eNews Update
October 2011

Guidelines for Using TOEFL® Scores

The TOEFL® program has created some general guidelines to help institutions use TOEFL scores to help with the admissions process. Some of these recommendations include setting score requirements, section scores, evaluation of readiness, using scores to aid in interpretation of other tests and conducting validity studies.

TOEFL score requirements should be reviewed on a regular basis, and adjustments made as needed. Various fields and levels of study may require different levels of English-language proficiency. You may also want to consider having more flexibility in accepting applicants with lower proficiency if your institution offers programs with ESL support.

TOEFL section scores contain valuable information to help differentiate applicants. Consider establishing requirements for TOEFL section scores, not just total scores. For instance, three students can all have a TOEFL iBT® score of 80 but different proficiency levels in each section. Having a range of scores instead of a rigid cut score provides more flexibility in selecting qualified applicants for admission.

We also recommend that you base your evaluation of an applicant's readiness to begin academic work on all available relevant information, not solely on TOEFL scores. Review the student's application to find other supporting evidence of English proficiency.

TOEFL test scores can be used as an aid in interpreting an applicant's performance on other standardized tests such as the GRE® tests. For example, the TOEFL Writing section score helps faculty determine whether a low score on the GRE Analytical Writing section indicates low English writing skills or inability to evaluate and critique arguments.

Accept only official TOEFL scores from ETS that are no more than two years old. TOEFL scores measure English-language proficiency at a particular point in time. Proficiency may improve or decrease based on the amount of study and exposure to the language following the test date. For this reason, TOEFL scores are valid for only two years.

Evaluate the validity of your admissions criteria by performing a validity study. Validity evidence should be gathered for specific uses of TOEFL total scores or section scores. For example, ETS researchers conducted a study about the use of TOEFL iBT Speaking section scores for initial screening of International Teaching Assistants. The study concluded that scores from the TOEFL iBT Speaking section can be used successfully as an initial screening to determine whether ITAs have the necessary English-language proficiency to assist in teaching students at the university level. A copy of the study is available in the Research section of the TOEFL website at www.ets.org/toefl/research08-02.

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