Over at The Guardian, Amelia Gentleman continues her excellent reporting on the TOEIC cheating scandal in an interview with London MP Stephen Timms. Of the evidence of cheating provided by ETS to the Home Office, he says:

“Surely somebody in the Home Office seeing that should have said: ‘Hang on that can’t be right, that over 97% are cheats.’ So you have to conclude there must be people in the department who just think: ‘Well, they’re foreign, therefore they cheat.’ And I think that’s part of what went wrong here.”

He also notes:

“These are young people who entrusted their future to Britain and, in reality, Britain has proved utterly untrustworthy and has wrecked their lives. All of them have had the start of their careers blighted for years. And many of them will never ever fully recover from what happened, some have permanent mental health problems. We treated them appallingly.”

This is English testing gone awry, folks.

I wrote about the TOEIC test in passing and mentioned that it is possibly the most popular English test in the world.  Someone asked exactly how popular it is.  ETS doesn’t list that number, but in 2022 about 3.2 million TOEIC test-takers completed ETS’s Background Questionnaire for the TOEIC reading and listening test. I don’t know if that number includes repeaters, but we can assume the test was taken at least that many times.  Note that that does not include people who took the separate speaking and writing TOEIC test, which I don’t have figures for.

You can compare that figure to the rest ‘o the tests:

  1. About 1.9 IELTS administrations through IDP for the year ending June 2023.
  2. About 1.6 million IELTS administrations through British Council for the year ending March 2022 (a figure that will be much lower in 2023 given that BC has pulled out of India).
  3. About a million TOEFL administrations circa 2022 (according to Amit Sevak, speaking on PIE Live).
  4. About 700,000 Duolingo administrations for the year ending Q2 2023 (my guess based on the company’s financial reports).
  5. About 827,000 PTE administrations in 2022 (2023 will be much larger).

What makes the TOEIC volume particularly impressive is that it is mostly taken in Korea and Japan.  Indeed, the TOEIC was specifically created for the Japanese market back in the 1970s.

For fun, I’ve included some snapshots from my local bookstore’s English test section.  You can see that the TOEIC section is twice as big as the TOEFL section.  I’ve also included a snapshot of the IELTS section, which is somewhat small.  Not pictured are the OPIc and TEPS sections which are about as large as the IELTS section.  I’m in a somewhat working class (and old) section of Seoul, so don’t take this as an indication of what the most popular bookstores offer.

Also: on my way into the bookstore I spotted a woman on the escalator reading a copy of a TOEFL speaking book. No kidding.

Great news, everyone. Today I got this whole box of official TOEIC chocolates. Each individually wrapped chocolate comes with some vocabulary from the world of business.

They are sold by YBM, which is the official vendor of TOEIC Tests in Korea. They are available at convenience stores across the country.

I’ll have you know that this is not a sponsored post. I paid for this very large box of chocolates with my own money.

The PIE News has checked in with an update on the English Testing Scandal of 2014.  It describes the utter ruination of Sabtain Umer’s life after he (along with thousands of others) was accused of cheating on the TOEIC test.

The accusations (read more) were based on evidence produced by ETS that was later described as “confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe” by an all-party parliamentary group created to investigate the scandal.

The chair of that group wrote in the foreword to its report:

“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 director of Migrant Voice called the ETS evidence “dodgy” in an earlier report by the PIE News.

Regardless, as I wrote here three months ago:

“97% of all TOEIC administrations in the UK from 2011 to 2014 were deemed suspicious or fraudulent. In the wake of that determination, test-takers were arrested and dragged off to detention centers. Mass deportations followed that. Affected individuals have spent the past decade trying to recover from both the tangible impacts on their lives and the emotional trauma. I’m not exaggerating.”

A few people have fought back and won, but most of the affected test takers have simply suffered in silence.

A decade has passed and though ETS was removed from the list of approved test providers by the Secretary of State, I’m not sure anyone from ETS has taken responsibility for their errors (I know you’re reading this, so correct me if I’m wrong, please).

Situations like Mr. Umer’s are why I continue to write about complaints that current TOEFL test takers have about score cancellations that come without the presentation of evidence and without an opportunity to mount an appeal.  Just a few weeks ago I wrote here about the apparent mass cancellation of scores in Iran and the plans and lives that were thrown into disaray in its wake.

There is an opportunity for those employed at ETS post-2014 to reach out to their longer tenured colleagues (if any remain) to discuss what they learned from this situation and how those learnings can further the organization’s mission to promote and increase equity in education.

I’ll write my own ideas in this space at a later date.  Stay tuned.

If this story is new to you, check out this report from BBC.