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A Comparison of Scores Earned on the Test of English As a Foreign Language By Native American College Students and Foreign Applicants to U.S. Colleges ACT TOEFL

Angoff, William H.; Sharon, Amiel T.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
American College Testing Program (ACT), College Freshmen, English Tests, Foreign Students, Item Analysis, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Validity Studies


The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) was administered to a group of 71 native speakers of English enrolled as freshmen at a western state university. Although as a group they scored low on ACT English--their mean fell at the 29th percentile relative to the ACT norms group of college-bound high school seniors--their scores on all five parts of TOEFL, as well as on the total, were considerably above the mean of 34,774 foreign applicants to U.S. colleges. Moreover, their distributions were extremely narrow and highly skewed negatively indicating that the test was much too easy for them and confirming the hypothesis that while TOEFL discriminates adequately among foreign students, it is, consistent with its design, inadequate for differentiating among native Americans. Further support to this conclusion was found in the low correlation (.64) between TOEFL and ACT English, a test which is expressly designed to differentiate among native English speakers. Finally, plots of item difficulties for the U.S. and foreign groups revealed a clear item x group interaction. This was interpreted to signify that the items had different "meaning" for the two groups. The plots also showed that all but 17 out of the 270 items in the five parts of TOEFL were easier for the U.S. group than for the foreign group; and within this group of 17 items, 15 represented a type of item content which afforded a ready explanation of their unusual behavior. These data all appear to point in the same direction and, in sum, support the hypothesis that TOEFL avoids the kinds of discriminations that are not intended for it. Consequently, these data are taken as clear evidence of the construct validity of the test.

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