The TOEIC scandal is back in the news, as test-takers have presented new evidence which they hope will clear their names.

You know, when people ask why I’m such a cranky old man when it comes to language testing I often point to this case.  It demonstrates that testing firms still have an outsized impact on the lives of young people.  It also demonstrates that when left to their own devices, testing firms may not always do the right thing. And, at other times, may not even be able to do the right thing due to institutional problems.  In any case, attention must be paid.

By way of a refresher, here are the basic facts of the case:

  1. In 2014, a BBC report uncovered widespread cheating at several TOEIC test centers.
  2. In response, home secretary Theresa May asked TOEIC owner ETS to investigate.  ETS concluded that a whopping 97% of all the TOEIC tests taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014 were suspicious.
  3. In response to ETS’s report, UK authorities launched nationwide raids of student housing.  Test-takers were dragged off to detention centers and others were deported.  In total, 35 thousand student visas were canceled.   Lives were ruined.  Affected test takers report high levels of depression, rejection from their families and (in some cases) suicide attempts.
  4. According to the linked article, ETS paid a £1.6m settlement to the British Home Office.

Here’s the funky part.  An All-Party Committee of the British Parliament examined the situation in 2019.  The chair of that committee said of the evidence that 97% of all TOEIC tests were suspicious:

“One thing that struck me throughout our hearings was that evidence from ETS – the basis for denying visas to thousands of overseas students, often with catastrophic effects – quite simply could not be relied upon. The inquiry concluded that the evidence used against the students was confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe.”

An expert who spoke at the committee said of ETS:

“The central body has absolutely no idea what is happening in any of their franchises. They have no rigour to their processes, they have no administrative processes, they have no checking system to make sure that what they promise – to the UK government and to individuals – is happening. They will say, this is the way our test runs, and they do absolutely no checks… They’re just a shambles.”

I’ll link to the parliamentary report in the comments.  Stay tuned for updates. I’ve got years of coverage so if you want to know more just drop me a line.

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