Score Confidentiality of the TOEFL Test

General ETS Privacy Policies for Test-Takers

The ETS Privacy and Information Security Policy for Test-Takers applies to the collection, retention, and disclosure of personal information for registered current and former takers of the TOEFL. "Personal information" is defined as data that can be associated with a specific individual. This policy applies regardless of how the information is collected (there are no separate standards for test-taker information obtained via the ETS website, by mail, by phone, or at test centers). In order to register for the TOEFL, test-takers must consent to this policy. Personal data typically collected by ETS during the registration process include test-taker name, address, email address, phone number, identification documents, gender, date of birth, payment information, and educational information.

ETS reserves the right to make "all lawful, worldwide uses of personal information subject to this policy and applicable law." This means that ETS may reveal personal data to third parties under certain circumstances, such as cooperating with legal proceedings, credit reporting agencies, or outside data storage providers. Personal information is also sometimes used for research purposes, although it is anonymized whenever possible. Consent to ETS privacy policies is permanent and for the most part cannot be withdrawn. Retention of personal information is largely at the discretion of ETS, although test-takers may later rescind some aspects of consent (e.g., online profiles may be deleted, and students may instruct ETS to stop using their address for solicitation purposes).

ETS Privacy Policies and Score Confidentiality

Policies on score confidentiality are more restrictive than those that govern personal information. ETS reveals TOEFL scores only to the institutions and/or agencies designated by the test-taker. Scores and writing or speaking responses may be used to conduct research, but in these cases any information that may identify an individual test-taker is omitted. ETS will only send TOEFL score reports to institutions that agree to keep scores and student information confidential in accordance with ETS policies. Though disclosure within an individual university is permitted for legitimate educational purposes (such as the deliberations of admissions committees), institutions may not share TOEFL scores with third parties without the consent of the student, except under very limited circumstances (such as issues associated with academic honesty). Test-takers initially choose the recipients of their scores at registration, but they may later have additional score reports sent by completing and submitting a Score Report Request Form.

TOEFL Online Score Verification Service and Online Speech Sample Service

The TOEFL Online Score Verification Service (OSVS) and Online Speech Sample Service (OSSS) permit organizations to contract with ETS to verify TOEFL scores and speech samples. Immigration agencies or professional licensing boards are examples of organizations that use these services. OSVS facilitates electronic confirmation of TOEFL scores, while OSSS allows contractors to listen to test-takers' speech samples for the purpose of evaluating an individual's spoken English. Students who are required to demonstrate English competency in this fashion opt in by providing their TOEFL registration number to the relevant organizations. Those organizations then access the scores and/or speech samples without further involvement from the test-taker.

ETS Privacy Policies and Use of the ETS Website

ETS has implemented a separate policy for the ETS website, which is visited by test-takers and non-test-takers alike. The ETS website uses cookies and other methods to track user activity, and the website cannot be used in conjunction with "do not track" functions. ETS claims that its tracking devices are not intended to personally identify users, since these devices track browsers rather than individuals. ETS also uses third-party advertisers to "serve or track advertisements on other websites." All other information collected by the ETS website is voluntary (disclosed by the user).

TOEFL Scores and FERPA

All ETS privacy policies must comply with relevant federal and state laws. The most important federal law in this regard is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which has been in place since 1974. Under FERPA, students have the right to view education records maintained by educational institutions, and in most cases, they also have the right to prevent their records from being involuntarily released to outside parties. Test scores are education records as defined by FERPA, and they are therefore entitled to the law's protections. Testing organizations such as ETS are among FERPA's Exceptions to the "Prior Written Consent" Rule, which allows such organizations to access personally identifiable student information for the purposes of test development, test validation, and test administration.