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By Erlyn Baack, now retired, formerly at ITESM, Campus Queretaro, Mexico

Both the IELTS and the TOEFL are proficiency tests that measure overall proficiency. They are both global in nature. I do not think they should be seen as achievement tests to be used at the end of a semester of study. Instead, they may be used to inform the achievement rubrics that should be developed within successive levels within an English program. Likewise, these proficiency exams should not be used as placement exams either because there are better placement exams available. There is not a single question on the TOEFL, for example, that discriminates the difference between English ONE, TWO, and THREE levels for instance. So for placement, even Michigan’s very old English Placement Test (if it is still available) would be better than the TOEFL for placement.

That said, the IELTS and the TOEFL should inform the achievement (and the rubrics in each of the four skills, ideally) that teachers and/or course administrators want to achieve at each level within an English program. Teachers and/or course administrators have to decide the curriculum at each level: For example, in developing the curriculum for English ONE, teachers and/or course administrators must ask and answer the following questions: At the end of the semester, (1) What do we want the students to know (or achieve, or be, or be able to do)?, (2) How are we going to teach it?, and (3) How are we going to test it?

Teachers and/or administrators are then responsible for designing a curriculum and an ACHIEVEMENT exam, _with rubric_, that measures the level of student achievement throughout the semester. By definition, all students should have the ability to STUDY or PRACTICE the curriculum within the semester that would lead to higher achievement scores meaning there would be a high correlation between (1) the number of hours a student studies and (2) his/her final semester score. Those achievement scores, then, would affect the TOEFL and the IELTS only indirectly.

I think it is helpful to distinguish between various exams and what they measure.

(1) Placement exams contain questions at all levels to place students within an English program. Michigan’s EPT is an example.

(2) Proficiency exams measure overall proficiency. The IELTS and TOEFL are examples, and they are used by universities, generally, to determine whether proficiency is sufficient for university studies.

(3) Achievement exams measure the level of student achievement within a semester of study. A major monthly exam, a mid-semester exam, or a final exam are examples of those. Did the student “achieve” what was supposed to have been taught and learned within a given week or month or semester?


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