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TOEFL® Young Students Series Research Program: Research Grants for Graduate Students — 2021 Call for Proposals

ETS is pleased to announce the TOEFL® Committee of Examiners (COE) 2021 Young Students Series (YSS) Research Program. Intent forms should be submitted via email to by April 15, 2020.


The TOEFL® YSS Research Grants for graduate students are intended to support research related to the TOEFL YSS assessments (the TOEFL Primary® and TOEFL Junior® tests) as well as foundational research that promotes high-quality language assessment related to young English learners between the ages of 8 and 16. This year, priority will be given to proposals that address the topics identified in the research agenda below.

Award Value

Amount of grant: Up to US $5,000

Research Topics

  1. Construct/Content Relevance
    • Investigating the relationship between TOEFL YSS assessments and other tests that measure young learners' English proficiency.
    • Investigating the use of strategies test takers deploy when engaging with different test items/tasks.
    • Investigating the relationship between TOEFL Junior or TOEFL Primary test performance and young learners' communication skills in non-testing contexts.
    • Investigating the effects of construct-irrelevant factors on test performance (e.g., TOEFL Junior Listening comprehension paper-based versus digital).
    • Investigating the nature of the language produced in response to TOEFL Junior Speaking or TOEFL Primary Speaking tasks.
    • Investigating young learners' assessment needs, practices and challenges in multilingual contexts.
  2. Test Use and Impact
    • Investigating test takers', teachers' and administrators' perceptions of the TOEFL YSS tests.
    • Investigating the use of TOEFL Junior or TOEFL Primary test scores and score reports (e.g., How do teachers use test scores? How do programs use test scores?). 
    • Investigating the use of TOEFL YSS tests in English as medium of instruction (EMI) or content and language integrated learning (CLIL) contexts.
    • Investigating stakeholders' language assessment literacy in relation to young learners.
  3. Young Learners' Language Development
    • Investigating young learners' English-language progressions in various contexts (e.g., in more/less intensive language-teaching programs; with more/less English exposure outside of school; in summer camps; in study-abroad programs).
    • Investigating assessment needs and practices for young learners with learning difficulties.
  4. Game-Based Assessment
    • Investigating the use of video games or game-based applications for young learners' language assessment.
    • Investigating young learners' perceptions of game-based learning and assessment.
  5. Other
    • Consideration will be given to research on other issues or innovations related to the TOEFL Primary or TOEFL Junior tests.

TOEFL YSS Datasets and Test Forms

ETS is able to provide funded researchers with a complete TOEFL Junior Standard research test form and corresponding item-level data, including demographic information about test takers. Requests for research instruments and data for other TOEFL YSS assessment products (e.g., the TOEFL Junior Speaking test, the TOEFL Primary tests) will be considered on a case-by-case basis and granted when feasible. Please be aware that legal concerns related to the protection of test taker identity may limit what data can be shared with external researchers. ETS welcomes grant applications from researchers who plan to recruit participants and collect data locally in countries around the globe.

Eligibility and Conditions

The TOEFL YSS Research Grants for graduate students are offered to students enrolled in master's and doctoral programs in institutions around the world in language testing, language education, applied linguistics or related fields. Priority for the Research Grants for Graduate Students will be given to TOEFL YSS-related research or foundational research related to young students of English as a Foreign Language (EFL).

Each awardee will be required to submit at least 1 progress report and at least 1 manuscript of publishable quality, in addition to appropriately acknowledging the support of the TOEFL program when disseminating the results of the funded work.

Statement of Intent

Interested researchers must submit an intent form by April 15, 2020. Applicants should use the Intent Form Template and submit it electronically to, including "Intent to Apply — COE YSS Graduate Student Research Grant" in the subject line. Selected applicants will be invited to submit full proposals.

Letter of Institutional Commitment

Proposals must include a Letter of Institutional Commitment committing the applicant's institution to the proposal. The letter must be signed by a representative of the institution's contracting office with commitment authority, and must be submitted with the proposal. Proposals will not be reviewed for consideration until such a letter has been received. The contracting officer may obtain a sample ETS grant agreement by submitting a request to

Note: We recommend that the contract language be reviewed by the institution's contracting officer before signing the letter of institutional commitment.

Proposal Submission Process

For applicants who are invited to submit full proposals, proposal materials must be submitted via email with the subject line "2021 COE YSS Research Grant Application Submission" to by 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Proposal submissions must include the following documents:

Proposal Content Requirements

The non-blind copy of your proposal must include all of the following key components, which are outlined in the below and are provided in the Grant Proposal Template:

  1. A cover page, which must include:
    1. the title of the project
    2. the name, affiliation and contact information of the principal investigator
    3. the names and affiliations of co-investigators, if any
    4. the name and contact information of institutional contract representative
    5. the date of submission
    6. identification of the research topic(s) addressed by the proposal
  2. An abstract page, which must include:
    1. the title of the project
    2. a statement of the problem including a brief description of the project proposed and a brief discussion of the implications or utility of the anticipated outcomes (250 words maximum)
    3. identification of the research topic(s) addressed by the proposal
  3. The body of the proposal should be approximately between 1,200 and 1,500 words and must include each of the following sections:
    1. Rationale (statement of the problem or the issue and relevance to 1 or more of the research topics above)
    2. Literature review (focused summary of related research)
    3. Research questions (specific question(s) or research objectives to be addressed by the project)
    4. Methodology (explanation of the proposed research methodology, including a description of the following):
      • study context and participants
      • variables investigated and instruments used
      • data collection procedures
      • data processing (data extraction and coding)
      • analyses to be conducted
  4. Implications (a brief discussion of the implications or utility of anticipated or possible outcomes and relevance to practice or theory)
  5. Limitations (a brief discussion of the limitations of the proposed study)
  6. References
  7. Budget and budget explanation (See the budget section of the proposal template for needed specifications.)
  8. Schedule list of the major activities of the project and the period in which each will be conducted; please assume March 1, 2020, as the start date for the project.
  9. Proposed data-management plan (1-paragraph description of the type of data to be collected, the type of permissions requested for collecting and storing the data (IRB/ethical approval), and processes for storing de-identified data)
  10. Proposed dissemination plan (1-paragraph specification, in as much detail as possible, of where you plan to publish the manuscript(s) resulting from the funded research [e.g., as journal article, an ETS Research Report or other venue]).

The blind copy of your proposal should be the same as the non-blind copy, except that it must not include:

  • the cover page
  • the author(s)' identifying information (including names and affiliations) anywhere in the abstract page, body, references, budget or schedule

Proposal Format Requirements

Please use the proposal template, which contains the following formatting:

  • Microsoft® Word 2007 (.docx)
  • Times New Roman font size 12
  • 8.5" x 11" (U.S. "Letter") page size
  • 1-inch (1.0") margins on all sides
  • Double (2.0) spaced
  • For page numbering, paragraph indentation, references, graphs and tables, please follow APA style (American Psychological Association®, 7th Edition)

Proposal Evaluation Process

Each proposal will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • the proposal is relevant to the research topics identified above
  • the rationale for conducting the research is sufficient
  • the background or literature review is adequate and appropriate
  • the research questions are clearly stated
  • the data collection procedures are clearly explained
  • the methods of data analysis are sufficiently detailed and appropriate
  • the authors discuss the anticipated results and implications for the field of language learning and assessment
  • the authors specify the limitations of the proposed study
  • the principal investigator has the appropriate qualifications and background to conduct the proposed study

The review will take into account each of the criteria above. To view our review form, see TOEFL COE Proposal Review Form.

Applicants who are invited to revise and resubmit proposals will receive constructive comments. An invitation to the next step does not guarantee that applicants will receive a grant.

Reporting Requirements and Payment Schedule

Grant funds are generally disbursed in 2 payments, aligned to study milestones. A typical grant might receive a first payment near the beginning of the project to help defray the costs of data collection. The second payment is disbursed after the review of your final research report. (Note: The review conducted at this stage to process the final payment does not guarantee publication as an ETS Research Report. See Dissemination Plan below for further information.) The timing and amount of grant disbursements is flexible, depending on the project's needs. Please estimate the specific amounts you will need for specific purposes at specific dates in your budget and project schedule. For each payment that is disbursed, ETS must receive an invoice that itemizes the relevant project deliverables for which grant funds are requested.

Dissemination Plan

Authors are expected to submit a publishable draft report as the final deliverable of the grant. Typically, the research can be published either as an ETS Research Report or as an article in a scholarly journal. When a final grant report successfully passes technical review, it can be submitted for publication. In your proposal, please specify the publication venue you plan to pursue.

Grant recipients are required to appropriately acknowledge the support of the TOEFL program when disseminating the results of funded work. The following standard disclaimer should be included in any publications including conference presentations:


If you have additional questions about the application process or the grant in general, please contact us at

Important Dates

April 15, 2020 Deadline for submission of intent forms
July 15, 2020 Deadline for submission of full proposals
October 31, 2020 Responses to proposals mailed
March 1, 2021 Tentative start date for funded projects

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why am I required to submit a support letter from a faculty member?

To ensure that the research funded through these grants is of high quality, the Young Students Research Subcommittee requires a written statement of support from a faculty member who can comment on the applicant's research skills, and who is familiar with the plan, scope and schedule of the proposed study.

2. Why am I required to provide a signed document on behalf of my university?

Obtaining the written support of your university for conducting the study is important because we need to ensure that your university agrees to work with ETS to process the payment of the grant. Please use this Letter of Institutional Commitment.

3. I am an International student studying in the United States. Can I apply for the grant?

Yes, but to make sure you will be able to perform the work associated with the project, you must first discuss potential involvement with your department and university. (Please see FAQ #2 above.)

4. I am studying in an institution outside of the United States. Can I apply for the grant?

Yes, but to make sure you will be able to perform the work associated with the project, you must first discuss potential involvement with your department and university. (Please see FAQ #2 above.)

5. When can the work on the project begin?

Please consider March 1, 2021, as the tentative start date of the project. The actual start date will vary depending on the duration of the contract process involving your university and ETS.

6. How long can projects funded through the TOEFL YSS Research Grants for Graduate Students last?

The expected duration for each project is 12 months. However, individual projects may continue beyond the first 12 months. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, with the caveat that project duration cannot exceed 24 months. If you intend for your study to last more than 12 months, please include an explanation in your proposal's schedule section.

7. If the project continues beyond the initially agreed-upon end date, will additional funding be available to researchers?

No. No additional funding will be made available to grantees should their project extend beyond the original project timeline.

8. My project involves payments to participants. Should I include these in my budget?

Yes, please include information about the payments to participants in your budget details. If your payments and other project expenses exceed the maximum award amount (USD $5,000), please consider alternative funding resources to cover the difference.

9. I need a data set for my study. Is there a dataset I can use?

ETS is able to provide grantees with a research form and item-level score data for the TOEFL Junior Standard test. The dataset includes scores and demographic information from about 1,000 test takers. Requests for data from other TOEFL YSS assessment products (e.g., the TOEFL Primary tests) will be considered on a case-by-case basis and granted when feasible. Please be aware that legal concerns related to the protection of test-taker identity may limit what data can be shared with external researchers. If you are considering a study that requires ETS support in the form of test instruments and/or data, please include a detailed description of your needs in your intent form and your proposal.

10. I am interested in administering the TOEFL Junior or TOEFL Primary tests for my research. How are the TOEFL YSS assessments administered?

If you plan to administer a research test to your participants, ETS can share with you a complete version of the TOEFL Junior Standard test, which you can administer to your research participants free of charge. No research versions of the TOEFL Junior Speaking test or the TOEFL Primary tests are currently available; however, researchers may administer publicly available sample items.

If you intend to administer a secure, live test to your participants for research purposes, please be aware that the TOEFL Junior tests and the TOEFL Primary tests are administered locally to students in schools or other institutional settings. When approved by ETS, researchers are responsible for administering the assessment for the purposes of their study. For more information about the assessments, please visit TOEFL Primary tests FAQ and TOEFL Junior tests FAQ.

Note: ETS cannot provide live, secure assessments or constructed-response scoring services free of charge. If you plan to use the secure, live test in your research, or to use sample tasks to collect spoken or written responses to be scored at ETS, please contact to obtain more detailed information on fees you would need to budget in your proposal, and for any further questions regarding test administration for research purposes.

11. If I want to administer one or more of the assessments, how are the tests scored?
  • If you administer the TOEFL Junior Standard test research version, ETS will provide you with an answer key that can be used for scoring purposes.
  • If you administer a secure, live assessment such as the TOEFL Primary test, then the test will need to be scored by ETS and you will need to include a budget for scoring activities into your grant proposal

Likewise, you will need to budget for scoring if you plan to administer publicly available sample speaking and writing tasks to be sent to ETS for scoring by ETS raters. Please contact ETS at regarding an estimate for the budget.

Note: Score reports cannot be provided to test takers who take a research form.

12. Can I use this research grant to support my dissertation research?

Yes, the study funded through the grant can be used to build your dissertation project.

13. Who will own the data and draft manuscript resulting from the project?

Student grantees will own both the data and the manuscript.

14. Will I be allowed to present the research at conferences?

Yes, we encourage our grantees to present their work at professional conferences. Grantees are required to submit an abstract and presentation slides to ETS for review at least 2 weeks prior to the date on which they are to be submitted or presented. In addition, grantees are required to include the standard disclaimer statement in their presentations (see Dissemination Plan above).

15. Can I request funds to travel to conferences to present the research?

Yes. However, total travel expenses per calendar year should not exceed USD $1,000 for domestic travel or USD $1,500 for international travel.

16. How should I itemize the expenses that are listed in my budget?

For guidance on budgeting, please see the budget section of the Grant Proposal Template.

17. Can I request funds for computer software or hardware in the project budget?

No. We do not provide funds for software or hardware purchases, as most universities or institutions already provide all necessary software and equipment.