Srikant Gopal, Executive Director - TOEFL Program, ETS (Educational Testing Services)

Founded as a nonprofit in 1947, Educational Testing Service (ETS) develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® tests in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide. The TOEFL test of academic English is welcomed by more than 10,000 institutions in over 150 countries worldwide. It is universally accepted in popular English-speaking destinations like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and by over 98 per cent of universities in the U.K., including 100 per cent of Russell Group® institutions.

While the examination processes taking a hit globally due to the outbreak of the pandemic, ETS is trying its best to be proactive in avoiding any interruption in the testing process. “We have worked very quickly to offer the TOEFL iBT Home Edition in a record six weeks after the pandemic broke. With this version of the TOEFL iBT, students can continue their educational journeys without interruption and fulfil their application requirements during a time when in-person testing for TOEFL and other English language tests may not be as readily available,” says Srikant Gopal, Executive Director – TOEFL Program, ETS. In an interaction with Higher Education Digest, Srikant Gopal talks about the advent of TOEFL iBT Home Edition, student support offered by ETS in times of COVID-19, key features of Recent changes in the TOEFL exam and many more.

 

How has been the response from students when ETS offered TOEFL at-home testing solutions in response to the pandemic?

We have seen tens of thousands of students from more than 160 countries worldwide eagerly take advantage of the increased opportunities and better admission chances at top universities that may be available to them in this unique situation. That is why ETS worked very quickly to offer the TOEFL iBT Home Edition in a record six weeks after the pandemic broke. With this version of the TOEFL iBT, students can continue their educational journeys without interruption and fulfil their application requirements during a time when in-person testing for TOEFL and other English language tests may not be as readily available.

The drive among talented students to work hard and pursue study abroad opportunities will get stronger as the world returns to normal. India is already the second-largest source of students in the world and is soon expected to become the largest. With an unparalleled record of success all over the world as students and professionals, we are working to ensure that the pandemic does not hinder Indian students from following their dreams and achieving global career success. TOEFL will continue to support the aspirations of Indian students by providing them with choices and flexibility.

School and colleges closures have brought online learning providers into the spotlight. In this scenario, what are the benefits of administering exams at student homes? How can it augment the efficiency of online learning programs?

The TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition is the same valid and reliable TOEFL iBT test delivered to test takers from the safety and convenience of their home monitored by a human proctor online through ProctorU®. The test is identical in content, format, on-screen experience and scoring to the TOEFL iBT test taken at a test centre. It uses the same scoring criteria, scoring process and score scale and therefore, scores are accepted and used in the same way. As a result, the Home Edition is accepted nearly universally by all universities that accept the TOEFL iBT (whether it is mentioned on a university website or not). In addition, the at-home solution features the recent.

TOEFL Better Test Experience enhancements, including MyBest™ scores and instant, unofficial Reading and Listening scores.

Among the tens of thousands of students who have taken the test since its March 2020 launch, many appreciate the privacy and quiet that comes from taking the test in their own home, and others value the greater flexibility in the testing schedule with testing options 24 hours each day, four days per week. Test slots have currently been made available through the end of December 2020. For more information and details, students should visit the TOEFL Special Home Edition website.

In your opinion, how has Computer-Based Testing evolved in India over the last few years? How is ETS looking at the possibilities of administering exams from home in the coming years?

ETS was a pioneer in computer-based testing, in fact, the TOEFL exam was the first computer-based English Language Test in India. Since we first introduced computer-based testing in the late 1990s, many have followed in our footsteps. Although we use a computer- and internet-based testing for efficiency, and to ensure comfort and convenience for test-takers as well as best-in-class security available uniquely through the computer, internet format, we always ensure that human beings are involved at every step of our process to ensure quality and fairness. This applies to all test items, they are written by humans and pretested on humans around the world before they are put into an operational test (unlike Duolingo). This applies to our human/AI combo scoring approach where the human scoring component is the dominant one (unlike PTE and Duolingo where scoring is 100% by machines). This also applies to the Speaking section which is exactly the same experience for every test taker anywhere in the world unlike a face-to-face interview which has an inherent bias in how it is administered and the fact that is scored by the person who does the interview in that country (as opposed to our central pool of anonymous raters)

We know the TOEFL iBT Home Edition has been critically important to students in recent months as we all continue to navigate this global pandemic.  We plan to support student needs by making the at-home solution available as long as it is needed and providing it as an equally valid alternative to the traditional test centre version. Currently, test appointments for the TOEFL iBT Home Edition have been made available until the end of December 2020.  This will allow test takers to plan months ahead and enable ETS to be nimble and flexible in responding to individual market needs as local conditions continue to change. This continued access to test options help drives equity in education and gives Indian students the same access to quality educational opportunities they had before the pandemic and that students elsewhere in the world have.

Cheating can occur in several ways, both before and during an exam. What are the efforts from ETS to control examination fraud?

We launched the TOEFL Special Home Edition to offer students the option to take the same high quality and high-security TOEFL iBT assessment in a traditional test centre or at home with 100% live, online, human proctoring.

Experts in test security and employees with experience in English-language communication were part of the team that brought this product to market. The TOEFL Special Home Edition’s requirements ensure the testing experience is similar to that of a test centre, as well as maintaining the security and integrity of the test. ETS has long been at the forefront of combatting test security concerns, and that is no different in bringing a remote solution to the market. With more than $60 million invested in state-of-the-art security annually, the TOEFL® test offers the best security of any English-language assessment.

Test-day security procedures include biometric voice identification, facial recognition and the use of electronic wanding at test centres. The TOEFL® Speech Sample Service and test-taker photos confirm the identity of students.

All human rating is done anonymously, eliminating opportunities for fraud between test takers and interviewers. In addition, since scoring isn’t done at test centres and records aren’t stored there, opportunities for scoring fraud are virtually nonexistent.

Tests are delivered directly from ETS to the test taker’s computer, minimizing opportunities to steal content. We also employ a three-pronged approach of prevention, detection and communication designed to protect the integrity of TOEFL scores.

In addition, the ETS Office of Testing Integrity constantly monitors testing, investigates security issues and strives to ensure score validity worldwide, maintaining its long-standing commitment to reliable and secure test scores. We will continue to adopt best practices and create new technologies to prevent and detect breaches of test security.

What are the supports offered by ETS in times of COVID-19 for students?

When students register for the TOEFL iBT test to demonstrate their English language proficiency, they will receive access to the full line of official test prep resources to help them do their best and stand out to admissions officers.

Whether students are preparing for the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition or the standard TOEFL test experience, the test prep materials are the same. Students are encouraged to take advantage of these free resources to help boost their confidence – whether they are looking to quickly brush up on their skills before test day or are just getting started:

  • The TOEFL Test Preparation: The Insider’s Guide offers a six-week online course with videos, quizzes and tips from expert instructors. The course was developed by experts who created, administer and score the TOEFL test, and is an interactive way to spend a few hours a week preparing for each test section.
  • The TOEFL iBT Test Prep Planner is an eight-week schedule to help keep test-takers organized, set practice goals and build the English skills needed for success on test day. It features sample test questions, scoring guides and tips for test day and beyond.
  • The TOEFL iBT Free Practice Test is one of the newest resources available, providing test takers with a full-length practice test with real past test questions, correct responses, as well as sample Speaking and Writing responses for reference.
  • TOEFL iBT Practice Sets provide additional real past test questions broken down by each of the test’s sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.

In addition, students can:

  • Download the TOEFL Go! app through the Apple App Store® or Google Play™ to access test prep resources from their mobile devices
  • Follow the TOEFL® page on Facebook® and @toefl_official account on Instagram for up-to-date information on all things TOEFL iBT.

These tools provide opportunities to effectively plan, exercise time management and practice the four critical skills necessary to prove one’s English skills – Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.

What are the safety measures initiated by ETS for re-opening of test centres?

Physical test centres for TOEFL across India are steadily opening up, following all health and safety regulations and laws. For test-takers who are able to test and plan to take the TOEFL iBT test at a test centre, the safety and wellbeing of the entire TOEFL community is our top priority. Precautionary measures have been implemented to ensure a safe testing environment, including cleaning high-touch surfaces and providing wipes for test-takers to clean surfaces (e.g., keyboards, headsets, desks) before each use. Test takers are also permitted to wear masks into the test centre but will be required to remove them for check-in and during the Speaking section of the test. For up-to-date information on TOEFL tests, please visit https://www.ets.org/s/cv/important-update/.

In addition, with the Special Home Edition of the TOEFL iBT also available 24 hours a day, four days per week, Indian students and test takers have a real choice to take the test in a test centre or at home, based on their preference and convenience.

Tell us about the recent changes in the TOEFL exam and its key features.

The TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition is the same valid and reliable TOEFL iBT test delivered to test takers from the safety and convenience of their home monitored by a human proctor online through ProctorU®. The test is identical in content, format, on-screen experience and scoring to the TOEFL iBT test taken at a test centre. It uses the same scoring criteria, scoring process and score scale and therefore, scores are accepted and used in the same way. As a result, the Home Edition is accepted nearly universally by all universities that accept the TOEFL iBT (whether it is mentioned on a university website or not). In addition, the at-home solution features the recent TOEFL Better Test Experience enhancements, including MyBest™ scores and instant, unofficial Reading and Listening scores.

With 100% academic content and integrated tasks that simulate the actual classroom experience, TOEFL is the only test of English communication specifically designed for the university academic context with valid, reliable and accurate scores. Admissions officers around the world know this, and that is why the TOEFL iBT is preferred over other English tests – by 9 out 10 universities in the U.S., by 8 out of 10 graduate programs in Canada, by universities in France and Germany. In addition, the TOEFL iBT test is accepted universally around the world by universities not only in English speaking countries like the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand where 100% of universities accept TOEFL iBT scores, as well as English taught programs and courses in other countries.  So, by taking the TOEFL iBT test, a student helps to ensure that they stand out in confidence among their peers for their English language skills. TOEFL scores also provide universities with the confidence that applicants are prepared to succeed at their institutions through their demonstrated ability to communicate in English in a rigorous, academic environment.

TOEFL iBT can take students anywhere in the world. Accepted by 11,000 institutions in over 150 countries worldwide, TOEFL is accepted universally in English speaking countries with 100% acceptance by universities in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in virtually every English taught the program in all non-English speaking countries like France, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and more. The TOEFL iBT® test given in test centres is also accepted for all Australia and New Zealand immigration.

Only TOEFL offers students the option to take the same high quality and high-security TOEFL iBT assessment in a traditional test centre or at home with 100% live human proctoring. Competitors have limited security measures and no live human proctoring, which could cause concerns among accepting universities and other score users.

About Srikant Gopal

Srikant Gopal is a graduate of the Birla Institute for Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, India, and earned his MBA from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA. He has lived and worked in six countries, and has experience across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America, combining marketing and business experience from companies like Procter & Gamble and Nestle with a passion for education and student development. Srikant is also a part-time educator and teaches a course on Economics and Ethics at the Philadelphia Ethical Society.

 

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