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Domestic English Competency Test Is Answer to TOEFL Upheaval

Domestic English Competency Test Is Answer to TOEFL Upheaval

Posted April. 18, 2007 03:05,   


For Korean students who failed to register for TOEFL IBT testing in July due to increased demand for the test, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) opened a special online registration opportunity yesterday. This test will be conducted in paper-based (PBT) format. The registration closed two hours after the ETS opened the web site.

However, the ETS is being criticized by Korean students because it opened its online TOEFL IBT (Internet-based test) registration without notice when the PBT registration was available.

The online registration site then opened after 3:00 p.m. Contrary to IBT test, registration was available via the emergency site of Jinhaksa, a domestic agency, not via the ETS website.

When applicants entered the ETS site, they were guided to the emergency site of Jinhaksa. Despite this, ETS came under criticism due to its unnoticed IBT registration.

At about 5:00 p.m., ETS announced it would close registration for the test. The number of students who finished the registration procedure at that point was 8,000.

The reason for such an increase in demand lies in the fact that as the number of students who want to take the test has increased, the administration capacity of ETS has decreased.

The number of Korean students who want to take the test increased to 102,340 in 2005 from 50,311 in 2001. Of all the 540,000 test takers, Korean students are the largest group, accounting for 20 percent. The registration fees the ETS annually earned from Korean students are as much as 14.32 million dollars.

Moreover, the test format changed into Internet-based system in last September. This change made things even worse because it was getting more difficult to find proper place for operating the test. Since IBT test is simultaneously conducted through the Internet throughout the world, the test is only available in places where all infrastructures such as computers, security, and networking systems are equipped.

In addition, the demand for test has been greatly increased due to foreign high schools and international schools which require applicants to submit TOEFL scores and increasing number of students who want to study abroad. Even elementary school students are studying for the TOEFL test.

Some people also cite the government’s rigid education policies that intervene in foreign high school admissions, such as bans on separate exams and enforcement of simultaneous exams as reasons for the increasing demand.

In other words, since most foreign high school applicants have perfect TOEIC scores and have excellent grades in middle school, it is necessary to employ alternative forms of tests that can discriminate applicants’ abilities. The government, however, prohibits this and even bans English speech contests organized by high schools. This created school admission authority reliance on TOEFL scores.

Wrong advertisements from private institutes are also cited as one of the reasons. In fact, there are only a couple of special admissions in foreign high schools that require TOEFL scores, such as global admissions and foreign language competency admissions. Private institutes, however, wrongly advertise that all applicants must submit TOEFL scores. Some institutes located in Gangnam and Mok-dong in Seoul even encouraged all their students to take the TOEFL test.

One vice-principal of a foreign high school in Seoul said that, “We have no choice but to rely on TOEFL scores because the government prohibits us from conducting separate entrance exams.”

How can we fix this problem? To increase the capacity at current test centers is the most urgent action needed. In addition, we have to think of how to effectively use the domestic English competency tests.

Even though the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development has set up a plan to develop English competency tests approved by the government, like STEP in Japan and CET in China, it has made little progress and doesn’t have the budget for it.

foryou@donga.com crystal@donga.com