AI “not yet ready” for testing in the absence of humans

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Posted on February 27, 2024


4 min read

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Artificial intelligence is being used by English language testing providers to improve the student experience; nevertheless, as technology advances, it will still be crucial to retain a human touch in exams.

The main obstacle for test takers, according to ETS Vice President of Product Innovation & Development Kara McWilliams, has been how to study for the exams.

According to her, they may focus on areas that most require improvement thanks to the customized solution.

“We want to elevate test takers to achieve the best they can because the TOEFL is the gold standard in testing,” McWilliams stated. 

It follows the company’s recent release of TOEFL TestReady, a customized test-prep tool driven by AI. ETS is also searching for answers to problems that could arise in the future and test subjects’ abilities beyond their cognitive capacities.

“At ETS, we are truly obsessed with our customers, and we believe that investing in their success is crucial.”

While the industry shouldn’t be terrified of AI, Carla Pastorino-Campos, senior research manager at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, recently stated that it is “essential to understand more about the risks associated with ethics, integrity and quality.”

McWilliams echoed this argument, stating that the ETS team is always figuring out how to integrate AI into its products in an ethical manner and that it doesn’t prevent some student groups from succeeding more than others.

Pastorino recently stated, “We’re looking at how we can use AI and other cutting-edge technologies to enhance tests whilst preserving ethics, fairness, and quality.”

Furthermore, by providing a solid foundation for AI-integrated exams in the future, colleges will be able to “continue making informed admissions decisions, ultimately shaping the future of higher education.”

AI is already being used in two ETS products for the benefit of students through the company’s  ETS® Innovations™  division.

With its “water cooler” and work settings, virtual mentors, and other features, the CONVERSE: Workplace app immerses users in a real, fully immersive workplace.

Authentic Interview Prep uses AI algorithms to provide individualized feedback on topics like body language and confidence, just as the new test prep solution.

In order to provide relevant and appropriate context, ETS uses filters in addition to Chat GPT prompts. Detailed by McWilliams. As of right now, she claimed, only the ETS English test offers a personalized test taker preparation using a unique AI-powered approach.

“We designed TOEFL TestReady with input from our test takers, so it addresses a need we heard directly from them,” stated Rohit Sharma, SVP of Global Higher Education and Workskills at ETS. “This is why the launch of TOEFL TestReady is significant.”

However, some suppliers continue to rely on human testing.

According to Caroline Browne, founder and CEO of Password English Language Testing Ltd. “one of the factors that make our test results so reliable” is human interaction.

“Although artificial intelligence plays a significant role in online invigilation and proctoring, humans are still heavily relied upon for test marking, review, and data analysis to ensure dependable test results,” the spokesperson stated.

Technology is “shaking up the sector” and offering some “fantastic enhancements,” according to Evelina Galaczi, director of Research – English at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, who made this observation last year.

She stated that while virtual reality and AI technologies are delivering advances, Cambridge is not “rushing in and cutting corners to suit the technology,” citing a Mckinsey assessment.

She claimed that while using cutting-edge technologies, the Linguaskill online English test “keeps a human in the loop.”

Similar to ETS, she stated that accurate use of AI in examinations is necessary for English proficiency assessments required for university admission.

The test can lead to “poor performance, high levels of students dropping out of their courses, not to mention the anxiety and wellbeing issues associated with not having the English language skills [students] need,” she said, because some tests “prioritize technology and ‘on demand’ convenience over quality and relevance.”

“As we transition into the digital age, we’ll still need to hold the ‘hand’ of technology for a smooth journey,” she stated.