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L&S Spoken-English Proficiency for Teaching Assistants: Policies and Procedures

This document summarizes L&S implementation of the UW System policy related to spoken English proficiency for non-native English speaking Teaching Assistants.

Non-Native English Speakers as Teaching Assistants in L&S

UW System policy requires that non-native English speakers demonstrate proficiency in spoken English before they are assigned classroom duties as teaching assistants (TAs).

L&S policy is that graduate students who do not demonstrate spoken English proficiency, through one of the mechanisms described below, are not permitted to perform instructional duties that require spoken English.

If a UW-Madison TA is deemed proficient to teach by a different School or College, L&S reserves the right to apply the standards outlined here, including re-testing and remediating students who may have already worked as TAs elsewhere.

L&S Department Responsibilities

  • Each L&S department must establish procedures for ensuring that TAs have demonstrated appropriate proficiency in spoken English. Standard procedures and guidelines are listed below.

  • Ensure the guarantee of long-term support as a TA to non-native English speaking students is contingent on demonstration of the requisite level of spoken English proficiency. See Graduate Support Guarantee Offer Letters. Please note TAs will still be supported if they do not demonstrate proficiency immediately. 

  • If the SPEAK test is used to assess spoken English proficiency (see below), departments must coordinate scheduling by pre-registering students per the directions on the SPEAK test website.

  • Clearly communicate with students who need intervention, providing concrete steps to follow such as additional training and opportunities for re-evaluation. 

  • Continue to financially support students so long as they follow the prescribed interventions and demonstrate improvement in English proficiency. 

  • Ensure TAs needing to take ESL courses enroll in the appropriate course.

  • Contact the L&S Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Academic Affairs (Lynne Prost) and the L&S HR Associate Director for Graduate Assistants (Laura Fisk) to discuss:

    • TAs who do not demonstrate English proficiency and therefore may not perform instructional duties that require spoken English
    • TAs who do not follow the prescribed steps for improving English proficiency and/or fail to show improvement
    • Departmental use of alternate methods of assessment (see below)

Who Must Demonstrate Proficiency

Students from countries required to submit a TOEFL/IELTS score to the Graduate School for admission must also demonstrate English speaking proficiency before teaching. The only exception is for students who received a Bachelor's degree from an institution within the US (note: departments may, at their discretion, require demonstration of proficiency from students who did not attend their degree-granting US institution for four full years).

How to Demonstrate Proficiency

Departments may utilize the following mechanisms to demonstrate spoken English proficiency by potential TAs: 

  • A score of 26/30 or higher on the speaking section of the iBt TOEFL test
  • A score of 8.0 or higher on the speaking section of the IELTS
  • A score of 50 or higher on the SPEAK test (see below for more details) 
  • Satisfactory performance on an alternative assessment method established by the department (extensive interviews, panels, delivery of a lecture, assessments by staff or alumni who may be in the applicant's geographical area, recordings, on-site interviews, mock teaching sessions, etc.)
  • Please note: L&S does NOT accept Duolingo scores to demonstrate spoken English proficiency.

SPEAK Test Guidelines & Follow Ups

The ESL Program administers the SPEAK test on a regular basis.The SPEAK test can only be taken once in any three-month period. You may consult the ESL Program website for a testing schedule.

If the SPEAK test is used to evaluate spoken-English proficiency, the following standard applies:

  • Students with a score greater than or equal to 50 may teach with no further English language testing requirements.
  • Students with a score of 45 can perform instructional duties that require spoken English only if also enrolled in a program to improve spoken English.
    • TAs must enroll in and complete an English skills course recommended by ESL.
    • TAs may teach in future semesters with no additional required training or follow up if they re-take and score 50+ on the SPEAK test.
    • If on the subsequent testing, the score of 50+ is not attained, the department, ESL, and L&S administration will work together on next steps.
  • Students with a score lower than 45 cannot perform instructional duties that require spoken English.
    • Students must enroll in the recommended ESL course and re-take the test prior to the next semester. 

Student responsibilities related to the SPEAK test:

  • If necessary, work with your department to schedule a SPEAK test.
  • If needed, students are expected to take steps to improve their spoken English, including enrolling in and completing any recommended ESL courses.
  • Students who are not able to demonstrate English speaking proficiency should consult with their graduate program contact.

For more information or with questions, please contact Lynne Prost, lprost@wisc.edu 



KeywordsInternational TAs, ITA, teaching assistants, speak test, English proficiency, graduate student employment   Doc ID25268
OwnerLynne P.GroupL&S KB
Created2012-07-24 12:56:48Updated2024-01-25 13:19:53
SitesL&S KB
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