Taiwan test results: From bad to worse

Here’s the latest update on how the Taiwanese are doing on tests such as IELTs , TOEFl, and TOEIC:

[b]English tests raise concerns, teachers could have a negative impact on students’ language abilities

Taiwan’s international ranking on English language capability has dropped, results from last year’s Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exams showed.

Taiwan placed last among the four Asian tigers in overall performance as well as reading and listening comprehension and essay writing, it said.

Taiwan also placed No. 16 among 20 Asian countries in last year’s International English Language Testing System (IELTS) results.

Another red flag was raised by the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) results among English teachers in Taiwan, who ranked 95 points behind teachers from all other countries in last year’s TOEIC.

Many academics and cram school operators have expressed worries that the poor showing of English teachers in Taiwan could have a negative impact on students’ language abilities.

Attendants at a forum on Friday on national foreign-language policies expressed concern at the deteriorating knowledge of English in Taiwan.

The forum was hosted by National Chengchi University’s Center for Public and Business Administration Education and the Global Education Association.

Participants called on the government to establish a comprehensive English language education policy and extend the number of weekly English lessons in elementary school from one per week to four, five or six lessons per week.

Benjamin Wang (王星威), president of Chun Shin Limited and an English Testing System representative in Taiwan, said a TOEIC score of 750 was required to be able to teach English using only the English language and text books in English.

He said that this was much higher than the teacher’s average of 539 in Taiwan. [/b]

Not a pretty picture, huh? The story was taken from th Taipei Times and was reported here:

esl99.com/

Without regulation schools in Taiwan have become more and more geared to marketing themselves than providing actual education. The fact that the government neither has the competence to provide a usable and suitable curriculum to follow regarding foreign language teaching, has resulted in Taiwan consistently attaining the poorest results even though they have some of the hardest working students. Effort Taiwan is not lacking, neither is it lacking capable English teachers, but without any kind of leadership, where can anyone expect it to end up other than the toilet?

Nicely put.

Good old Taipei Times… say that something’s true, assert it again, but don’t actually back up what you say.

So they say the performance has dropped. Apparently Taiwan’s last in the Asian tigers now–where was it before? It’s 16th among 20 countries now–what was it before? English teachers here ranked 95 points behind those elsewhere (including, presumably, those in Western Europe), so what did they rank before?

As for people expressing concern, need for more funding, and so on–do you know any profession anywhere in the world that doesn’t think it’s underfunded/underappreciated/etc.?

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying the performance hasn’t dropped. But it’s hard to tell, and this article doesn’t really help.

For a minute there I thought you were actually gonna tell everyone here that things are coming up roses.

For a minute there I thought you were actually gonna tell everyone here that things are coming up roses.[/quote]OK. But how about commenting on what I actually said instead of what you thought I was going to say?

Are you saying that the Taipei Times is not a reliable source of information and these ‘facts’ are incorrect? Are you trying to convince me that Taiwan is up there at the top of the IELTs/TOEFL/TOEIC league? The onus is on you now to prove that the Taipei Times is incorrect and that Taiwan is actually flying high. And while you’re busy refuting the above report, why not refute this one too from The China Post entitled ‘Taiwan losing its international competitiveness in English’:

chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/int’ … losing.htm

Are you saying that the Taipei Times is not a reliable source of information and these ‘facts’ are incorrect? Are you trying to convince me that Taiwan is up there at the top of the IELTs/TOEFL/TOEIC league? The onus is on you now to prove that the Taipei Times is incorrect and that Taiwan is actually flying high. And while you’re busy refuting the above report, why not refute this one too from The China Post entitled ‘Taiwan losing its international competitiveness in English’:

chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/int’ … losing.htm[/quote]
Oh, Lotusblossom, it would be a lot easier if you actually read what I said and answered it, instead of speculating as to what I might be thinking.

I don’t think that Taiwan is “flying high” in English, so of course I didn’t say so.

I didn’t “refute the report” so much as say that what it gave as its conclusions weren’t demonstrated by the data it provided. Sure, at least on the face of it, the data seem to show that Taiwan isn’t doing very well in international English tests. But the article asserted that the performance is getting worse. Wouldn’t you think that if they say the performance is getting worse they should provide some data to show that the performance is getting worse?

I’m not sure how much clearer I can be, or can be bothered to be anyway. If you’re always going to argue with what you think I say and mean instead of what I actually say, the discussion is pointless.

When you start becoming more objective and less emotional, then we can begin our dialogue afresh. In the meantime, familiarise yourself with the hard cold facts, even though these facts may be quite unpalatable.

[quote=“joesax”]I’m not sure how much clearer I can be…[/quote]Wait. I thought of a way.

To show that performance is getting worse on any measurement, you need to provide information on any two of the following three:

[ul][li]The data before[/li]
[li]The comparable data after[/li]
[li]The difference between the two sets of data[/li][/ul]

Clearer? I think Urodacus is conducting an elementary maths class down the corridor if you need any more help…

That tells you the quality of English teachers in Taiwan.

And they still bitch about how underpaid they are.

Hmm, let’s focus on the topic, the stats could be wrong…

Here is the question, “What the hell am I paying you for?”

This argument is such a pile of rubbish. Attainment in these tests is largely due to first language. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Arabic and Farsi speakers (amongst others) do consistently ‘worse’ than Germany, the Netherlands, etc. Taiwan is never going to top English test charts.

Of course, there are many reasons why Taiwan scores low on these proficiency tests, but the fact that there are so many bad teachers in Taiwan who are filling the heads of their charges with chinglish doesn’t help matters at all.

IELTS scores 2007

What’s the difference between 5.75 for Japan overall and Taiwan’s 5.59? I know bugger all about statistics but have been told that something called Standard Deviation is more important than the 0.16 in hard numbers. Can anyone enlighten me/us?

Also, does anyone have any numbers for how many students retake the test and how well they do? Are these results skewed by people taking the tests before they’re ready? How well do people do after a proper course of preparation? etc.

Can we get any grades for these tests over a period of, say, 10 years to see what the general trend is? I’d like to know how big the drop in TOEFL scores is compared to last year. Have they been declining steadily, is this a blip, or are the scores up an down anyway?

Cram school operators are concerned? Surely this is their responsibility, not the fault of the teachers? A decent syllabus, properly overseen and managed, counts for as much as a good teacher. Sulavaca makes some good points, but why are the cram schools calling to be regulated? I don’t understand this.

And let’s not forget that ETS makes a huge amount of money out of administering tests in Taiwan. Anything that adds fuel to the testing fire is good for business. The same is true of the cram school operators. Here they all are, showing their concern for other people’s “incompetence” while at the same time being a large part of the problem.

None of the above is intended to suggest that everything is hunky dory, but if we’re going to have opinions they need to be based on a better understanding than we’re going to get by reading the Typo Times.

As people keep pointing out, English teaching is a business. Everything you read or hear about the state of the industry has to be seen through the lens of an awareness of how publicity works. You publish whatever news serves to raise awareness of your product, even if it’s apparently bad. In fact, bad news makes headlines, raises concern, and adds to the belief that people need your product. And journalists are suckers for statistics! There’s a great series at the BBC about this.

Having taught a lot of multilingual classes at Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced levels, it’s quite striking how students with different first languages make up different classes. NOt saying it is impossible for Chinese speakers to progress beyond this level, but 5.5 IELTS seems very plausible as the typical ‘plateau’. It’s just not indicative of any kind of ‘failure’. Think about what kind of language a 5.5 student can produce. That should be celebrated, not pissed on…

A relatively ‘low’ score has a lot to do with the test taking demographic, as well. Where these tests are taken by the middle class mass, there’s a lot more scope for ‘failure’, than if the tests are only taken by a handful of teh privately/overseas educated elite.

And before criticising, ask yourself how many languages you could write an IELTS 5.5 level Task 1 answer in…

Exactly, Buttercup.

And notice how many commonwealth countries/former western colonies top Taiwan?

Seems a little unfair to put the Indian subcontinent, Philippines, Germany in the same group with Chinese speakers.

You can wax lyrical about this all day but the bottom line is that these students need a 6.5 to go anywhere. I’m currently teaching two doctors and they both need 7’s to get onto a top notch Master’s degree with John Hopkin’s University. Go tell them that a 5.5 “is just not indicative of any kind of failure”. They are aiming for 7’s and anything that falls below that is a FAILURE. You people are living in cloud cukooland.

Are you saying that the Taipei Times, The China News, The British Council and Cambridge University are all lying about low IELTs scores here in Taiwan in order to create anxiety amongst IELTs students/candidates and send them running back to the buxibans to sign up for more classes in case they fail? All sounds very conspiratorial to me. Perhaps the Buxibans, IDP, and the British Council are all paying large sums of money to the English press in Taiwan to doctor the IELTs figures? Or maybe there’s a simpler explanation: The scores are just low because of the atrocious learning environment here?

Are you saying that the Taipei Times, The China News, The British Council and Cambridge University are all lying about low IELTs scores here in Taiwan in order to create anxiety amongst IELTs students/candidates and send them running back to the buxibans to sign up for more classes in case they fail? All sounds very conspiratorial to me. Perhaps the Buxibans, IDP, and the British Council are all paying large sums of money to the English press in Taiwan to doctor the IELTs figures? Or maybe there’s a simpler explanation: The scores are just low because of the atrocious learning environment here?[/quote]

Cambridge ESOL, a small but important distinction. Taipei Times, BC and Cambridge ESOL all generate revenue to greater and lesser extents by promoting English learning. Not that I’m implying a conspiracy. Do you understand what a miniscule market for materials and exams, etc, Taiwan is? The ‘conspiracy’ is probably going on in Latin America or eastern Europe, to be honest. :laughing:

A lot of programs accept students with 5.5-6 IELTS. A 5.5 will probqably require attendance on a pre-sessional course, or would get the student onto a foundation course, but what’s wrong with that? Probably not 6 for a post-grad prog at a top university, but to suggest that it’s a failing is silly.

So, in a nutshell, you think L1 interference is irrelevent and all countries with average scores lower than 6.5 simply have poor learning environments? I’d be inclined to believe you if, say, China were in the top 3.

if you think 5.5 is ‘low’ for L1 Chinese speakers, download some sample papers and answers and ask yourself what your band score would be in Chinese. How many 5.5 English speakers do you know from Taiwan? How many 5.5 Chinese speakers (and readers, writers and listeners) do you know from an English speaking country? It’s not a ‘poor learning environment’, it’s just very difficult for a person of average intelligence, with no special aptitude for languages.

In 2005, Taiwan ranked 17th among the 20 countries listed for the Academic IELTS, with an overall score of 5.61. In 2006, Taiwan again ranked 17th among the 20 countries listed for the Academic IELTS, with an overall score of 5.62. In 2007, Taiwan ranked 16th among the 20 countries listed for the Academic IELTS, with an overall score of 5.59. So it appears that in 2007 Taiwan went up one notch in the rankings, relative to the other 19 countries and to the previous two years (not that that’s terribly meaningful, at least not to me). It’s true that Taiwan’s average overall score on the Academic IELTS was lower in 2007 than it was in 2006 and 2005, But so were some other countries’, for example, Germany’s.

I’m not a statistician, but it doesn’t appear to my layman’s eyes that Taiwan’s performance on the Academic test has significantly changed over the past three test reports, either for the better or for the worse.

(Please note: The Taipei Times article uses the “Academic” scores. There’s also a “General Training” version of the IELTS. I’m not familiar with either of these two exams, but along with the Academic score tables, I’ve pasted the General Training score tables for the two years in which Taiwan is listed in them.)

I should add that for the Academic exam, the listed countries seem to have made this “Top Twenty” list because of the frequency of the appearance of their names in the “country of origin” space in the test takers’ applications.

URLs of sources:

For 2007: ielts.org/teachers_and_resea … _2006.aspx
For 2006: bbs.gter.net/bbs/thread-704209-1-3.html
For 2005: bbs.51ielts.com/viewthread.php?a … tid=323908

2007

Mean band score by most frequent countries or regions of origin (Academic)

NATIONALITY Listening Reading Writing Speaking Overall

Germany 7.30 7.20 6.66 7.20 7.16
Malaysia 6.96 6.87 6.13 6.43 6.65
Philippines 6.75 6.36 6.17 6.76 6.58
Hong Kong 6.73 6.74 5.90 5.99 6.40
Sri Lanka 6.27 5.92 5.81 6.31 6.14
Iran 5.97 5.89 5.73 6.21 6.03
Indonesia 6.15 6.24 5.47 5.82 5.99
India 6.19 5.72 5.62 5.93 5.97
Nepal 6.14 5.61 5.47 5.74 5.83
Japan 5.78 5.86 5.35 5.76 5.75
Thailand 5.87 5.86 5.28 5.66 5.72
South Korea 5.86 5.88 5.24 5.61 5.71
Vietnam 5.53 5.94 5.55 5.64 5.70
Pakistan 5.73 5.45 5.38 5.72 5.68
Taiwan 5.58 5.79 5.18 5.64 5.59
Bangladesh 5.55 5.31 5.39 5.59 5.55
China 5.45 5.76 5.12 5.26 5.45
Saudi Arabia 5.14 5.14 4.90 5.89 5.38
United Arab Emirates 4.88 4.96 4.81 5.42 5.10

Mean band score by countries or regions of origin (General Training)

[Taiwan is not listed in General Training for 2007.]

2006

Mean band score by most frequent countries or regions of origin (Academic)

Listening Reading Writing Speaking Overall

Germany 7.44 7.23 6.75 7.26 7.23
Malaysia 6.93 6.85 6.13 6.41 6.64
Philippines 6.68 6.27 6.18 6.74 6.53
Russia 6.49 6.48 5.98 6.68 6.47
Hong Kong 6.70 6.75 5.91 6.06 6.42
Nigeria 5.65 5.84 6.22 6.93 6.22
Sri Lanka 6.27 5.97 5.93 6.39 6.21
Iran 6.04 5.96 5.81 6.31 6.09
India 6.30 5.82 5.79 6.10 6.07
Nepal 6.34 5.79 5.71 5.88 5.99
Indonesia 6.10 6.27 5.43 5.83 5.97
Japan 5.87 5.86 5.33 5.80 5.78
Vietnam 5.59 6.01 5.56 5.70 5.78
Korea 5.87 5.87 5.36 5.72 5.77
Pakistan 5.83 5.58 5.49 5.86 5.75
Thailand 5.82 5.89 5.28 5.70 5.74
Taiwan 5.52 5.81 5.23 5.66 5.62
Bagladesh 5.58 5.38 5.38 5.62 5.55
China 5.47 5.80 5.23 5.39 5.53
United Arab Emirates 4.99 5.10 4.86 5.43 5.16

Mean band score by countries or regions of origin (General Training)

Listening Reading Writing Speaking Overall

South Africa 7.20 6.71 7.19 8.16 7.38
Singapore 7.22 6.74 6.58 7.24 7.01
Malaysia 7.08 6.74 6.54 6.98 6.90
Germany 6.65 6.41 6.33 6.88 6.63
Indonesia 6.61 6.34 5.95 6.38 6.38
Philippines 6.27 5.69 6.08 6.43 6.18
Hong Kong 6.23 6.14 5.76 6.05 6.11
India 6.17 5.54 5.83 6.20 6.00
Russia 5.80 5.93 5.76 6.13 5.96
Egypt 5.90 5.67 5.73 6.23 5.95
Pakistan 5.83 5.38 5.79 6.26 5.88
China 5.82 5.85 5.61 5.77 5.83
Sri Lanka 5.77 5.39 5.69 6.14 5.81
Bangladesh 5.78 5.30 5.63 6.14 5.77
Taiwan 5.61 5.60 5.47 5.93 5.72
Japan 5.66 5.48 5.24 5.76 5.59
Iran 5.42 5.19 5.54 5.82 5.56
Thailand 5.42 5.30 5.14 5.59 5.42
Korea 5.39 5.29 5.03 5.31 5.31
United Arab Emirates 4.64 4.07 4.58 5.39 4.73

2005

Mean band score by most frequent countries or regions of origin (Academic)

Listening Reading Writing Speaking Overall

Germany 7.51 7.25 6.75 7.37 7.28
Malaysia 7.00 6.80 6.15 6.44 6.66
Philippines 6.69 6.24 6.23 6.78 6.55
Hong Kong 6.73 6.76 5.94 6.11 6.45
Nigeria 6.02 6.12 6.30 7.05 6.43
Russia 6.46 6.41 5.86 6.72 6.43
Sri Lanka 6.35 6.00 5.94 6.42 6.24
India 6.45 5.94 5.95 6.32 6.23
Iran 6.04 5.93 5.76 6.39 6.10
Nepal 6.42 5.90 5.68 5.90 6.03
Indonesia 6.13 6.22 5.39 5.79 5.95
Pakistan 5.98 5.71 5.66 6.06 5.92
South Korean 5.93 5.89 5.34 5.75 5.80
Vietnam 5.62 5.98 5.57 5.76 5.80
Japan 5.92 5.84 5.28 5.81 5.78
Thailand 5.86 5.87 5.20 5.65 5.71
Taiwan 5.54 5.77 5.19 5.68 5.61
China 5.54 5.80 5.26 5.45 5.59
Bangladesh 5.59 5.44 5.34 5.63 5.56
UAE 5.01 5.06 4.66 5.39 5.10

Mean band score by countries or regions of origin (General Training)

Listening Reading Writing Speaking Overall

Germany 6.72 6.43 6.35 7.05 6.71
Malaysia 6.71 6.35 6.25 6.75 6.58
Mexico 6.26 6.38 5.88 6.65 6.36
Philippines 6.36 5.77 6.20 6.56 6.28
India 6.28 5.59 5.97 6.31 6.10
Hong Kong 6.11 6.03 5.77 6.01 6.04
Indonesia 6.18 5.93 5.58 6.06 6.00
Egypt 6.13 5.64 5.64 6.23 5.98
Pakistan 5.86 5.32 5.86 6.29 5.90
Russia 5.75 5.89 5.59 6.06 5.89
Sri Lanka 5.82 5.38 5.63 6.12 5.80
China (People’s Republic of) 5.79 5.69 5.59 5.71 5.77
Bangladesh 5.71 5.25 5.63 6.14 5.75
Jordan 5.82 5.41 5.37 6.15 5.74
Colombia 5.45 5.67 5.48 6.01 5.72
Iran 5.49 5.20 5.53 6.02 5.64
Taiwan 5.49 5.47 5.36 5.77 5.60
Japan 5.59 5.28 5.11 5.65 5.48
Korea, South 5.43 5.23 5.09 5.43 5.36
United Arab Emirates 4.47 3.72 4.13 5.24 4.46