International Teaching Assistants (ITA)

In order to be eligible for a TA or AI appointment, non-native speakers of English must receive ITA English Certification.

The goal of ITA English Certification is to assess and enhance the skills ITAs need to be effective educators in the classroom. Certain exemptions apply and some departments may have additional requirements.

Graduate Advisers and Graduate Coordinators are encouraged to read over our ITA Department Information page for cost information, instructions, and best practices specific to departments.

What’s the Process?

Register

The Graduate Adviser or Graduate Coordinator of the employing department must register you in the ITA Program database. You must be registered in order to begin the certification process. If you have a TA offer, some departments may pay the screening fee. If you do not have a TA offer, your department will register you in the ITA system, but you will have to pay the $80 assessment fee on your own. Check with your department if you have any questions.

For Departments: Please check our ITA Department Information page for comprehensive instructions specific to Graduate Advisers and Coordinators.

Schedule

If your native language is not English, you will need to schedule an appointment to take the Oral English Proficiency Assessment.

Foreign language TAs are exempt from the English Proficiency Assessment; however, Foreign language AIs are not exempt and must take the assessment.

All assessments are conducted by ESL Services. We will offer Summer 2018 assessments on June 4, 5, and 6; you can click here to schedule an appointment for June.

Prepare

Familiarize yourself with the directions for all five sections of the Assessment and practice responding to each section. It is very helpful to record yourself on tape and then listen to how your speech actually sounds. Suggested practice activities for each of the five sections follow:

  1. Summary and Explanation of an Article — From an undergraduate textbook or a journal in your field, choose a three- or four-page excerpt related to one topic. Spend thirty minutes reading and taking notes on the material. Give yourself three or four minutes to summarize and explain the material orally to an audience of educated native speakers who are novices in your field.
  2. Pronunciation of Terms — Make a list of 100 basic technical terms in your field and read them to a native English speaker. Ask this individual to help you with the pronunciation of difficult terms.
  3. Explanation of Terms — Practice giving simple definitions for several of the terms on your list, including examples if you can. Give thorough definitions, not just synonyms or related terms.
  4. Interpretation of a Graph — Practice describing and discussing information presented in a graph or chart. This usually involves talking about numerical data, percentages, and trends.
  5. Classroom Announcement Role-Play — Imagine you are an instructor on the first day of class and need to give your students information about the class schedule, location, test dates, textbooks or lab materials, etc. Make sure that your message is clear and that you emphasize the key points.

Results and Next Steps

The Assessment is scored by two ESL professionals and the two raters' scores are averaged.

Scores range from 0-300 as follows:

  • 250-300 = Passed
  • 230-245 = Conditionally passed
  • 0-225 = Did not pass.

If your score on the assessment is 230 or higher, then your next step is to complete the ITA Workshop, which is offered online.

*Note: You do not have to complete the workshop in the same semester as the assessment, but you must take the assessment before you can complete the workshop.

If you have conditionally passed the assessment (with a score of 230-245) and if you will be appointed to a position with student contact, you must be enrolled in the ITA course, ESL 389T, during the semester of your appointment.

If you did not pass your initial assessment, you may schedule an appointment to take an additional assessment the following semester. Students may take the assessment only once per semester and are limited to three attempts per year, with a maximum of five total assessments. In order to receive unconditional English Certification as a TA or AI with student contact, you need to obtain a score of 250 or higher on the Oral English Proficiency Assessment and complete the ITA Workshop.

Note: After the initial assessment, the student must pay for all additional assessments. You will also be charged the assessment fee if you schedule an appointment but do not show up.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Oral English Proficiency Assessment is a 20-minute test designed to measure your ability to communicate in English in an instructional setting. The test uses materials from your field of study and includes a variety of situations to demonstrate how well you speak English in the context of presenting information in your academic area to undergraduates. Oral proficiency is assessed in a face-to-face exam session and rated in terms of pronunciation, grammar, fluency, and comprehensibility.

The Oral English Proficiency Assessment consists of a warm-up conversation (which is not scored) followed by five rated teaching-related tasks:

  • Summary and explanation of an excerpt from a textbook in your field (you will be given this article 20-30 minutes prior to the test)
  • Pronunciation of 20-40 terms from your field
  • Explanation of two of these terms
  • Description and interpretation of a graph
  • Classroom announcement role-play

Two raters are present during the assessment. You will receive the results a few minutes after completing the Assessment. You should allow an hour to complete the screening process.

The dates for the Assessment are listed below:

JUNE 2018

  • Monday - Wednesday, June 4 - 6

Click here to schedule an appointment for June 2018.

 

AUGUST 2018

  • Monday - Friday, August 13 - 17
  • Monday - Friday, August 20 - 24
  • Monday - Thursday, August 27 - 30

The appointment scheduling system for August 2018 assessments will open in late April.

 

The following students are automatically exempt from the ITA English Certification process:

  • Native speakers of English from a country where English is the primary language, such as English-Speaking Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.
  • High school diploma or university degree (Undergraduate or Masters) from a US institution
  • English-medium schooling from elementary school through college (All subjects taught through English.) Most students from India are exempt based on this criteria.
  • A score of 25 or higher in the Speaking section of the iBT
  • A score of 7.5 or Higher on the Speaking section of the IELTS

These cases DO NOT require the hiring department to complete the online Exemption Requests section of the ITA/AI English Certification Registration page. These exemptions will be made automatically in the mainframe and can be checked by your Graduate Advisor or Coordinator.

The following students are NOT automatically exempt from the ITA English Certification process:

Exempt from Oral English Proficiency Assessment and ITA Online Workshop:

  • A score of 55 or higher on the TSE (Test of Spoken English)
  • Four semesters of experience as a TA/AI with student contact at a U.S. university

Exempt from Oral English Proficiency Assessment, but ITA Online Workshop is required:

  • Foreign Language TA
  • Two semesters of experience as a TA/AI with student contact at a U.S. university

These cases DO require the hiring department of complete the online Exemption Requests section of the ITA/AI English Certification Registration page.

Other exemption requests submitted by the Graduate Advisor or Department Chair will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The Assessment is scored by two ESL professionals who have received extensive training in tests of this type. The two raters' scores are averaged. If the two scores differ by 50 or more points, a third rater scores the exam, and the third score is then averaged with the closer of the two original scores. Scores range from 0-300 as follows: 250-300 = Passed, 230-245 = Conditionally passed, 0-225 = Did not pass.

What do the scores mean?

  • 300 — The speaker is always comprehensible with perhaps occasional nonnative pronunciation errors or sporadic minor grammatical errors that do not interfere with intelligibility. Speech closely approximates that of a native speaker
  • 250-295 — The speaker is almost always comprehensible with occasional nonnative pronunciation errors or sporadic minor grammatical errors that rarely interfere with intelligibility. Speech is smooth and effortless, and communication is very effective.
  • 230-245 — The speaker is usually comprehensible with errors in pronunciation, grammar, word choice, or pauses or rephrasing that generally do not interfere with intelligibility. Communication is generally effective.
  • 200-225 — The speaker is somewhat comprehensible with consistent, distracting errors in pronunciation, grammar, word choice, or nonnative pauses that sometimes interfere with intelligibility. The speaker struggles with the language needed to communicate ideas.
  • Below 200 — The speaker is generally not comprehensible because of frequent pronunciation errors and foreign stress and intonation patterns, lack of grammatical control, limited grasp of vocabulary, and numerous pauses and/or rephrasing that often interfere with intelligibility. Communication is not effective, and the listener is left confused.

Speak loudly enough so that the raters can hear you easily. Articulate clearly but do not slow down your rate of speech unnaturally. Although your teaching skills are not being evaluated, your presentation and delivery skills do affect the quality of your communication. Your knowledge of your field is not being evaluated, so do not worry if you are unsure of some information. What is most important is that you use appropriate strategies and language to explain what you do know. Serious lack of intelligibility results more often from non-native intonation and fluency problems than from isolated errors in pronunciation or grammar. To enhance your comprehensibility, emphasize key words, link phrases fluently, and use the rhythm and cadence of English correctly.

The Assessment provides a measure of your oral English proficiency, in other words, your ability to interpret, express, and negotiate meaning in a given context or situation. For example, the degree of proficiency required to survive as a tourist is very different from what you would need to lead undergraduates in a discussion section on physics. The Assessment looks at 5 categories: pronunciation, fluency, pacing, grammar, and communicative competence.



For further information, please contact:

Michael Smith, Director of ESL Services, mikesmith@austin.utexas.edu