-6 pilot? Did you hear any feedback from them?

MA: We use another test as well that we’ve run for many years, and I heard students say, “The questions [on the CLT] were actually more interesting, and this test was more fun.” I don’t expect standardized testing to be something that students look forward to or they find enjoyable, and so, without prompting, to hear those kinds of comments is extremely encouraging and shows what the CLT test is trying to do. I think your tagline is: “reconnecting knowledge and virtue through meaningful assessments,” and you practice what you preach! I was really surprised and impressed to hear that, because usually for teachers and administrators … running a standardized test is sort of like: we have to do this. For me, knowing the vision of CLT, it’s not just we should or we have to do this … but it dovetails with Saint Agnes’ school’s mission of Faith, Reason, and Virtue, and it actually aligns with our academic program.

CLT: How would you say CLT3-6 fits with your school’s curriculum and goals or your mission and vision?

MA: One of the things about [other] nationally “normed” standardized test[s] is that some of the content really doesn’t make sense for what we do as a school … the social sciences portion doesn’t necessarily dovetail with the classical vision of teaching history and geography in a chronological manner. Students will get questions about economics in fifth or sixth grade that just come out of left field, and so the CLT’s content approach actually dovetails really nicely with our curriculum as a liberal arts, classical school.

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding is it established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

And my hope, just through looking at the testing and seeing the data sets from the CLT10 and the regular CLT, is that … I would actually use the results of those tests more related to assessing what we do in our curriculum than I would another standardized test. That other standardized test data just gives me a sense of where our students fall nationally with other competitive private schools, but the CLT’s testing will not only do that, but also indicate how our students are reading an original classic work of literature, for example. To have the CLT and say, not only are we checking the boxes of a standardized test that helps us understand how our students are doing in nationally normed standards, but it fits with our mission and we can actually have discussions about the data sets and see how we can actually improve and structure the classroom … is really going to be great.

CLT: How would you describe the administration’s and the teachers’ experience when piloting the exam?

MA: Something I’ve always loved about CLT since the early days is that the test is very short. Often these standardized tests are marathon sessions, and the other standardized test I use in the elementary level–we believe in humane testing–so I spread it out over the course of two weeks. Well, it takes two weeks to get all this stuff in, much of which is not really pertinent to what we do! So to have the CLT have three sections and you can get them done relatively quickly over the course of a few days, and no one feels like it’s oppressing their normal teaching schedule–that was really beneficial. The feedback I got from teachers was that if we were to move more exclusively to that route, there would be less time wasted on testing.

CLT: What would you say to other schools that are thinking about using CLT3-6 but aren’t sure?

MA: A number of different things. I would say first of all, to any school that values the liberal arts, has a more traditional curriculum, or defines itself as “classical”—I would say you absolutely want to look at the Classic Learning Test, whether it’s the CLT3-6, or 8, or 10, or the regular CLT. You’ll fulfill the need to host a standardized test, you’ll get a data set that is nationally normed, but it aligns with what you actually do on a daily basis in the classroom. One other thing I’d say is: for a school like mine that’s a classical liberal arts school, tests that are online don’t make a lot of sense. I really appreciated the fact that [with] CLT3-6, they’re doing their work with pen or pencil in hand. With the other standardized test that we use, when I came on board as Dean of Academics, I moved us the next year to doing it pencil and paper, and our test scores jumped probably 10% across the board. So another endorsement of the CLT for classical liberal arts schools is: they offer pencil and paper tests, and I think that’s really beneficial.


If you enjoyed this piece, and want to see more about the CLT and its curriculum, you might like our Great Conversation series, covering ideas from definition to pleasure & pain to sacred scriptures. You might also enjoy our Journey Through the Author Bank series; this week, we’ll be hearing a seminar titled “How the Iliad Helps Us Understand War, Injustice, and Loss”—register today!

Published on 24th October, 2023.

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