Computer Familiarity Among TOEFL Examinees

Kirsch, Irwin; Jamieson, Joan; Taylor, Carol; Eignor, Daniel
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Computer-assisted testing questionnaires test bias English as a second language language proficiency computer literacy


The growing use of computer-based testing raises concerns about access and equity. Specifically, many in the field of language testing are concerned that the introduction of a computer-based TOEFL test in 1998 may introduce bias by confounding the measurement of English-language proficiency with computer familiarity. As the first study in a series of research efforts to address this question, a 23-item questionnaire focusing on examinees' access to, attitude toward, and experience using computers as well as related technologies was developed and administered to TOEFL test takers in April and May of 1996 as part of a TOEFL test administration. TOEFL examinees into were classified into one of three groups according to their level of familiarity with computers: low, moderate, or high. Overall, some 16% of the TOEFL population was judged to have low computer familiarity, another 34% to have moderate familiarity, and approximately 50% to have high familiarity. In terms of background characteristics, computer familiarity was found to be unrelated to age, but was related to gender, native language, region of the world where the examinee was born, and test-center region. Computer familiarity was also shown to be related to individuals' TOEFL test scores and their reason for taking the test but unrelated to whether or not they had taken the test previously. Analyses of variance were conducted to investigate the relationships among proficiency as measured by the paper-and-pencil TOEFL test, computer familiarity, and selected background characteristics, including gender, age, native language, and reason for taking the test. The study results are also considered in light of existing research relating to various aspects of computer familiarity as well as in terms of their implications for professionals in universities and intensive language programs who will need to serve the needs of this diverse set of learners.

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