This qualitative study examines the use of IELTS to assess English language competence for membership of professional associations or as a criterion for registration in Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America.
The research project was a qualitative study which examined the use of IELTS to assess English language competence for membership of professional associations or as a criterion for registration. The study focused on two traditional markets, Australia and New Zealand, and a newer market, the USA. This was timely research as, when it was approved in December 2005, there had been a significant increase in the use of IELTS in the academic arena in the previous two to three years but not in its use by professional associations. The majority of organisations recognising IELTS operated in the health care sector.
Questions guiding the research related to reasons for selecting IELTS, comparing IELTS with other acceptable language assessment systems, perceptions of the fitness of IELTS for the purpose and the levels of support required and provided by IELTS administration. The approach and methodology involved desk research and face-to-face interviews with key staff in professional associations.
The research found that in Australia and the USA, most were well-informed about IELTS. All associations in Australia and New Zealand had reviewed their original decisions on acceptable levels. US associations had sought advice from IELTS International and consulted comparable associations before setting their standards. Most provided applicants with a choice of language proficiency testing systems, primarily the Occupational English Test in Australia and New Zealand and TOEFL in the USA. Associations in Australia and New Zealand would like regular, but not frequent, contact from IELTS on updates and changes.
The research makes a number of recommendations including that a process of test validation of IELTS be undertaken for each of the professions currently using IELTS, and that standards and policies for IELTS support of non-academic users of the Test be developed. Other recommendations include educational programs to explain IELTS to key staff and initiatives to identify potential users such as the State Registration Boards in the USA.