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Title:Examination of the appropriateness of using standardized test scores for English as a second language (ESL) placement
Author(s):Kokhan, Kateryna
Director of Research:Davidson, Frederick G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Davidson, Frederick G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Mortensen, Peter L.; Golato, Peter; Winke, Paula
Department / Program:Linguistics
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):English as a second language (ESL) placement
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
English proficiency
Abstract:The primary purpose of this multi-paper dissertation was to examine the appropriateness of using standardized test scores for making ESL placement decisions within the context of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The dissertation consists of an introductory chapter, four manuscript papers, and a concluding chapter. In the first paper, a survey of the current English proficiency requirements in the U.S. universities with very high research activity (Research Universities / Very High [research activity] -- RU/VH) was performed in order to get a general idea about standardized test requirements that international applicants must satisfy in order to be admitted to the university. The results of the survey showed that the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are most widely accepted tests. However, the RU/VHs significantly differed in terms of score requirements for admission. A substantial difference was also observed between test score requirements for admission to undergraduate and graduate programs. The conditions for waiver from the English proficiency requirement differed greatly from university to university. In this author’s view, “marketization” of higher education might be one of the strongest reasons triggering variety and complexity of the English proficiency policies at the RU/VHs. The results of the subsequent three independent research projects (Kokhan, 2012; Kokhan, 2013; Kokhan & Lin, submitted) that were included into this dissertation provided solid research evidence to conclude that standardized language proficiency tests would not be suitable for ESL placement. The results from the second paper (Kokhan, 2012) suggested that there was no particular set of either total or section TOEFL iBT scores which can be used as a reliable criterion for placing students into ESL classes without significant misplacement. This finding was further corroborated in the third paper (Kokhan, 2013) that examined the appropriateness of using standardized tests for placement of undergraduate international students into the ESL writing courses. A distinct pattern of fluctuations of correlation between the TOEFL iBT and the English Placement Test (EPT) over time was also observed (Kokhan, 2012). The correlation was stronger when the time gap between these tests was short but it dramatically decreased and even became slightly negative around Week 50; however, starting from the 50th week it increased. Language attrition was highlighted in the paper as the main factor contributing to this pattern of correlation. Kokhan’s (2013) study showed that using language sections of such tests as the SAT and ACT would not be effective for ESL placement of undergraduate students either. Exploratory data analysis demonstrated that only the lowest SAT reading and ACT English scores, and the highest TOEFL iBT total and writing section scores could separate the students between the two ESL placement levels. However, the number of undergraduate ESL students, who scored at the lowest and highest ends of each of these test scales, was less than 5% over the last six years. Thus, setting cutoff scores for such a small fraction of the ESL population may be impractical. For the majority of the undergraduate ESL population, there was about a 40% chance that they would be misplaced if the ESL placement decision were made solely based on the standardized test scores. Finally, the main objective of the fourth paper (Kokhan and Lin, submitted) was to examine which TOEFL iBT scores (official highest, most recent, average, or self-reported scores) were the best predictors of ESL placement. The findings showed that the self-reported and the highest TOEFL iBT total scores had the strongest association with the ESL placement results. The self-reported and the highest scores also demonstrated the highest classification efficiency in predicting ESL placement of TOEFL iBT repeaters. However, an additional analysis of the ESL placement trends in relation to the total highest, average, most recent and self-reported TOEFL iBT scores indicated that none of the four types of scores were suitable for making accurate ESL placement decisions since, in some cases, students with very low TOEFL iBT scores could be placed into the highest ESL level and students with very high TOEFL iBT scores could be placed into the lowest ESL level. The key findings, methods of analysis, limitations and suggestions for future research and changes of practice were discussed in the concluding chapter of the dissertation.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Kateryna Kokhan. Portions of this dissertation have been published elsewhere: The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Language Testing, 29/2, April/2012 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. Copyright [Kokhan, K]. The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Language Testing, 30/4, October/2013 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. Copyright [Kokhan, K].
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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