Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ETS Fails, Part Deux

My last post was about Educational Testing Service's policy toward students whose names don't match their passports exactly. If you thought a name change could be done online a day before the test, please beware that this is NOT possible.

One of my students discovered last Friday (he is registered to take his iBT on Saturday) that to make a name change and not lose his money, he had to FAX a copy of his passport and full name five business days in advance of his test. He tried several times on Saturday to FAX his information, but the ETS fax machine did not respond until Monday morning. Furthermore, ETS will NOT send a confirmation of receipt of the change in name, meaning that it is up to the student to keep checking his profile before the exam date to make sure that the change was made.

We don't know yet what happens if the change isn't made by ETS prior to the exam. I have advised my student to go on Wednesday or Thursday to the exam center with a copy of his FAX and demand that the test center expedite confirmation of the name change before Saturday. I told him to be sure and get a signed document showing that someone has taken responsibility for him to be allowed to take the exam on Saturday. We'll see.... Good luck, TOEFLers!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ETS (Educational Testing Service) Fails

Recently one of my students went to a TOEFL test center to take his exam, but to his dismay, the test center would not admit him. The reason? As he was from Spain, he had more than one surname and had 'mistakenly' entered only one of his two surnames on his application form for the test. Consequently, when he arrived at the exam center, he was denied permission to enter because the last name on his registration form was not IDENTICAL to his passport name. Despite the fact that there was no doubt that he was indeed the person identified in the passport and that the passport number matched his registration form, he was denied access to the exam center. Even worse, the test center refused to credit the student with the $150 that it cost to take the exam - all of this from an organization that is a 501(c)(3) non-profit company.

In addition, in the span of 20 minutes, my student observed the same thing happen to a student from Mexico and another from Argentina. These students also lost their $150 for not having written all of their names on their passport. The girl from Mexico had a California driver's license with the same name as was on her registration form, but not with her. Because it would have taken two hours to retrieve the driver's license, the people at the test center did not allow her to take the test, even though she could have shown the alternate identification afterward. Why not?

It seems that the test center could have accommodated all these students (especially the latter student from Mexico) and permitted them to take the exam and not mark it until verification had been received from ETS 'Central.'

This has been going on for some time so that ETS could have fixed this problem. In fact, the same thing happened two years ago to another student of mine who left out her second name (she had four names!); she was from Paraguay. Is there a pattern here? Does ETS encourage students with multiple names to omit one or two because of apparent lack of space on their online application form?

There is no doubt in my mind that the practices of ETS violate all business and non-profit business models for customer service. I have searched online to see if there is a pattern of exploitation of foreign students by ETS, and not surprisingly, there IS. (However, it's not just foreign students who are being ripped off by ETS. College-bound Americans are subjected to numerous tests monopolized by ETS. That's another story.)

Check out Americans for Educational Testing Reform, which has numerous links to related articles from the New York Times to the BBC. In addition, you might want to read this query from a Nigerian student. There is a curious reaction to one question about names not matching on test day. I am now wondering if Muhammad (who had a very long name) had a problem taking the test in the USA. Some of the responses from other parts of the world suggest that the over-the-top security measures taken by test centers in San Diego reflect some peculiarly American paranoia about students taking multiple TOEFL tests under aliases. Other absurdities from ETS are discussed at this site. I'm sure you can find many more .

Watch out, students. This is what ETS is coming up with next - a way to profile students that have traits for success. Heaven help us if this also becomes another exam score that must be submitted along with the SAT and/or the GRE test results.

This post is dedicated to my TOEFL students Alicia and Chema.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Learn Accents to Improve Your Pronunciation

In searching for a video that might be instructional for ESL students to improve their pronunciation, I ran across this set of material produced by Amy Walker (Parts 1 and 2) who displays a range of different English accents and demonstrates how to learn them. In addition to the demo, she gives some great tips that would be useful for anyone trying to master the pronunciation of a foreign language.

Ms. Walker's most important tip is to be completely fascinated by the 'accent.' If you are captivated by the language and its accent, then you will pay attention to the pronunciation of the consonant and vowel sounds and to the way breath, mouth, and tongue are used in speaking, to the melody or 'melodic patterns' of the language, to its rhythm and stress, to its grammar and word meanings, and to that essence-like thing that she calls the 'vibe.'

In a nutshell, to be successful at capturing an accent and improving your pronunciation so that you sound more 'native', you must be very observant, analytical, and willing to practice, practice, practice! Just do it! Ten minutes a day, even.