During the past 25 years, the USF English Language Institute has helped non-native speakers succeed at the university with strategies that strengthen their English skills. And now the ELI program is offering more opportunities to help international students when they are tested on these skills.
Before allowing ELI student admittance into the university, they must pass a three-hour exam called the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL.
In order to give international students the opportunity to practice skills they have learned, ELI is introducing a test called Cultural and Linguistic Evaluation of Academic Readiness, or CLEAR, which raises concern among some students as to which test would benefit them the most.
Unlike the TOEFL, the CLEAR is a one-week testing process consisting of various components, said Jeffra Flaitz, director for the ELI.
“TOEFL doesn’t provide an opportunity for students to construct a response because the test is mainly structured by multiple-choice questions,” Flaitz said.
And although the most recent version of the TOEFL does provide a writing portion, the students’ speaking skills are not examined, Flaitz added.
“TOEFL basically asks the student to choose the correct answer and with CLEAR, the student is actually creating language, interacting in role plays, listening to lectures and writing short essays,” Flaitz said.
But for the TOEFL, Flaitz said all that students have to do is a lot of memorization of vocabulary, sentence structure and grammatical rules. Flaitz said the CLEAR is being offered on a trial basis for now but could be offered to all students as soon as this summer.
Luis Gomez, an ELI student who has taken the TOEFL twice and passed it with high scores, recently took the CLEAR and said the tests are complete opposites.
“As a student, the TOEFL is easier because the student takes it in three hours, and after that, he/she is done,” Gomez said. “(But) the CLEAR test would help students like myself get a taste of what college courses would be like allowing me to practice my communication skills better than the TOEFL.”
Gomez said that for him the CLEAR test was more stressful than the TOEFL. However, he said that some of his classmates that had already taken the CLEAR liked the test better than the TOEFL because of its one-week period.
“Students get plenty of time, and they feel more relaxed, ” Gomez said. “They don’t feel like they are taking a test.”
“CLEAR will tell us here in the institute whether students are ready for the university courses better than the TOEFL would,” said Flaitz.
Flaitz said ELI will be looking at logistical concerns when determining the likelihood that the CLEAR test will stick. For example, ELI will analyze how secure, practical and efficient the test could be.
“We’re looking to see the students’ preparedness for the university with as little effort as possible from their part as well as from our part. So the CLEAR should be fairly straightforward to administer and to take,” said Fleitz.
On Nov. 22 the test development committee met to discuss the issue of time and also the varieties of ways that ELI tests students. The committee concluded that CLEAR might be needed instead of all of them. The committee has to figure out which components are the best in terms of evaluating the students’ academic readiness. Flaitz said what ELI had initially planned was different components of the CLEAR “so it wouldn’t be this one chance, one shot, your future depends on this one sitting type of test.”
Flaitz said ELI has created a system so that students taking the CLEAR would endure a week or two of testing rather than a three- or four- hour test.
“CLEAR tests real speech, real production. The TOEFL, on the other hand, does not do that. There are actually prep guides that help students figure out how to do well on the TOEFL regardless of their language abilities,” Flaitz said.