[EDLING:1122] Europeans Assail Rollout of New Online Format for TOEFL Test
Francis M Hult
fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Fri Dec 16 15:52:39 UTC 2005
> >From http://chronicle.com/daily/2005/12/2005121607n.htm
> Friday, December 16, 2005
> Europeans Assail Rollout of New Online Format for Test of English as
> Foreign Language
> By AISHA LABI
> European educators and students are complaining that recent moves toward
> administering the Test of English as a Foreign Language only online are
> hurting thousands of foreign students who want to take the important
> examination -- a gateway to study in the United States -- but cannot
> because of technical glitches and reduced opportunities to take the test.
> Universities in the United States and elsewhere use the test, known as the
> Toefl, to evaluate the English-language proficiency of foreign applicants.
> Until recently the test was administered primarily on paper. But in
> October the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit organization that
> owns and administers the test, began phasing out the paper test, offering
> an Internet-based version instead in Canada, France, Germany, and Italy.
> The Internet-based test is also available in the United States.
> Administering the test in France and Germany has been especially
> problematic, said Lonnie R. Johnson, executive director of the
> Austrian-American Educational Commission, which manages the Fulbright
> Program in Austria. He called the new test "a much-heralded event that
> looks good on paper but is not working in practice."
> Mr. Johnson has been designated by the directors of the 25 Fulbright
> commissions in Europe to serve as their spokesman on issues related to the
> Educational Testing Service and its administration of the Toefl. "Aside
> from technological problems and glitches, ETS did not have enough sites up
> and running to handle the demand," said Mr. Johnson. "There aren't enough
> slots for the test-takers, and if they can't take the tests they need,
> then they can't apply to the programs they want to. This is impacting
> dramatically on the ability of students to apply to American institutions
> of higher education."
> The decision to introduce the new version of the test in the fall, the
> most busy test-taking time of the year, exacerbated the problems, said
> Arnaud Roujou de Boube, executive director of the Franco-American
> Commission for Educational Exchange. "This was the worst possible period
> to introduce it," he said. David Hunt, the ETS executive responsible for
> overseeing the transition to the new Toefl, conceded that, "as with any
> new test, we have experienced some capacity shortfalls in a limited number
> of cities, primarily in France and Germany."
> The company is responding to complaints, he said, noting that the test
> will soon be offered at many more sites in France, Germany, and Italy. In
> addition, Mr. Hunt said, ETS reinstated the paper-based test last weekend
> in four French cities. Karla Taudin, head of the educational-advising
> center at the Fulbright commission in France, said those responses were
> inadequate. As of this week, she said, the ETS Web site tells students
> attempting to register for the exam that "there are no test sites in Paris
> until the end of March."
> Ms. Taudin said she was advising some students to take an equivalent
> British exam that is accepted by some American universities. "What ETS has
> done is arrogant," she said. "They have an almost complete monopoly on the
> market and didn't take into account the problems this was going to cause
> for the students." ETS officials say the move to online testing will allow
> the organization to offer the test to more students. The Europeans counter
> that the way ETS has introduced the new version has had the opposite
> Because the old test was administered in dedicated testing centers, said
> Mr. Johnson, of the Austrian Fulbright group, "students could take the
> test pretty much on demand -- the centers were open every working day of
> the year." But "because the Internet-based test is hosted by institutions,
> you have to ride on their infrastructure," he said. ETS views that
> dependency as a benefit. "Any college or university that has a computer
> lab can become a Toefl test center, " said Thomas Ewing, a spokesman.
> "That opens up thousands of potential test sites around the world, and
> that's where we see even more access for students."
> ETS and its critics agree that increasing access to higher education is
> the overarching concern. The question is how, and for whom. "By using the
> Internet," said Mr. Hunt, "it will allow us to offer the test in certain
> remote areas where it's not possible to do paper-based tests now." Mr.
> Johnson, speaking for the Europeans, disagreed. "ETS is supposed to be
> providing access to institutions of higher education," he said, "and it's
> actually limiting access."
> More glitches almost certainly lie ahead as ETS begins offering the new
> test in other countries. Mr. Hunt acknowledged that there may be "growing
> pains," but said the company takes the criticism seriously. "I hope I've
> conveyed that," he said, "with the efforts we've taken to try and address
> these shortfalls." He also apologized "for any inconvenience that we've
> caused students or their institutions." "We hope it will be better in the
> coming months," said Mr. Roujou de Boube, of France's Fulbright
> commission. "It cannot be worse."
> Copyright 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
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