You may have read about the Japanese government’s suggested plan to use TOEFL as a screening test for university entrance. If not, here are some online articles:
Japan Times (March 25) “Abe Wants TOEFL to be Key Exam”
Japan Times (March 25) “LDP urges TOEFL scores as college entrance, graduation requirement”
I am not an expert on the TOEFL test, and I am not privy to the details of this plan, such as what kind of scores they are planning to require, or how they expect high schools to prepare students for the TOEFL. However, I think this is a horrible idea.
I am really opposed to using tests out of context, for purposes other than the ones they were designed for. This applies especially to the TOEIC and TOEFL tests. As far as I am aware, TOEIC is a test designed to measure English proficiency within a working environment. Apart from the language, it also requires test-takers to have some idea of working environments and tasks. I find that young people with no experience of working in office or professional environments are at a real disadvantage taking the test -basically it is not designed for them.
I believe TOEFL is designed to measure how well candidates will deal with studying in an English-language institution. It is looking at whether they will be able to understand lectures, write papers, take notes, participate in discussions, etc.
Using these tests indiscriminately to measure general language proficiency or achievement is surely less than ideal.
I am opposed to using the TOEFL test to pre-screen candidates for university entrance, as suggested in the articles above, for the following reasons:
- The test is inappropriate to measure English achievement over the entire student population, as opposed to a select few who intend to study abroad
- Regular high schools are not in a position to prepare students for these tests, which means that students will have to go to the private sector if they want to go to university, which means that only relatively affluent students will be able to go to university
- The bar will have to be set so low on the TOEFL iBT in order for normal students to pass it as to render the whole thing meaningless
- A foreign company like ETS should not have this much influence on Japan’s national curriculum: giving it to them is an abdication of responsibility on the part of the Ministry of Education
- The test is expensive, and presumably most students will take it several times to try to maximize their score, adding 30-50,000 yen to the cost of applying to university
Basically this is the latest in a series of ‘reforms’ that start from a positive goal (improve students’ practical English abilities), then completely fail to implement steps to achieve that goal, due to lack of knowledge, political will, or sheer incompetence.
What do you think about this idea? Is it going to help Japanese students?