Category: Testing

What could and should replace the IGCSE and GCSE?

“Students don’t currently have the soft skills needed to prepare them for the workplace”

It looks increasingly likely that a new system of post qualification offers from universities will replace the current system of offers being made before IB/BTEC and A Level results are announced.

This change inevitably raises the question about the value and current content of GCSEs and IGCSEs. If they are no longer needed to inform a university offer, are they still fit for purpose? Pat Moores of UK Education Guide looks at the options.

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The campaign trying to make subtitles the default for kids’ TV

“If you suddenly found subtitles on your children’s Netflix account last year – that wasn’t a coincidence”

This story starts back in 2019, when Henry Warren had a conversation with Oli Barrett over coffee about a news article that Oli had read on how turning on subtitles on children’s TV content had a dramatic positive impact on their reading proficiency, writes Nina Hale from the Turn On The Subtitles campaign. 

Slightly sceptical but intrigued, the two sought out the academic who had conducted the study and took his research, along with a mountain of similar studies, to The National Literacy Trust to review.

Once validated, they set off on a quest to make sure this information reached every household with young children.

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The link between language proficiency requirements and diversity

“Lower score requirements may be acceptable if sufficient English language support is offered”

Diversity is a core value of higher education institutions, and consequently an important consideration for admissions decisions colleges and universities make every year.

While international applicants can help achieve diversity goals, institutions need to decide whether such applicants can cope with the language demands of instruction delivered in English.

This decision is not straightforward because, although English-language proficiency is a key element for academic success, other factors including subject-related knowledge and non-cognitive attributes play a role in future academic performance.

Because of the complex nature of academic language proficiency, requirements for English-language proficiency test scores are essential to the admission process for international students.

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Why verifying the qualifications of students matters

“Verifying students’ qualifications has become a major requirement but it doesn’t need to be a major hurdle.”

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, writes Abdel Abu-Qoura  of Qualification Check, it’s that no matter how advanced and evolved our lives might be – there are fundamental components of life which are at its core. Think about health, sanitation and security. Security – whether it’s as an employee or an employer, student or a university – means personal stability but also safeguarding a family or an organisation. It’s an element of life and business which has always existed and always will.

As the nature of the educational world changes, and student recruitment and application processes transition, security needs to remain intact. Universities need to be confident about who they’re accepting as students and verification is the best way to do that.

Verifying students’ qualifications has become a major requirement but it doesn’t need to be a major hurdle. Indeed, verification should be seen as helpful rather than a hindrance to the application process. It’s a valuable tool in empowering organisations to assess the fundamentals of a candidate, gaining insights into their honesty and integrity before accepting them.

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Why should an English-language proficiency test be backed by research?

“Test providers should carefully research the types of tasks students need to perform and replicate such tasks as accurately as possible.”

English-language classrooms around the world all look and function differently, writes Spiros Papageorgiou of ETS. But one common thread among them is that teachers of English consistently look for reliable information from language tests to assess whether their students have achieved specific learning goals.

Students who wish to pursue a degree in an English-speaking country are typically asked to submit scores from a language test to demonstrate that they can cope with the language demands their university classes require.

As such, developers of these language tests should be establishing a rigorous program of research in order to support the intended uses of these tests, and further be able to provide evidence that substantiates claims about what test takers know or can do based on their scores.

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What lessons can we learn from PISA ranking leader Finland? 

” In Finland for example, there is no national testing, no school inspections and no school league tables”

The latest  Program for International Student Assessment results has prompted questions about what certain countries are doing better than others when it comes to the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems around the globe. In this blog, head of School at ACS International School Cobham, Barnaby Sandow, explores some of the lessons that can be learned from Finland.

Scandinavian countries are world-famous for promoting happiness and wellbeing – and also for their exceptional education, whether measured in academic results, student happiness or overall progress to learning objectives.

You may have seen the 2019 PISA results recently which illustrated that most countries – particularly in the developed world – have seen little improvement in their performances over the past decade, even though spending on education increased by 15 per cent over the same period.

The report – outlined in this insightful editorial comment  – concludes that huge numbers of graduates are therefore likely to struggle to find their way through life in an increasingly volatile, digital world.

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Do you speak English? It’s complicated.

“Identifying the gaps in language proficiency for each individual is only the beginning”

Kate Bell is co-author of the EF English Proficiency Index. In this blog, Bell examines how subtleties in employee proficiency affect the types and depth of language training that employers must provide.

From the outside, foreign language proficiency looks simple—either you speak a language or you don’t—but anyone who grew up receiving calls from grandparents abroad or who has worked for a few years in a foreign country knows that most people’s linguistic terrain is more of a swamp than a soccer field.

This is because our language skills develop over the course of decades as a result of inclination, exposure, education, and practice.

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TOEFL’s rapid retreat from Vietnam: How computerisation allowed IELTS to dominate

“Let this be a warning to educational technologists…no matter how dominant a stake you hold, you serve the market and it could eat you for lunch”

The computerization of the TOEFL exam allowed the IELTS to dominate Vietnam, says Deren Temel, Manager of International Development at SEAMEO RETRAC in Ho Chi Minh City.  In this week’s PIE blog, Temel discusses “the TOEFL exam’s self-inflicted collapse” in Vietnam, and asks readers to lend their insight in the comments. 

Before we get into the strategic disaster that dethroned the TOEFL exam’s dominant position in Vietnam’s English credentials market, lets set a few things straight. Credentials are certificates, exam scores, or degrees that describe someone’s prior learning and/or skill level. The international recognition of credentials allows students to continue their education across borders.
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SELTs and Cambridge English at UK universities – a question I get asked a lot

“One area of great concern for the whole UK education system is the risk that people may misunderstand the requirements for Tier 4 student visas”

Blandine Bastie, Regional Manager for UK and Ireland at Cambridge English, clarifies the status of Cambridge English exams for entry into UK universities.

We do understand the government’s desire to simplify the system for language testing for UK visas and the IELTS partners are working very hard to ensure that there is adequate capacity to meet the needs of visa applicants worldwide.

One area of great concern for the whole UK education system is the risk that people may misunderstand the requirements for Tier 4 student visas. We think it’s extremely important that universities can choose how they assess that candidates meet the requirements, and the current legislation gives education institutions the freedom to do this.

For example, one question I get asked a lot is: Are Cambridge English exams still accepted by UK universities? The short answer is yes (under certain circumstances of course). To clarify when Cambridge English exams can be used, we recently published a statement, but in a nutshell, here goes.

Candidates applying for a Tier 4 visa in order to study at degree level and above at a Tier 4 sponsor university are only required to present the proof of English language level that the university requires. This means that UK universities can continue to accept Cambridge English exams, including Cambridge English: Advanced and Proficiency, at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

So when do UK Visas and Immigration require people to take a test from the list of Secure English Language Tests? For courses below degree level, universities need to accept an approved SELT from non-EU international applicants. The IELTS test – which we jointly own with British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia – is included on UKVI’s SELT list. For UK visas and immigration purposes, IELTS will need to be taken under specified conditions at centres which are specifically approved for this purpose.

Obviously we’d recommend that students planning to study at a UK university check the entry requirements with the university itself and the UKVI, but I hope this post has been helpful.

English-language testing: Enabling the UK to stay on the forefront of recruiting international students

“Changes that limit institutions’ testing options can have a big impact by setting the UK behind its higher education sector competitors and negatively impacting this important export industry”

Earlier this year, the UK government opted not to extend its licence agreement with global testing giant ETS to provide Secure English Language Testing as required in the student visa application process. Here its Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Payne argues against limiting TOEFL score acceptance, saying that changes to an open English-language testing environment built on choice can put at risk UK universities’ ability to attract the brightest and best international students.

One common way in which universities around the world do attract the brightest students is by relying on standardised, globally accessible English-language tests, such as the TOEFL iBT® test, to assess candidates and make informed admissions decisions.

However, recent changes threaten UK universities’ competitiveness, as the TOEFL test may now only be used under “vouching” provisions. In many parts of the world, the TOEFL test is far better known than any other English-proficiency test, and its worldwide testing network enables the best and brightest students to consider study in the UK. By limiting TOEFL score acceptance, will the UK be able to maintain its reputation and the perception that it is an attractive and open destination for international students?

“By limiting TOEFL score acceptance, will the UK be able to maintain the perception that it is an attractive and open destination for international students?”

Changes that limit institutions’ testing options can have a big impact by setting the UK behind its higher education sector competitors and negatively impacting this important export industry. In 2012–13, international students made up 18% of the total student population, and 74% of master’s courses are taught by international students. Both numbers indicate the UK’s reliance on international students to fill UK university courses as both students and instructors. Indeed, a recent study from Universities UK stated strong public support for this industry, a view backed by businesses and the Institute of Directors.

English language tests matter. Often, students will take just one test, and they want to ensure it is accepted everywhere as they may apply to multiple institutions in different countries. Limiting test options risks closing off the UK and driving a perception that the country is no longer open for business to the world’s brightest students. A number of UK universities recognise this threat and continue to use the TOEFL test under vouching provisions as an important recruiting tool because they have confidence in its results.

“Limiting test options risks closing off the UK and driving a perception that the country is no longer open for business to the world’s brightest students”

The challenge is not just about enrolment figures, but how higher education institutions can vie for the revenue and intellectual capital they receive from recruiting an international student pool that is also highly sought after by the United States, France and Australia (where a five-year plan for international students has seen a 10 percent rise in international students) as well as emerging hubs such as China and Malaysia.

Australia is indicative here. The TOEFL test is accepted by the Australian government for student visas. The government has now announced its intention to begin using the test for visas for graduates as well as for almost all skilled, business, work and holiday categories. The decisive expansion of English-proficiency options by government means that Australian businesses now have access to a greater pool of potential employees than they did before.

As the world’s largest nonprofit private research and assessment organisation, ETS has a long, established tradition of research to ensure that the TOEFL test — currently recognised in over 130 countries — remains the gold standard for English-proficiency testing for university admissions. Celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2014, the test is at the forefront of security innovation, including the implementation of biometric voice identification for all test takers worldwide — the only English-proficiency test to do so.

The UK remains a beacon for learning, celebrated for its role in welcoming students from around the world and grooming global citizens. International students bring significant benefits to the UK. A robust English-language testing environment, with choice and competition, is a small but important foundation upon which this is built. ETS and the TOEFL Program remain committed to UK universities and to working with the higher education sector in maintaining that international reputation.