more universities accepting the Duolingo English Test amid coronavirus uncertainty

Unlike traditional tests, which require students to travel to proctored sites to take them, the DET can be taken anywhere in the world.

“We started looking at alternatives, and the DET – with its ability to be taken at home – rose to the top”

Considered by some to be a “disruptor” to the traditional testing field, the jump in both test-users and institutions comes at the same time that the agencies offering the TOEFL and IELTS announced that they would suspend exams in the countries affected by the coronavirus through the end of March.

As of December 2019, more than 600 US colleges and universities were working with Duolingo. By late February, that number had surged to more than 1,000, Jennifer Dewar, head of Strategic Engagement for the DET, told The PIE News.

Meanwhile, the number of Chinese DET takers jumped by 180% in February alone, according to Dewar.

China sends the greatest number of international students to the US of any other country, and it was one of the first to be affected by English test suspensions as the coronavirus spread rapidly.

“We already had a decent amount of traction among institutions, but with the closure of traditional test centres there does seem to be a sense of urgency from universities to move to accept the Duolingo English Test,” Dewar said.

Ryan Griffin, director of the Office of International Admissions at the University of Missouri, said that his institution would provisionally accept the test after the suspension of the traditional tests prompted his institution to review how many students in the current application cycle were still planning to submit proof of English proficiency.

While many students had already submitted results, some had been planning to wait until February or March.

“We started looking at alternatives, and the Duolingo English Test – with its ability to be taken at home – rose to the top,” Griffin told The PIE.

“We didn’t want to have that be a limiting factor for students who had already gone through the steps of applying and submitting the other documents required,” he added.

Another institution, Indiana University Bloomington,  had already decided to fully accept the test in the upcoming fall term, but chose to make it available to prospective students a semester earlier due to the suspension of the traditional exams.

At IU Bloomington, the DET will now be accepted as stand-alone proof of English language proficiency at the undergraduate level.

Previously, the university had been using the DET as a supplementary tool while requiring students to meet one of a range of other English proficiency standards, such as three years of education at a US-based high school, certain English language curricula, or certain SAT or ACT thresholds, among other alternatives.

“For us, the decision was a little easier because we already were accepting the DET and already had been for two years as a supplemental evidentiary exam for English proficiency,” John Wilkerson, Assistant Vice President for International Services, told The PIE.

In past admissions cycles, the DET was particularly popular among students who hailed from countries with more limited access to traditional test centres, Wilkerson said.

Many early IU Bloomington DET test takers came from countries in Africa, Central America or Asian countries including Mongolia.

Wilkerson said that IU Bloomington was confident about adding the DET to its admissions repertoire.

“Very intentionally, we spent the last two years gathering our own institutional data to evaluate how our students were actually performing,” Wilkerson continued.

“We were seeing similar success rates for students who were taking the Duolingo English Test as we were from TOEFL and IELTS.”

While there has been a surge in institutions accepting the DET for now, given the complications that have arisen as a result of the coronavirus, whether this will spur ongoing use of the DET by some of the institutions now using it remains to be seen.

Griffin told The PIE that it is still too early to say whether the DET will remain a core part of the University of Missouri’s admissions arsenal.

“We’re still in the fog of COVID-19 and everything else that we’re having to deal with,” he said.

“We were seeing similar success rates for students… as we were from TOEFL and IELTS”

“Once we’ve moved past this particular moment, we will be able to look back and see.”

One promising sign for the DET, he added, is that the more institutions adopt it, the larger the data set will be to understand its effectiveness relative to other English language tests.

“For a new test coming online, that’s always one of the more difficult elements,” Griffin said.

“If you don’t have the data and scholarly research behind it, it’s difficult to present to the faculty council – or whoever may be the governing body on a school campus may be.”

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