Tag Archives: English

Who Needs an English Language Proficiency Test?

September 21st, 2018

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English proficiency tests are typically associated with international students, but there are a wide variety of reasons that organizations of all types would need an accurate English language proficiency test. Companies, governments, as well as educational institutions at all levels have a need to precisely determine the English language skill of large or small groups of people in order to compare individuals to one another, monitor language acquisition progress, or develop curriculum.

This article explores the ever-expanding uses of English proficiency tests in order to give an overview of how these tools are used across industries and sectors in our increasingly data-driven world. Most importantly, we’ll also explore why English assessment tools are used and the opportunities they create for those who use them.

Better Than Guessing or Praying

Before we look at how English proficiency assessments are used today, it may help to understand why they came into existence in the first place. My career in international education actually predates the introduction of TOEFL, the first English proficiency test, in 1964. Before then, there was not an English proficiency requirement for admission of international students to US colleges and universities. Administrators simply hoped the students they admitted had strong enough English skills to thrive at the institution.

Similarly, employers had no choice but to do their best to size up the English skills of their applicants and employees based on interviews and conversations. It was all based on gut feeling.

Finally, governments that might have been curious about the English level of their population were left to wonder about it. There was no feasible way to test English language skills on a wide scale.

Thankfully, English testing has come a long way. There are now so many applications for English assessment tools, that there are products designed for specific uses and situations. Let’s explore some of the most common.

Higher Education

One of the most important parts of higher education is the cultural exchange that comes from studying with people who come from different places and backgrounds. International students are a vital part of any vibrant campus. However, when their English proficiency skills are too poor to participate effectively in class discussion or to complete the assignments, it’s harmful to both the international students and their classmates.

As a result, essentially all U.S. colleges and universities now have an English language proficiency requirement for admission of non-native English speakers. Typically, the test is taken at a test center in the applicant’s home country and the score is submitted with their application.

Over time, institutions of higher learning have realized that there is so much more they can do with an English language proficiency test. For instance, by testing students upon arrival and graduation, they can measure how their English language skills improved over the course of their study. If they’re using a test like iTEP that scores specific language skills and sub-skills, the institution can come to understand which language skills their international students are acquiring most quickly, and which may require greater focus in the curriculum.

Intensive English Programs

All over the world, there are thousands of programs designed specifically to help non-native English speakers improve their English language skills. (This site lists over 600 in the US alone).

Since these intensive English programs, or IEPs, exist to improve English language skills, providing proof of English proficiency for admissions isn’t necessary. However, it’s crucial that the students in these programs are placed into the proper level where they are most likely to succeed. An accurate and easy-to-administer test is key this process. iTEP has been working with IEPs for over a decade to refine how proficiency tests are used in placement, and we now enable IEPs to comprehensively assess the English language skills of their students within a few hours of their arrival on campus.

In addition, the potential to calibrate how an IEP functions, using an English language assessment test like iTEP that provides rich data, is tremendous. IEPs can make sure that different instructors teaching the same level are producing the same results and evaluating their students in the same way, for instance.

Secondary Schools

The fastest growing segment of international students are not college students, but rather high school and even middle school students. The English language proficiency skills of these applicants are most accurately measured by an English test designed specifically for them. The word choices and scenarios presented in an English test meant for adults could be confusing or unfamiliar to young learners and skew the results.

Historically, this need has been neglected by the marketplace. ETS’s SLEP exam was a paper-based test that was widely used by private high schools and boarding schools favored by international high school students coming to the US. When it was retired in 2013, iTEP SLATE (Secondary Level Assessment Test of English) stepped in to become the industry standard.

Private Companies

The job interview process is so subjective. With the help of an English language proficiency assessment, comparing the English language skills of applicants is no longer guesswork. This is particularly helpful when a company grows and is rapidly hiring. Particularly if there is more than one person interviewing candidates, it helps to have concrete numbers to compare.

However, not all jobs use all language skills. Waiters, for instance, don’t need particularly good writing skills as long as they are able to speak and understand English quite well. They also don’t need to be able to discuss business or academic topics—their job is mostly focused on food and pleasant conversation. In recent years, iTEP has created English assessment tools for specific industries such as au pairs, real estate, and hospitality. In fact, we even create customized English tests for specific companies when they can identify unique language skills or scenarios they want to assess.

Governments

For governments, data is power. Knowing how well their population communicates in English can be a major help to employment initiatives, attracting international companies, or becoming a popular tourist destination.

Part of our goal at iTEP has been to make English assessment efficient enough to be implemented on a large scale. As a result, our tests have been used in massive initiatives in Colombia, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and more. In addition to national governments, state, county and municipal governments also rely on English proficiency testing, both to get a sense of the skills of their citizens, and to ensure that government workers have the necessary English language skills for their job.

What’s next for English language assessment?

When organizations started to come to us with ideas for how to use our tests that we had never thought of, we began to understand that we had succeeded at creating English assessment tools that were flexible, affordable, and convenient enough that they had taken on a life of their own. With the continued proliferation of English as the global language, I believe we’ve only just scratched the surface of how English language proficiency tests can help organizations of all types do what they do better.

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Perry Akins
iTEP International Chairman and Co-Founder

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Fulbright: A Two Year Photographic Journey

May 26th, 2017

During my two years in the Fulbright Program, I have taken thousands of photographs. I seem to have just as many stories about my students, the community I live in, and the nation I call home. In writing this, I wanted to give a diverse glimpse into the life of a Fulbrighter in South Korea and the development of my relationship with my students over the past two years. Living abroad is full of many complicated feelings: joy, depression, homesickness, excitement – there is no short story that can encapsulate the experience, but I hope through this photographic essay I can share life in the Land of the Morning Calm.

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First, Let Me Take A Selfie, 2015
After three months, my first selfie with my students.
Until this moment, we had not reached the friendship point of pictures. I entered my school with a strong dedication to teach the English language as a professional. And part of this came with me creating distance between the students and I, not fully comprehending the culture of touch (hand holding is appropriate with teachers) or engaging with students outside of the classroom. In short, I had a lot to learn about being a good teacher. After a month, I began to change my approach and opened myself up to the students, which in turn lead to this moment on October 2, 2015 when I asked a few girls for a picture.

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An Artist At Work, Work Being My Classroom, 2015
I caught a student drawing in class. Usually, I would take away the drawings and talk with the student after about paying attention. When I walked up to this particular student she was so engrossed in her work she didn’t see me. Instead of taking the papers I stood and watched. After all, who am I to disturb an artist in the midst of a masterpiece?

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Special Snowflakes, 2016
The project was supposed to be simple. We had ended class early and I wanted to decorate the classroom with snowflakes. Some of my students listened to the directions. Others decided they knew how to make a snowflake.
Most of these students were wrong:

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The Battle of Sungsim, 2016
The first snowfall of the year brought with it the usual festivities. My students have a tradition of using dustpans as shovels and tossing the snow at each other. Just a word of advice to anyone reading this – if a group of teenagers have dustpans and you have a lone snowball, always remember you are older and will be the automatic enemy if you engage them in battle.

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Hanji, 2016
Hanji is Korean paper and has a long history on the peninsula. It can be used to make art and clothing. During my first year in Korea, I began taking lessons from a woman who has been making hanji art for 20 years! My teacher is an amazing woman who speaks 5 languages and is one of the happiest people I have met. Pictured is one of my projects, but don’t be fooled! My teacher saved it multiple times from my butterfingers!

 

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Closet, 2017
This past week we did a lesson on secrets, many of which broke my heart. In Korea, same-sex marriage is not legal, although being with someone of the same gender is not criminalized (military code exempt). You can be fired for your sexuality and support groups for LGBT rights are still growing. It has been painful watching students who have come out to me struggle with their identity, unable to share it with their peers. I have no clear answers – many expats simply say “its another culture” and brush aside the issue. But working with students who are in the closet changes the entire experience. And the worst part is not having answers or a fix for the situation.

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Do You Hear The People Sing?, 2017
Earlier this year President Guen-Hye Park was ousted after a money scandal. Millions filled the streets of Seoul demanding she be impeached. When the court ruling came down impeaching Park, the country erupted into celebration. On May 9, 2017, Jae-In Moon was elected president. Watching the whole process was intense. In my city there were nightly protests and my students covered their classrooms in signs demanding Park resign. The whole nation was against her and there was no way to stop the people. As one of my students said after the election, “Korea is a democracy, today shows our power.”

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Good-byes, 2017
I had to rent a hanbok before I left, pictured here in front of my school. It has been an amazing journey and one I will not forget. Leaving Korea—there are no words to describe how I feel and perhaps that is the best. My students have transformed my life for the better. I am more compassionate, I am more patient, I laugh everyday, and I have found my calling in education. I just don’t know how I will live without them… or the kimchi.
안녕히 계세요.

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Nikki R. Brueggeman

Biography
Nikki Brueggeman is a graduate of the University of Washington s where she earned a master’s degree in 2015. She is originally from the town of Walla Walla, Washington where she was raised around sweet onions and wine barrels. Nikki currently teaches at Jeonju Sungsim Girls High School where she works with the most beautiful, vivacious, and hilarious girls on the Korean peninsula.

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Intensive English Programs (IEPs) Are in Trouble Again

July 28th, 2016

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Once again, we find ourselves in very challenging times for intensive English language programs in the US. These enrollment valleys occur once every ten years or so. One can cite a variety of reasons for the declining enrollments; however, the primary one is the decline in Saudi Arabian scholarship students. Other factors at play are the dollar, the “Trump card,” the Brazilian scholar program, the lousy world economy, more world competition (e.g. English in Malaysia), and some might even include “global warming” on their list of causes. But the primary cause of the situation we’re in today, the Saudi student decline, was certainly predictable. It was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”Along with the tremendous influx of Saudi students since 2005 came more IEP school openings. IEPs barely had to lift a finger to fill their seats thanks to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There was really no reason to allocate resources to prime the pump of other potentially lucrative future international student markets. I am sure a few of the IEPs continued to cast their sales net far and wide and were able to groom some potentially new emerging markets; however, I suspect most did not. Life was good, so why make the effort?

Not the first IEP enrollment crisis, not the last

These major “market disruptors” such as the Saudi student decline occur about every decade for IEPs. For other examples, we can look back to the oil crisis of 1974, the huge Venezuelan scholarship program of the mid 1970s that saw a sudden end, and the Iranian take over of the American Embassy in 1979, as well as the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 9/11. In addition to these major market disruptors, there were minor ones such as periodic foreign government fiscal controls on travel abroad, major currency devaluations (or stronger dollar), Europeans no longer able to quit their jobs to study abroad and easily return home to better jobs (Switzerland in particular), and military conflicts, just to name a few.

So, here we are in this mess today with declining enrollments, instructors being laid off, administrators being placed in classrooms, program levels being combined (out of financial necessity), and IEPs closing (more by the end of the 2016). And then there is the possible impact on international education if Donald Trump becomes our next president, or a disruptor of some sort occurring in the People’s Republic of China, either of which would bring further hardship to IEPs.

How to survive the Saudi slump

There are few short-term solutions to getting us out of this mess. If the student numbers do not turn around soon, there will be an increasing number of IEP closures resulting in fewer IEPs, providing some enrollment growth among the remaining IEPs. Yes—you are all competing in the same markets for the same students with few exceptions. You are all friends, but you are also friendly competitors.

Those IEPs that are able to survive the carnage will be those that are best able to manage their expenses throughout this period. That is how they will survive. I say this because developing new markets is costly, time consuming and requires skill sets that might no longer be available at the IEPs. This is especially true since those IEPs that do survive into the fall of 2016 will have eliminated many administrative positions.

A common marketing mistake of many college/university IEPs is that they look to the “big name” schools to set the standards for recruitment. “Big name” schools do not require the same aggressive marketing efforts as those IEPs on lesser known campuses. So, if you are one of the “small name” schools, you need to be very creative and very aggressive in the ways you market your IEP program. You have to put the students first. For instance, if you have a program schedule designed to meet the schedule of your college/university instead of a schedule most convenient for your prospective students, well, need I say more?

Recruiting: an ongoing project

IEPs may sometimes forget that the sales effort does not end with receiving a student application. Special efforts need to be put forth to ensure that the student applicant will actually arrive and enroll for classes. And the sales effort continues. As you know, the student can easily pick up and transfer to another IEP if he or she becomes unhappy with yours. Regular blind student surveys will certainly go a long way to help you identify and rectify reasons behind unhappy student customers. When I think of the IEP program, I think in terms of 24/7. IEPs which do not accept 24/7 responsibility will be those programs which lose students to the IEPs which do think in 24/7 terms.

The surviving IEPs will be those that are customer centric and have carefully studied market conditions resulting in knowledge that will help them finely tune their sales efforts. They will need to be able to identify new potential markets utilizing recent US government visa statistics that are not readily available to the general public. Using student statistics such as those found in Open Doors can easily lead you astray. You need to know where the student activity is today, not where it was one or two years ago. A shotgun sales method will not yield the results you are looking for. Also, if you are not working with very qualified and carefully screened productive agents in key countries around the world, you will have great difficulty recovering from this downturn.

So, do your homework, target your promotion, keep your expenses in line with your revenue, work with good referral agents with whom you communicate by Skype once a month, and you will be around when the dust finally settles. And, yes, it will settle as new markets and new opportunities begin to appear on your radar.

See this article as it originally appeared on iTEP Chairman Perry Akins’ LinkedIn page. Follow iTEP on LinkedIn

Perry Akins
Chair
iTEP
http://www.itepexam.com/

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