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TOEFL® Young Students Series Research Program: Research Grants for Graduate Students — 2020 Call for Proposals

ETS is pleased to announce the TOEFL® Committee of Examiners (COE) 2020 Young Students Series (YSS) Research Program.


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 15. 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


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).

Research Topics

  1. Construct/Content Relevance
    1. investigating the relationship between TOEFL Junior or TOEFL Primary test scores and young language learners' English communication skills in non-testing contexts
    2. investigating the effects of construct-irrelevant factors on test performance (e.g., TOEFL Junior Listening comprehension paper-based versus computer-based; examining potential technology effects related to the new test delivery platform)
    3. investigating the nature of the language produced in responses to TOEFL Junior Speaking or TOEFL Primary Speaking tasks
    4. investigating the relationship between performance on the TOEFL Junior test and performance in content courses taught in English
  2. Test Use
    1. investigating uses of the TOEFL Junior or TOEFL Primary tests in different contexts (e.g., TOEFL Junior as a placement tool in EFL contexts)
  3. Foundational Research Topics
    1. investigating the impact of policy implementation on the language learning and assessment of young EFL learners
    2. investigating the impact of changes in English education and assessment practices for young EFL learners
    3. investigating English education and assessment practices for young EFL learners (e.g., types of assessment or other evidence teachers use to inform the teaching and learning of young EFL learners; how teachers use English-language assessments in multilingual contexts)
    4. investigating innovations in learning or assessment of young EFL learners (e.g., innovative item types that can be scored automatically, game-based assessments)
    5. conducting domain analysis of communication skills for young EFL learners
    6. exploring language development patterns of young EFL learners (including meta-analyses and studies that analyze longitudinal data)
    7. investigating cognitive and affective factors that influence language development in young EFL learners
  4. Other
    1. 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 test form and corresponding item-level data, including demographic information about test takers. Requests for research instruments and data for other ETS Young Students Series 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.


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

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

Letter of Intent Content Requirements

Interested graduate students must submit a brief letter of intent by April 19, 2019. The letter must be submitted via email to with "Letter of Intent — COE YSS Researcher Grant" in the subject line, and should contain the following information:

  • the names and institutional affiliations of the principal investigator and any co-investigators
  • the research topic the proposal addresses
  • a very brief description (maximum 400 words) of the proposed study, including a high-level, tentative description of the research questions, planned methods and significance to the field
  • a description (as detailed as possible) of any anticipated need for ETS support in the form of materials (e.g., test instruments) or data from ETS testing programs.

Receiving letters of intent from potential applicants informs ETS about the approximate number of applications that may be received and allows for more efficient planning of the grant review process. The COE subcommittee will review all letters of intent and provide feedback to potential applicants about applicants' proposal ideas.

Application and Proposal Process

Letters of Intent must be submitted via email to by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, April 19, 2019.

Letters of Intent must include the contents outlined above under Letter of Intent Content Requirements. ETS will respond to each letter of intent via email by May 10, 2019. In some cases, suggestions may be provided to improve the quality of the proposal. Therefore, it is recommended (but not required) that applicants wait to receive the response to their letter of intent prior to writing a full proposal.

Applicants who submit Letters of Intent by the deadline can submit full proposals by 11:59 p.m. ET on July 15, 2019.

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:

  • A cover page, which must include:
    • the title of the project
    • the name, affiliation and contact information of the principal investigator
    • the names and affiliations of co-investigators, if any
    • the name and contact information of institutional contract representative
    • the date of submission
    • identification of the research topic(s) addressed by the proposal
  • An abstract page, which must include:
    • the title of the project
    • 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)
    • identification of the research topic(s) addressed by the proposal
  • The body of the proposal should be approximately between 1,200 and 1,500 words and must include each of the following sections:
    • Rationale (statement of the problem or the issue and relevance to one or more of the research topics above)
    • Literature review (focused summary of related research)
    • Research questions (specific question(s) or research objectives to be addressed by the project)
    • 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
    • Implications (a brief discussion of the implications or utility of anticipated or possible outcomes and relevance to practice or theory)
    • Limitations (a brief discussion of the limitations of the proposed study)
  • References
  • Budget and budget explanation (See the budget section of the proposal template for needed specifications.)
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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:

  1. the cover page
  2. 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, 6th 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:

This research was funded by Educational Testing Service (ETS) under a Committee of Examiners and TOEFL research grant. ETS does not discount or endorse the methodology, results, implications or opinions presented by the researcher(s).


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

Important Dates

April 19, 2019 Letters of Intent due
May 11, 2019 Response to Letters of Intent
July 15, 2019 Proposals due
March 1, 2020 Tentative project start date (See FAQ #5 below)

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, 2020, 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 additional funding will be made available.

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 (US $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?

For the current grant period, ETS is able to provide funded researchers 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 Young Students Series 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 Letter of Intent and your proposal.

10. I am interested in administering the TOEFL Junior or TOEFL Primary tests for my research. How are the TOEFL Young Students Series 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.

Please also note that 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 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.

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. 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.

16. Can I request funds for computer software in the project budget?

Under normal circumstances, we do not provide funds for software purchases, as most universities already provide all necessary software.