Friday, May 18, 2007

More TOEFL problems

The L-test list has been buzzing with discussion of the TOEFL imbroglio. Apparently, the problems are not confined to Korea. Similar issues have come up in the US and China and likely other counties too. A little background:

When ETS switched from the paper-based tests to computer-based tests, they were seduced by adaptive test technology. That is, everyone gets a test that is pitched just at their level. This is a good thing. It means test-takers are neither bored nor frustrated with test items that are far below or above their level. It also means that tests are much shorter. At the same time, they moved from paper-based tests that were available only on scheduled dates (I don't remember what the intervals were, perhaps three times a month?) to testing on demand.

What ETS didn't realise was that the combination of testing on demand and adaptive testing would require a crippling number of test items. This decision almost bankrupted ETS.

When they moved to the Internet-based test (iBT), they moved back to regularly scheduled (roughly weekly) tests and to a one-size-fits-all format. Now the problem is that with so many people taking the test at the same time, it is much more demanding on resources. There also seems to have been an dramatic increase in the number of test takers. The result is that there are simply not enough spots available.

It's a little frightening how much power ETS wields and how poorly they've been wielding it. For anyone whose students are trying to get into an English-medium college or university, it is important to keep in mind that there are alternatives to TOEFL, including IELTS, MELAB, CAEL, CanTEST, COPE and others. There's also the Versant test that I posted about previously.

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