Interview With
Katherine Sinkovitz 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 Katherine Sinkovitz, the Dean of Academics at Oakdale Academy. She spoke about the value of the CLT3-6 as a test that aligns with the goals of Oakdale, and the confidence she has that testing with CLT will provide Oakdale with the clear, valuable feedback they need to improve in the classroom.

CLT: How would you describe the students’ experience with CLT3-6, and what kind of feedback did you receive from them?

KS: In general, there was a lot of good feedback about the reading passages. Our school does recitations in our morning ceremony from great works of literature, and one sixth grader was very excited to tell me that one of the reading passages in the language arts section was her recitation that she had just memorized and recited for the school!

And I think that’s what the different experience is for classically educated kids taking the CLT as opposed to taking other standardized tests–these stories are familiar to them–unlike so many tests that are based on secondary, science type [readings]. When the whole test is based around that, there’s nothing familiar to them, and I think that familiarity of great literature and poetry is maybe even comforting in the middle of that testing experience. They had a lot of good things to say about that, and they said that it was fun. I don’t often hear that about any kind of assessment for children, but that was some feedback from the fifth and sixth graders–it was just so fun.

CLT: That’s great! How would you say the CLT3-6 fits in with your school’s mission or curriculum as opposed to other exams?

KS: I would guess that any classical school would come up with somewhat similar struggles here, asking: “What is the role of any kind of standardized testing? What are we trying to accomplish and what is the good of this?” What I think is so valuable about the CLT is that it does provide an individual look at student successes, but it’s also so helpful for us as a view–not of our students’ success, but of our teaching success when we look at broad strokes. When we get to look at the long term and see, aside from an individual child’s abilities, how is the school doing on commas, on engaging with texts, on questions of vocabulary and geometry?

On top of that, the only way that’s all valuable is if the test is assessing the things that you care about, and we’re confident that is the case with CLT. The things that you have designed the tests around are things that we do need our students to know. One of the ways that we know that’s true is that this test was written with the help of so many classical educators. Our own teachers were consulted in this, and we know this was a product of many people’s minds, and even though so much of the genius of this comes from those at the CLT, you all have sought the opinion of those who are using this test to see if it is valuable, to see if it is what we are seeking for our students–and it is. And that makes all the assessing valuable because it aligns with the types of grammar instruction that we want, and the logical thinking, and the mathematical skills. You all checked, and double-checked, and triple-checked that that was the case, so we trust that it is valuable.

CLT: How was the teacher and administrator experience with giving the exam?

KS: I had the pleasure of opening the boxes when they got here, and I think that was a first for any school administrator in the world to open the box of tests and go, “Oh! So beautiful!” That said a lot about what CLT values through this beautiful art that accompanied each booklet.

Then the teachers had a lot of gratitude to give for clarity of expectation. They thought all of the manuals and the step-by-step’s were so helpful to know what to do. They thought it was a beautiful amount of freedom that was given with timing suggestions to give a little bit of leeway. I think that’s what can feel so clinical and unreal about the standardized experience. We have to keep things standard and remove those extraneous variables whenever possible, but that’s also not how ten-year-old humans work, and there’s a little bit of “wiggly-ness” that needs to be allowable. So that was clear in the writing of the test–we want to keep this standard when we can, and when we can’t–that’s childhood!

Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.

CLT: What would you say to other schools that are nervous about trying a new standardized test or aren’t familiar with CLT? What advice would you give to those schools?

KS: The same question keeps arising in different classical education circles that I’m a part of and I think it’s valuable to this question as well. Those of us who are parenting, or teaching, or leading students should be asking ourselves, “What is our goal for these souls? What are we trying to accomplish in their hearts and minds, and are the materials that we’re using in line with those goals?” I think of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, and he writes about the subtext in written instruction. He talks about this elementary school grammar book that, on the surface, is surely not trying to promote any insidious philosophy, but underneath, there are things that he as an educator would not want elementary students to be instructed in, and it does not matter that it’s not intentional–it’s still there.

[As] schools that are doing the same kind of soul-leading as parents are, are we looking at the phonics book and the math book and the test? Is it in line with the goals that we have? Even if it’s just asking about math questions, it can be asking about math questions in a different way with a different frame than our goals would suggest, and so we need to look at that. CLT is very clear on their website, and after you use the test, all the follow-up information and all of the analytics are clear about what they’re looking for. We are confident that [CLT] aligns with the goals that we have.


Thank you for reading the CLT Journal. You can see other interviews with school administrators and teachers here, or take a look at our series profiling the men and women of the Author Bank here.

Published on 31st October, 2023.

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