Universities and TOEIC Poor Performance in Costa Rica

The Ministry of Public Education (MEP) and other Institutions have joined the initiative of requesting a minimum level of competence from teachers through the Test of English for International Communication ( TOEIC). 

The MEP started this initiative back in 2009 when they set the B2 level for professors who wanted to have a tenure in primary or secondary public institutions and that was the case  for more than 10 years until the MEP decided to move the bar  a little bit higher and now they request A C1 Level. 

Other public institutions aligned themselves  with MEP and demand that potential employees submit a C1 level certification to be hired.

That initiative has not been embraced with open arms by all teachers since a part of them claim that there are flaws in the test and such certification shouldn’t be used for teacher selection.

From  my view I gather that the culprit of teacher poor performance on the TOEIC examination is not the test itself or the institution that requests such a certificate but the universities who have failed  to prepare potential teachers for such a test therefore the aim of this post is to explain why University should take a step forward and take the blame for poor results their graduates are having.

Universities: The Problem?

One of the major problems with universities is that no university has adapted to the new demands set by the Ministry of Public Education and other public and private institutions.

We see how most public and private institutions have not contemplated international levels of English competence into their curriculum and syllabus.

As I went through university there was little or no mention of levels accepted internationally to describe levels of language performance.

Universities should be the one leading the change and not to be behind what other international programs have known and applied for years since the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages was introduced back in 2001.

Another major problem that students have seen over the years is that no testing with items similar to the ones used in the TOEIC examination has been used in tests taken by students when they are getting their English Teaching degrees.

If tests with a similar format cannot be applied due to evaluation constraints, teachers should try to provide resources, links and other sorts of materials that determine objectively what the level of the students is.

When I say that the formal and informal assessments should be aligned with international communication standards, learners can incorporate practices other than the TOEIC, practice preparation such as the one used by the TOEFL AND CAE test could help as well.

The third factor that we have to consider is that there are no entry and exit levels in universities so anybody can enroll in an English teaching major without thinking about the implications that doing so might have.

I think that there are plenty of opportunities to learn English well as you move on from term to term and that a student should be responsible for his or her own learning but university standards must be there to help students realize where he or she is and where she or he must be by the end of the major.

If the topic of language performance through international levels is not being discussed in higher education, the only number that language teachers will associate to the level are the scores obtained in different courses and that is not an objective way to measure language proficiency.

Institutions Making Profit

As a conclusion, some important complaints must be addressed, the one that is voiced the most is that there is a business behind the administration of international test and that’s a fair assessment of the situation since institutes are making a lot of profit from it but that is the business model that applies for most things, the same happen with books, school tuition and the private school where your relatives, friends or children go so we must be clear that there is no charity behind most educational institutions.

Flaws in the TOEIC

Another common complaint is that the test itself has flaws therefore it shouldn’t be accepted for candidate selection but the problem with statements like that and similar is that teachers would need pretty strong evidence to make a claim like that so a change should be made.

Changes Ahead?

I believe in the professionals in education, I am sure they can overcome the challenges as they have done it in the past. According to a report made by the Ministry of Education indicates that 59.3% of tested samples are in the highest ranges (C1 “Usuario competente”,  B2, Usuario Independiente), (Diaz, 2016) .  I think that Universities should make an effort to standardized the English so we can’t rely on more reliable methods and not so much on professor subjectivity and beliefs. 

I think that if professors already working for the Ministry of Education were able to improve their results as they were pressured to do so, students in public and private universities will be able to do the same if we start raising awareness about the importance of having a competent proficient level.

We can not continue pretending that children and teenagers in school and private institutions are already making adjustments and higher education institutions are behind that progress. As we know already and covered by news, the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) created the proficiency test to evaluate english language teachers. Nidia Burgos  stated that “With this test, we are trying to identify those people who have a B1 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages so they can train them in English so they can eventually get a B2 level” (Burgos 2019)

So  with all that experience testing language professionals they should practice what they preach and commit as an institution to have their recent graduates certified with  B2 level or C1 levels, Setting that example and being outspoken about it will move the pressure to other institutions and they will have to do the same to keep up with the changes.


Burgos, N. (2019, July 1). La Universidad donará una prueba de inglés al MEP para evaluar a 1800 docentes de primera infancia. Retrieved from https://www.ucr.ac.cr/noticias/2019/07/01/la-universidad-donara-una-prueba-de-ingles-al-mep-para-evaluar-a-1-800-docentes-de-primera-infancia.html

Diaz, K. (2016, February 29) Docentes de inglés mejoran nivel de dominio del idioma: Ministerio de Educación Pública. . Retrieved from https://www.mep.go.cr/noticias/docentes-ingles-mejoran-nivel-dominio-idioma