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03/24/2003 Archived Entry: "What's Doing at ETS?"

ETS (Educational Testing Service) is finally going to release the prematurely named "TOEFL 2000"--though now in September of 2005 (and, no longer called TOEFL 2000 for obvious reasons). One interesting thing about this new version of the test is that it will finally incorporate speaking into the battery of skills tested.

This promises to be useful in a number of ways. First, it appears to bring more integration of skills to the test. This integration may finally address the issue that many have felt for many years--there are far too many students getting high TOEFL scores who do not have adequate speaking ability. Students studying in English-speaking countries sometimes find themselves at a great disadvantage once they discover their skills are not what they believed them to be based on the test alone.

From an administrative standpoint (I'll admit to holding one of those), this change requires us to rethink how the various tests are being used on our campuses. The TSE (Test of Spoken English) is also undergoing changes; they've added question types that are more business-oriented. These questions have been in the pilot stage since January, 2003. While this may be good news for business-oriented and workplace programs, it actually threatens to make the TSE irrelevant for academic programs. We're hoping that the new TOEFL will be sufficient in scope to test what the old TSE tested.

Of course, if the new TOEFL speaking section proves to be a good replacement for the TSE, it's good news all around. Students will no longer have to schedule, pay for, and take two separate tests. Universities will no longer have to require different tests for different purposes. For example, at the graduate level, if a student is going to teach, our university requires the TOEFL for admission purposes, and the TSE (or locally-administered SPEAK test, a TSE equivalent). The SPEAK can be phenomenally expensive to administer, and represents one more hurdle for students to get over. If we can rely on the TOEFL to take care of these various testing functions, many people, from students through university accountants, should be thrilled.

This may be placing too much pressure on one lowly test. And, of course, with a release date of more than a year hence, it remains to be seen whether the new TOEFL can live up to our expectations. Given the five-year delay in its release so far, I'm not exactly placing bets that we will see it in 2005, as currently promised.

Replies: 6 comments

ETS! I can't stand this company! There is an underlying understanding among language teachers that functional criteria lists (i.e., I can discuss politics; I can open a bank account) are a much better way of evaluating a learners language learning than the bs that passes for psychometric testing in ETS and the language testing specialty that has arisen recently. Just because language testing can come up with stats to show that their tests have validity just shows that they have stats on a very ambiguous and every changing standard, validity.

The bottom line is money. Applied linguistics trains people for ETS and ETS puts money back in. There is no money in functional criteria lists that are popular in Sweden and Canada.

Posted by David Jobson @ 05/09/2003 05:50 PM PST

A blog should have daily or at least regular entries. What is this?

I've had something going on in some shape or form since my MA class in Milambiling's CALL class at Univ Northern Iowa back in September 2000.

Posted by David Jobson @ 05/09/2003 05:56 PM PST

Well, I would *love* to have time to create new entries every day, or even regularly, but alas, with three different jobs, plus lots of off-hour responsibilities, it's just not possible. Perhaps I haven't read the Official Blog Laws ;-).

As for functional criteria for language testing--maybe, maybe not. The TSE does this, but it's limited as to how it can be used. What if one needs to know someone's *academic* ability in English, not their acumen in opening bank accounts or in the TSE's case, ability to give directions or explain a schedule change?

But, it's an important issue--tests are never one-size-fits-all, and a test's purpose and usefulness have to be measured against what it's being used for.

Posted by Maggie Sokolik @ 05/09/2003 06:34 PM PST

Well, if you want to read something good on academia and what the ubiquitous excuse of "I'm busy" means check the Invisible Adjunct blog.

Otherwise, with sarcastic and misdirected comments such as those why would I want to come back and read this? Why would I think it is useful?

If I am trying to exploit this new technology and I just get junk aren't you just undermining the value of this technology? Also you are showing that it all comes down to people and their skill in interacting with others. You have failed terribly (and I didn't need a standardized test to tell me that).

Posted by David Jobson @ 05/15/2003 11:21 PM PST

If your concern is in interacting with others, perhaps instead of saying, "A blog should have daily or at least regular entries. What is this?" you could say: "I really wish there were more regular posts here." Then your comments would be read as constructive, rather than simply angry, which really is kind of wasted energy in cases like this, don't you think?

Posted by Maggie Sokolik @ 05/15/2003 11:35 PM PST

Mr. Jobson,

So what you're saying, about testing specifically, is what? You don't like ETS, you think their stats are questionable, you've spent time in Iowa and you may or may not have a blog - that's all very interesting and thanks for sharing. However, I'm not seeing how this ties in with CALL per se or the new technology that you're purportedly testing.

Blogs, like any medium, can be used for constructive purposes or to lash out at people. Maggie there's no need to qualify how you occupy your time. David - get constructive.

Tests are tools, and like any tool they need to be developed for specific tasks. Yes, these things are market driven, but get over it and it is the market that makes it relevant, or no? The market at the level you describe might not exist in Sweden or Canada (given that English is offered at secondary school I would be surprised if it did). China however, could possibly be construed as a potential market. Newsflash: English proficiency varies around the world.

If your argument is that the test market is being created before there's a demand and then, through marketing, an apparent need for new test X is created, then I'm with you. But then consider the reality: needs and markets change and people that design tests must change too. Then again, I'm not too sure what your point is, or if you have one so, Maggie, thanks for the post. If you have any experience using applications using low cost IVR or MCS MX - deployable over the net - or how ETS train their raters - I'd be interested.

Mark Lorenz

Posted by Mark Lorenz @ 10/20/2003 11:08 PM PST

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