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NMC Defends Use of TOEFL For Testing English Proficiency (February 12, 2008)

In order to ensure that students are appropriately placed in reading and writing classes that correspond to their capabilities, Northern Marianas President College President Dr. Carmen Fernandez defended the institution’s policy of using the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for placement purposes.

“We are doing our students a great disservice and setting them up for failure if we indiscriminately place them in a college English class that may be beyond their comprehension,” Dr. Fernandez said. “Using a standardized test like the TOEFL helps us ensure that students are placed in appropriate course levels.”

For more than 20 years, NMC has used the TOEFL to evaluate incoming students’ English proficiency. The practice was necessitated in part by NMC’s open admission policy, which precludes NMC from requiring entrance examinations like the SAT to determine students’ readiness for college level English.

In a 1996 evaluation report, NMC’s accrediting body, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), recommended that NMC explore other available alternative instruments for establishing placement in English classes.

Thus, as part of the 2000 institutional self-study evaluation that directly responded to WASC’s 1996 recommendations, NMC indicated that TOEFL scores are used internationally as both a means of assessing the proficiency of students whose native language is not English, and for determining preparedness for acceptance to colleges and universities. Additionally, the appropriateness of using the TOEFL test for placement purposes was also supported by the findings of the NMC Program Evaluation: English Program Report, which was published in May 2004. This report confirmed that students who were required to undergo the English Language Institute (ELI) were adequately identified and placed.

A subsequent evaluation report prepared based on WASC’s team visit to NMC in October 2000 reaffirmed the college’s validation of using the TOEFL to place native speaking students at the appropriate level. The WASC team concluded by stating, “The college has adequately addressed [WASC’s] recommendation.”

“While we appreciate the public discourse that has occurred regarding this matter, we strongly believe in the validity and reliability of using the TOEFL to test English preparedness,” Fernandez said. “Nonetheless, as part of NMC’s continuous improvement efforts, there will be a regular, recurring review of the English program and assessment of student learning outcomes.”

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