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Educational Testing Service

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ETS uses Sybase PowerDesigner and business process management (BPM) models to define the high-level features that the TOEFL® (Test of English as a Foreign Language) Test Registration platform supports, and to model the interactions among several related systems. With PowerDesigner, ETS has a complete picture of this application, including deployments, key interfaces, and the use cases that support the business processes. Building an accurate and complete model of the business processes improved communication among development groups and was a key step in creating a system that makes the TOEFL® test accessible to a wider population.

Business Advantage

  • ETS now boasts a single metadata repository so all objects remain searchable and reusable. The more data stored in the repository, the more it can be reused as building blocks for future applications – saving critical development time and resources.

Key Benefits

  • Provides the ability to efficiently administer tests faster
  • Enables tests that are convenient and flexible for prospective students
  • Ensures fairness and accuracy from test taking process to scoring

Sybase Technology


  • Education

Download the full success story in PDF format.

Advancing Learning Worldwide
Education Testing Service (ETS) is an innovative organization providing a range of products and services that advance learning worldwide. ETS designs, develops and implements customized assessment systems and support services tailored to meet the needs of clients and test takers internationally. The organization’s activities and products fall into five broad areas of expertise: research, assessment development, test administration, test scoring and instructional products and services. More than 2,500 employees work at ETS offices throughout the United States and the world including 1,100 professionals with expertise in education, psychology, statistics, psychometrics, computer sciences, sociology, and the humanities. ETS experts in research and assessment help educators around the world find new ways to advance learning through innovative assessments. ETS delivers over 50 million assessments a year. 

To help achieve its mission of advancing learning worldwide, ETS undertook a project to enhance the business process management (BPM) models and to define the high-level features related to the TOEFL® (Test of English as a Foreign Language) platform. ETS also wanted to model the interactions among several related systems that support the platform. With the help of Sybase PowerDesigner, Sybase, ETS now has a complete picture of TOEFL, including deployments, key interfaces, and the use-cases that support the business processes. 

Building an accurate and complete model of the business processes has improved communication among development groups and was a key step in creating a system that makes TOEFL® accessible to a wider population of students from other countries. The modeling technology was a major key in that it gave ETS the toolset to align business and IT goals. Modeling and building this test-management system and its online enrollment component - initially for TOEFL, and later on, for other ETS educational tests - improves access to the test for international students. This in turn opens doors to higher education in the U.S. that benefits individuals, communities and countries. Having this access helps streamline the process for these students as they seek admission into colleges and universities around the world where English is spoken.

Enhancing a Complicated Test
ETS is an assessment company that depends on technology. In fact, everything ETS does revolves around technology to complete its mission. This has been true since the company was formed 60 years ago. For the TOEFL® test, technology is used to register students, for students to take the test, to score the test, and for sending score reports back to students and the colleges to which they apply. Furthermore, TOEFL®I s a very complicated test. Any enhancements require new systems development, so ETS needed to take advantage of existing computer systems. 

PowerDesigner allows ETS to efficiently document the flow of information from one computer system to another. Within PowerDesigner, ETS documented the architecture of the TOEFL® application as well as the architecture of other applications so that interfaces could be easily located. ETS also documented the format of the data required to satisfy those interfaces as well as the details of the source data stores. 

These capabilities are crucial to the efforts to enhance the BPM models, define the high-level features, and to model the interactions among the related systems supporting the platform. With PowerDesigner’s traceability and linking capabilities of artifacts and objects across models, ETS is able to make connections and dependencies between new models to existing models and vice versa. Additionally, interconnections are made visible, and impact analysis can be performed to determine the impact a change has on various systems.

PowerDesigner allowed ETS to create a much more accurate model. The upfront effort to document applications saved a lot of time on the back-end for such things as the time required to program interfaces, to make sure connectivity is correct, and the amount of testing needed. 

ETS now has everything in a single metadata repository so all objects are searchable and reusable. This is important because the more data that is stored in the repository, the more data that can be reused as building blocks for future applications – saving critical development time and resources. Previously, ETS used disparate tools – documentation was stored across various Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Some data was also stored in Visio as well as other applications. The information appeared in flat files that weren’t searchable or in stacks of paper that would need to be physically searched. But, with all of the objects stored in PowerDesigner, ETS can do fast searches and find documentation much easier.

Benefiting Students Around the World
The ability to more efficiently administer TOEFL®, and to deploy TOEFL® application-enhancements faster primarily benefits international students, who need to measure English language proficiency so they can be accepted into English-speaking colleges and universities worldwide. As the most widely accepted English-language test in the world the TOEFL® test helps these students earn admission.

The TOEFL® test is also convenient and flexible for prospective students, requiring only one day to complete the test – saving travel time and costs. The test is offered at more than 4,000 test centers worldwide, and our fast scoring system enables students to retake the test in just seven days to improve their scores.

The benefits of passing the TOEFL® test go beyond gaining acceptance into a college. Passing also lets students know whether they have the skills to communicate in real-life academic situations such as in the classroom and on campus. They also know they can listen to lectures; read textbooks and online research; write academic papers and e-mails; and speak with other students and professors. These attributes are critical to the student’s confidence level upon entering a college, and crucial to their chances of success.

For ETS’ internal staff, PowerDesigner helps the TOEFL® test developers with enhancements or additional interfaces. Having the documentation fully developed in a central repository makes it easier to find, which in turn, reduces the overall development time. And by using standard notations such as UML and BPMN, PowerDesigner is easier for developers to understand because it uses a common language.

PowerDesigner has also changed the way ETS completes tasks. Business managers use PowerDesigner to document business processes to relieve IT from the tasks and to assure ownership in the process. For efforts to document business operations processes, users can associate processes with the underlying systems, and determine gaps. This also helps to identify redundancies where ETS has multiple systems serving the same function, which lets the company retire systems and reduce costs for system support.

Lastly, PowerDesigner allows the re-use of components or training modules, making course development more efficient. By providing a mechanism to easily document and store system and business artifacts, developers and business area personnel can easily perform research, find, and re-use design objects as they are needed for new product and system development.

Changing the Lives of Students
The most exceptional aspect is that by streamlining the application development process, ETS has also streamlined the process for students to take the TOEFL® test. From a technology standpoint, documenting processes requirements through implementation was a first at ETS. The modeling tool is designed in a way that allows ETS’ employees to work more collaboratively. Previously, development groups would work in silos, and applications developed within groups remained in those silos. The database people would deliver a database while the application people would write the code in isolation. They would then have to go back-and-forth to work things out. But by using PowerDesigner, ETS now works together more easily and has had fewer revisions.


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