ITA Language Screening Frequently Asked Questions

Why must only International TAs have their language skills screened? Why not all TAs?

The purpose of the TA language screening is NOT to screen for teaching ability, but to screen for the types of English language abilities needed by TAs. Thus, we screen for the ability to present information and to interact extemporaneously with undergraduate students. TAs must demonstrate the level of English language fluency and comprehensibility needed to ensure quality undergraduate education.

The TA screening is required by Kentucky State law (KRS 164.297) and University of Kentucky Administrative Regulations (AR 5.3). 

Screenings apply to TAs whose primary language is not English. Residency and/or visa status are not relevant factors. Using English as the language of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official language does not equate to primary language for the purposes of TA language screenings. Speakers using other varieties of English (e.g., students from India, Nigeria, Ghana, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.) may still need a language screening.

What does the TA language screening decision have to do with the TA's assignment in the department?

The score determines the type of duties the TA may perform:
  • A rating of 3.5 or higher: a TA may have ANY assignment, including teaching a course as primary instructor
  • A rating of 3.0-3.49: recitation instructor or laboratory instructor who interacts with students, or a grader who makes subjective decisions about written work. The TA may NOT teach a course as primary instructor.
  • A rating of 1.5-2.9: a laboratory instructor who does NOT interact with students or a grader of solely objective texts. Status allowed for TWO semesters only.
  • A rating below 1.5: non-teaching duties only; to be funded by the department.

What do the categories "conditional approval" (i.e., 1.5-2.9) or "non-approval" (i.e., below 1.5) mean?

In addition to determining a TA’s assignment, these categories mean that the TA MUST enroll in the ESL class for TAs the first semester of their TAship and be screened again at the end of the student's first semester. TAs may work under the "conditional approval" category for a maximum of two semesters. A teaching assistantship cannot be offered for a second year unless the category "approved" (i.e., 3.0 and above) is achieved on the second screening.

What happens if the department wants to assign a TA to a different teaching duty? Or if the TA is being employed in a different department?

TAs whose primary language is not English must screen (or rescreen) only if the new TA assignment requires a higher category placement than the one earned during a prior TA language screening or corresponding to their TOEFL iBT or IELTS Academic speaking sub-score.

The department employing the TA is responsible for ensuring that the TA is registered for all relevant TA events, including orientation and TA language screenings, and for ensuring that the appropriate language proficiency requirements have been met by the TA.

Who is on the TA language screening committee?

The committee is composed of a UK undergraduate student representing the students who will be served by the TA, a representative from the department hiring the TA (frequently the Director of Graduate Studies), and an English as a Second Language (ESL) specialist.

What does the TA language screening look like?

The TA language screening has 4 parts (times are approximate):
  • A 3-5 minute interview of the TA conducted by the ESL specialist
  • A 5-7 minute teaching simulation by the TA
  • Brief questions and answers between the committee members and the TA.  These questions are typically related to the teaching simulation, but may potentially include the interview and/or the role play.
  • A 3-minute role-play of a typical instruction-related incident (ie., office hour scenario) with the undergraduate student representative
All screenings will occur online via Zoom and be recorded.  To participate, TAs should have access to a computer with a camera, microphone, and reliable internet connection--no phones or tablets please. TAs should prepare for the teaching simulation by creating a short, discipline-specific lesson on a topic in the field they will be teaching.  The lesson should be targeted to a general audience (100-200 level courses, not upper-level courses).  A maximum of 3 static PPT slides may be used as aides to supplement the lesson, but these slides should not contain audio or video.  The visual appeal of the slides will not be assessed during the screening.  All teaching simulations must be conducted in English.

How should TAs prepare for the language screening?

To prepare, TAs should:
  • Ensure that they have the technology necessary to participate in the screening.  A laptop with a camera and audio is required, as well as a stable internet connection.  TAs should also familiarize themselves with Zoom, especially how to share their screens.
  • Prepare a 5-7 minute teaching simulation of introductory level material in the subject area they will be TAing for.  TAs should choose material they know well and are comfortable discussing as the foundation for this teaching simulation.
  • Create up to 3 static PPT slides to supplement the teaching simulation.
A Question & Answer session will be hosted by the Graduate Student Professional Enhancement office before the screening.  TAs who have not previously participated in a screening are strongly encouraged to attend this session on Zoom.

How binding is the screening and the subsequent decisions?

The TA language screenings fall under the "Policies on International Teaching Assistants" (AR 5.3) and as such are binding for all departments. The current criteria were approved January 2019.

What if there is a problem with technology during the language screening?

TA language screenings occur via Zoom, so a strong, reliable internet connection is imperative for all participants.  TAs will also need a computer with a camera, microphone, and speakers.  Phones and tablets present problems with limited visibility and screen sharing, so they should not be used.  

TAs should be certain that their screening location is quiet and free of distractions. TAs should also test their equipment several days before the screening to ensure that everything is working correctly and the audio quality is good (loud enough, no echo, etc.) TAs are also encouraged to practice sharing their screens on Zoom before the testing date.  

If a tech-related problem occurs during the screening, a committee member will describe the problem in the screening report.  TA language screening administrators will review the notes and recording to determine if the technology has significantly impeded the screening.  A second screening may be scheduled if testing administrators determine that technology challenges prevented the committee from getting a sufficient language sample during the initial screening.  TAs can deliver the same lesson during this second screening.

Why do language TAs (German, Spanish, Italian, etc.) have to be screened?  Our courses are conducted entirely in the language being studied, not English.

TAs who teach foreign language classes must earn a minimum of Category II approval. While the in-class portions of introductory courses may be conducted primarily or solely in the course language, TAs must be able to effectively communicate with students in office hours, laboratory settings, and situations where students are having difficulties. For example, a student who is struggling in a language course and consults the TA as part of a decision whether or not to drop the class should be able to communicate effectively with the TA in English. Likewise, students who face personal crises that impact the course (death of a family member, extended illness, etc.) must be able to communicate with their TAs at a level that most likely surpasses the student’s fluency in the course language.

When do the TA language screenings occur?

TA are screened before the beginning of each Fall and Spring semester. These screenings typically occur mid-summer and early August for TAs beginning their appointments in Fall and in mid-December for those who will begin as TAs in Spring.  Once departments register their TAs for the language screenings, the TAs will receive an email with the screening date.  TAs will be notified of their precise screening time approximately 2 weeks in advance of their screening date. 

Why can’t TAs schedule themselves for the screening?  Why does the department have to do the scheduling?

A department representative must be part of the committee for all screenings. When scheduling TAs for a session, the department is committing that a departmental representative will be present for that screening session. Schedules are developed several weeks in advance.

I might want to serve as a TA in the future, but I don’t have a TA offer. Can I go ahead and participate in a screening?  (Or, “Can I participate in the screening without telling my department about it?”)

The TA language screening is a resource-intensive process. Only students who have been designated for screening by their departments may participate in the screenings.  A department representative is part of the committee for all screenings, so students cannot be screened without departmental involvement.

When will students learn their scores on the screenings?

The Graduate School will provide official scores to departments as soon as possible after screening sessions. In most cases, these official scores will be emailed within 24-48 hours of the screening.

Departments should forward the official screening results to their TAs immediately after receiving them. Unofficial or preliminary scores should not be shared by departmental representatives. If a TA has not received an email containing their official screening score, the TA should contact the Director of Graduate Studies for their department.  TAs will not receive any direct notification of results from the Graduate School.  

How can TAs whose primary language is not English improve their scores and/or general language skills?

TAs whose primary language is not English may enroll in ESL speaking/listening courses, specifically ESL 090 and/or ENG 098, courses designed for international teaching assistants, or in other programs offered through the Center for English as a Second Language. They may also participate in ESL Conversation Groups in the community. ESL classes and conversation groups available off campus are often provided through the Lexington Public Library, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, and Bluegrass Community and Technical College.  (Other local programs may also be available.) Departments should take an active role in helping TAs for whom English is not the primary language gain a professional level of linguistic competency. 

The screening committee may make a recommendation or a requirement that a TA engage with one or more of these resources. 

Whom do I contact with questions?

Potential and current TAs should contact their departmental office with program-specific or scheduling questions. 

Please make sure you have thoroughly reviewed all of the above information before contacting Chad Gilpin with questions at (859-257-4137).