In a process conducted at the beginning of the year to identify students in need of academic support, college faculty found that a higher-than-usual number of students from the fall-term intake were struggling academically, and low English proficiency was singled out to be a primary cause.
Most of those students, the institution’s VP academic and learner services Steve Hudson told The PIE News, seemed to have been tested in one test IDP-run IELTS centre in India.
“When we looked at the students that were identified.. a predominant number seemed to be from one test centre”
“When we looked at the students that were identified, there were students from a variety of countries, but a predominant number seemed to be from one test centre,” Hudson said.
“We have asked the test centre to reconfirm the result or ask those students to reconfirm the results before they arrive in the winter, so that we don’t have the same challenges with language proficiency.”
Hudson added that the institution notified IDP and IELTS early in the fall term.
The 428 offer holders for the winter intake that had been tested at the same centre have been given a voucher by Niagara College, covering the cost for an additional English language proficiency test with the choice of re-sitting IELTS or switching to the Pearson Test of English.
Results are not expected until December 21.
According to the Toronto Star, which first reported on the story, immigration officials are looking into the matter as well.
IELTS managing director at IDP, Warwick Freeland, told The PIE that the organisation is working with Niagara College to solve the issue and is preparing to conduct a thorough investigation.
“We have been communicating with Niagara College and we are hoping to bring the matter to a resolution as soon as possible,” he said.
“At present, we have not received all the information we require from Niagara College to conduct a thorough investigation. Until we have the information we need and complete our investigation, we cannot comment any further.”
Freeland added that results from IELTS test centres continue to be accepted for study purposes by all education institutions in Canada and that results from all test centres in India continue to be accepted by IRCC for all study and migration visas in Canada.
Hudson specified that for Niagara College this is not a problem of test validity or a systemic issue, but an anomaly impacting on a relatively small number of students in the College’s student body.
But he defended the College’s decision to demand a second test, as low English language proficiency can have a disastrous impact on an international student’s experience.
“It’s not a test validity issue from our perspective, we are not sure why we had this anomaly in the fall term and we’ll continue to engage with IDP as we work through the issue,” he said.
“We don’t see it as a systemic issue at this point, we are just trying to really recognise the very high cost for the individual student: even having a relatively small number of students come over and not have the language proficiency to be successful is very challenging, it’s very challenging for the students, when they get here.”
Languages Canada executive director Gonzalo Peralta agreed that the association had not received any reports or issues on the validity of independent language tests, supporting the view that this is just an isolated incident, and reiterated the importance of language testing for the sector.
When asked how the sector can ensure that students arrive in Canada with a good level of English, he said that all stakeholders, from institutions to students, to testing organisations have a role to play.
“Testing, especially independent testing organisations, are key to our success”
“Typically, language level entrance requirements in Canada are very high, and although this may be challenging in terms of narrowing the pool of potential students, we believe it’s one of the reasons why education in Canada is consistently rated as one of the top in the world,” he said.
“For this very reason, language programs play a key role in preparing students through pathway programs. Testing, especially independent testing organisations, are key to our success, and they need to, and do, invest in continuous improvement and testing integrity.”
Another Ontario institution is looking into the issue to gauge whether it will impact on its admission process, a source who wished to remain anonymous told The PIE.
“We are looking into this to see if it may have any impact in our admissions process. For now, we are investigating only,” they said.