Posted : 2013-10-15 14:13
Updated : 2013-10-15 14:13

Cheating rampant for TOEFL, other English tests

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the non-profit organization that manages the TOEFL exams, is now considering legal action against Korean private language institutes that have been providing their customers samples of previous tests. / Yonhap

ETS vows legal action against Korean language institutes

By Jung Min-ho

The cancelation of U.S. college entrance exams that were to have been held in Korea in May, marked the first time that SAT tests were called off anywhere in the world, and suspicions of widespread cheating here made the nation the subject of worldwide ridicule.

Unfortunately, the SAT doesn't seem to be the only standardized test that is compromised in Korea. Cheating on TOEFL, widely used as part of assessment for university entrance here and abroad, is even more prevalent in a country that remains obsessed with English skills and academic scores.

The problem is now entirely out of hand, thanks to the negligence of education authorities here. Informed of the severity of the situation by The Korea Times, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the non-profit organization that manages the TOEFL exams, is now considering legal action against Korean private language institutes that have been providing their customers with samples of previous tests.

"After you deposit 300,000 won ($280) to my bank account, I will send you the materials (for the test on Oct. 21)," TOEFL teacher Kim said when asked if it would be possible to get ''leaked'' questions. "The questions may not all be the same. But the questions on the speaking and writing sections on today's test (Oct. 12) are the same. So, think about it."

ETS regulations clearly stipulate that it does not allow "pre-knowledge" of the tests, including test questions, topics or answers. If ETS believes any test taker gained an unfair advantage over others, it can cancel test scores or ban the candidate from sitting future tests.

According to material obtained by this newspaper, the selling of illegal materials is blatant in many institutes in Seoul, including major ones such as Lee Ik-hoon Language Institute and Park Jung Language Institute. There, lecturers even promote their classes with real test questions that they somehow retained from previous exams.

Lee, a teacher who recently moved to Pagoda Academy from Lee Ik-hoon Language Institute, used test questions from last year to prepare her students for the test on Feb. 3. And her predictions on what would be in the test were right.

According to multiple students the prompts, "The three causes of the extinction of X," "Three ways to restraint rootworms" and "It is more important to choose friends who have fun with you than to choose friends who can help you when you need them" all appeared on the test.

Another lecturer at the Lee Ik-hoon Language Institute posted questions of July 21 test on its homepage, noting that he was right about all the speaking questions, including "No.1 ‘Describe what kind of group you would like to participate in.'"

Yang Li, who works for the Office of Testing Integrity at ETS, said that the organization will take legal action against the fraudulent test preparation and cheating behavior, and requested The Korea Times to provide evidence of the allegations as well as the names of the lecturers.

"If ETS gets any evidence proving that any tutor/institute/test taker has pre-knowledge of test questions, or test content is being compromised by criminal activities, we will conduct a full investigation and take action to prevent further fraudulent test activities," Li said.

"Also we are making great efforts with local authorities to go after the people or organizations involved."

In class, teachers use their own materials, which are often obtained illegally to create so-called "question banks," where previous test questions and model answers are stored for later use.

This material is not only what they teach but they are the core of what many students pay for.

"I decided to take the class because I urgently needed a high score. All the predicted questions were on the monitor. You have no idea how it feels," wrote a Park Jung Language Institute student in a review.

According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, Korean students in the United States amount to almost 100,000 this year.

But given that a good TOEFL score is not only required for admission to many English-speaking colleges but is also needed for special admissions to many Korean colleges, the failed test monitoring is a serious threat to standards and equal opportunities in education.

Evidence of cheating is rife; and damage to the integrity of the test can be especially serious in the world's most wired nation, where such information spreads quickly online.

However, unless any penalties issued against the teachers suspected of leaking test questions are greater than the profits made if they are found guilty of the charge, cheating will likely remain rampant.

"If the evidence is clear, we can shut them down permanently, but there has never been such a case," said a Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education official. "Owners of English institutes are confident that ETS will not confirm that the questions are leaked because it will also be an admission of being at fault."

관련 한글 기사

ETS '이익훈 어학원,’ '박정 어학원’ 등 상대로 토플문제유출 법적 대응 고려

지난 5월 미국 ETS가 문제유출을 이유로 한국에서 치러지는 SAT시험을 전격 취소하여 한국의 국가이미지에 심각한 타격을 주었다.

그런데 TOEFL 문제유출은 그보다 훨씬 더 심각한 것으로 코리아타임스 취재결과 드러났다.

ETS관계자는 코리아타임스 취재내용을 일부 전달 받은 후 혐의가 있는 학원들과 강사들의 이름 및 증거자료를 요청했고 혐의가 확인 되는대로 법적 대응을 하겠다고 밝혔다.

코리아타임스가 입수한 자료들에 따르면, 서울의 “이익훈 어학원,” “박정 어학원”을 비롯한 많은 학원들에서 이런 “적중률 높은 후기 자료”들이 만연하는 것으로 나타났다.

오는 10월 21일 시험을 위한 “후기”자료를 구할 수 있냐는 문의에 한 토플 강사는 10월 12일 시험에서는 Speaking과 Writing 문제들이 적중했다며 30만원을 요구했다.

ETS 규율에 따르면, 시험 문제, 주제, 정답을 비롯한 시험에 관한 “사전지식”은 명백한 불법이며, ETS 자체 판단에 따라 시험 점수를 취소하고 또 금지할 수 있다고 명시하고 있다.

최근 “이익훈 어학원”에서 “파고다 어학원”으로 자리를 옮긴 강사 이씨는 올해 2월 3일 시험 대비를 위해서 2012년 미국과 한국에서 유출된 “예상 자료”들을 가지고 수업했다.

다수의 학생들에 따르면, 예측된 통합형 writing 문제 “The three causes of the extinction of X,” “Three ways to restraint rootworms”와 독립형 문제 “It is more important to choose friends who have fun with you than to choose friends who can help you when you need them”를 실제로 적중한 것으로 나타났다.

이익훈 어학원의 또 다른 강사 이씨는 7월 21일 학원 홈페이지에 스피킹 문제 “Describe what kind of group you would like to participate in”를 비롯한 많은 문제들이 적중했다고 직접 글을 게재하기도 했다.

물론 학원에서 가르치는 것이 “후기”가 전부이지는 않지만, “적중하는 자료”의 소문을 듣고 등록을 하는 학생들도 적지 않다.

“박정 어학원”의 한 수강생은 “급하게 점수를 받으려고” 학원에 등록하게 됐다며 강사가 예측한 문제들이 “모니터 앞에서 쫘르르”나왔다며 “당해보지 않은 분들은 이 기분 모르실 겁니다”라고 후기를 싣기도 했다.

미국에 있는 한국 유학생 수만 10만명에 이른다. 토플이 미국의 많은 대학교 입학 과정에서, 또 한양대, 서강대를 비롯한 많은 국내대학들이 외국어 특기생 전형에서 점수를 요구하는 중요한 시험이니만큼 문제 유출의 심각성은 무척 크다.

ETS는 한국 교육청을 비롯한 국공립 기관과 협의해서 조사를 진행하겠다고 말했지만, 교육부의 한 관계자는 “처벌을 위해서는 ETS의 문제 유출 확인이 필수인데, 그 경우, ETS 스스로가 자기 잘못을 인정하게 되니까 이를 꺼린다”며 “학원들도 이를 잘 알고 있다”고 말했다.

관계자는 학원법에 따라 “학원의 영구폐쇄도 가능하지만 아직 경우가 없다”며 ETS의 협조가 중요하다고 덧붙였다.



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