We’ve seen a great increase in testing in Brazil and there are a lot of things happening in South America as more and more governments offer scholarships. The TOEFL programme just signed an agreement with the government of Ecuador to be the sole provider of English testing for its English language teachers, which is pretty exciting news for us. Of course China continues to be a very strong market with students wanting to study both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. We’ve recently added three more test dates in order to keep up with the ever growing demand for testing. It keeps us busy!
“This year compared to last year we’ve seen a 13% increase globally in TOEFL testing”
The PIE: What sort of challenges are you seeing in the exams market and how do you overcome them?
ET: I’ll talk about the work we do to help students first. Firstly we’ve instituted no charge, in-country call lines in many countries for students who want help with their registrations or who have questions about their scores. This makes it very easy to get in touch with us. We’ve also greatly stepped up our engagement in student fairs, so we can be there to advise students who want to study abroad in person. We have study abroad scholarship programmes too, in India, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
We also help ELL teachers though workshops we call ‘Propel’ which help teachers understand what is measured in the TOEFL test and how to build their curriculum, not to teach to the test, but to give students the kinds of skills that will serve them well in their English ability.
The PIE: You recently introduced new biometric voice identification software. How much of an issue is cheating in the exams market?
ET: It’s no secret that every test provider today faces cheating. Universities find it in terms of fraudulent transcripts, recommendations, essays and other fraudulent activities, and testing companies are not immune. ETS has long experience in testing, the TOEFL test has been available for almost 50 years, but during that time the way that students attempt to cheat has changed. So it’s imperative that our security methods keep up to date in this new age of technology.
“The way that students attempt to cheat has changed. So it’s imperative that our security methods keep up to date”
The PIE: Hence the new measures…
ET: Yes. With the new feature we’re adding, we can create voice prints of each test taker and we’ve had a lot of success with it. It allows us to determine whether there is the same voice among several test takers. It can also help us ensure the same test taker is not participating over a number of tests, so it’s going to be huge tool for us. We currently use it for security investigations but will expand its use in 2013. And there’s a wealth of other things we do to ensure security.
The PIE: It sounds quite James Bond-like! Did the CIA help you with this?
ET: The students who are considering studying abroad are smart! Often they are the best and brightest, so it’s important for us to stay one or two steps ahead of them so that universities can have confidence in the scores that we report. I can assure you it has a very high priority at ETS, always has. We are constantly implementing innovative security protocols.