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

This document summarizes UW System policies 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.

It is incumbent on departments to ensure that all potential non-native English speaking TAs have the requisite skills in English to be effective teachers. We recognize and value the contribution that International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) make to our College, and policies here are not intended to be punitive, but rather are necessary to demonstrate publicly that departments within the College of Letters & Science take seriously the issue of spoken-English proficiency among TAs, and that we do an effective job of overseeing their selection and performance.

Each department is required to have procedures in place for ensuring that TAs have demonstrated appropriate proficiency in spoken English.
  • The offer of a guarantee of long-term support to a non-native English speaking student should be made contingent on demonstration of the requisite level of spoken English proficiency.
  • Departments may elect to have potential teaching assistants complete the SPEAK test and/or may establish other mechanisms (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.) to assess appropriate proficiency.
  • If a department does not use the SPEAK test scoring guidelines to determine eligibility for teaching assistant assignments, it must submit to the Dean’s Office detailed information about the English proficiency of each non-native English speaking TA.
  • Departments are required to have a system, publicized to students, for complaints concerning TA performance.
  • Graduate students who are not qualified in English will not be permitted to serve as teaching assistants, and any problems in this area should be brought to the attention of L&S administration without delay (contact Brian Bubenzer, 

SPEAK Test Guidelines

International students who score a 26/30 or higher on the speaking section of the iBt TOEFL test are exempt from taking the SPEAK test and are eligible to teach with no further English language testing requirements.

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 English skills.
  • Students with a score lower than 45 cannot perform instructional duties that require spoken English.
The ESL Program administers the SPEAK Test on a regular basis. Please note that the SPEAK test can only be taken once in any three-month period. 

Contact the ESL Program at 263-3780 or consult the ESL Program web site for the SPEAK test schedule.

For more information or with questions, please contact Brian Bubenzer,  

See Also:

Keywords:International TAs, ITA, teaching assistants, speak test, English proficiency, graduate student employment   Doc ID:25268
Owner:Brian B.Group:L&S Administrative Gateway
Created:2012-07-24 13:56 CDTUpdated:2019-12-03 10:17 CDT
Sites:L&S Administrative Gateway
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