The High Cost of Misplacing University Students in Intensive English Programs

When English communication skills are not thoroughly and accurately assessed, the implications for students, teachers, and Intensive English Program (IEP)/English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are higher than most people realize. It is a topic that has not been sufficiently studied, but when time, resources, and budgets are tight, there is little room for error.

The High Cost for Students

Perhaps more than any other group, the cost of misplacement is the largest for students. Most students are in ESL programs because they must have proficient English skills in order to study their chosen major. If a student is placed too low, they will spend more time and money than is necessary. If they are placed too high, they may fail and again, spend more time and money repeating classes.

The High Cost for Teachers

There are a two “costs” for teachers: One, teacher evaluations are crucial for teachers and they are often tied to compensation and even employment opportunities. A student that is frustrated by their misplacement may express their displeasure in the teacher’s evaluation, even though the quality of the content and the ability of the teacher are excellent. Second, misplaced students can disrupt the educational experience for all students and the teacher’s ability to deliver instruction. For students that are placed too high, teachers will have to adapt and scaffold their teaching to accommodate them.

The High Cost for Administration

The cost for administrators is more literal and persistent because student misplacement could directly affect the program’s ROI. When students pay for courses that they don’t feel they need (if they are, for example, placed too low), there is little incentive for that student to stay. They may move to a school with lower English requirements, which they can complete more quickly. Administrators’ goals are to retain as many students as possible to ensure a consistent and predictable revenue stream. They also want students to move out of remedial courses and into the degree-bearing stream as quickly as possible because those courses are more profitable.

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