The Performance of Native Speakers of English on the TOEFL® Test

Clark, John L. D.
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Language tasks grammar reading passages item appropriateness error recognition sentence completion reading comprehension


Recent forms of the new three-section TOEFL® test (Test of English as a Foreign Language™) were administered to a total of 88 native speakers of English just prior to graduation from a college-preparatory high school program. Total test score distributions were highly negatively skewed, reinforcing findings of earlier studies that the TOEFL test is not psychometrically appropriate for discriminating among native speakers of English with respect to English language competence. Although the native English examinees achieved high total test scores and performed excellently on the Listening Comprehension section, a number of items in the other two sections (Structure and Written Expression; Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary) were answered in correctly by over 20% of the examinee group. Included in these were a number of questions considered by the TOEFL test development staff to deal with basic grammar points or straightforward reading passages of a type that college-level students should be expected to handle without difficulty. From these results, it is concluded that although response data from native English speaking examinees may be of some use in designating particular test questions for closer examination, errors made by college-bound native speakers should not automatically be considered indicative of item inappropriateness for the TOEFL population.

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