TOEFL faces growing pains with online registration

Students are complaining of seat shortages in testing centers, difficulty with online registration, and last-minute cancellations of scheduled tests.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is offered to non-native speakers of English as a supplement to the SAT to give college admissions officers a more comprehensive picture of how nonnative speakers might perform in an English-speaking classroom. Ever since it expanded the test online, however, the TOEFL, students have had a variety of problems, reports The Washington Post.

Anyone who has applied to college in the last decade know that it's a highly competitive and often time-sensitive process. In some instances, glitches in the testing service can mean acceptance or denial.

Obviously, putting the test online is meant to increase, not reduce, access to the test. But students are complaining of seat shortages in testing centers, difficulty with online registration, and last-minute cancellations of scheduled tests.

"They are not just providing a service of testing," said Qiuzhe Ji, a senior at Stone Bridge High School in Washington, D.C. "They are providing the ability to go to college."

Part of the problem arises from growing pains. The Educational Testing service has set up about 2,300 testing sites within the past year, up from about 600. Its long term goals are to have 3,000 sites in 105 countries, including 29 countries where the TOEFL was not offered previously. There is a lot of trouble-shooting that must take place before the test is offered.

"It's a much more cumbersome process than the SAT registration, and you are dealing with kids for whom English is not their first language, so they are even less adept at navigating that process," commented Kari Kelley, career center specialist at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va.