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 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.) need a language screening.

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

The decision determines the type of duties the TA may perform:

  • A rating of 3.5 or higher: an 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 for the semester 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.

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

Several resources are available at UK. TAs whose primary language is not English may enroll in 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 available on campus or in the community. ESL courses and groups available off campus are 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 participate in one or more of these resources. 

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 be re-screened only if the new assignment requires a higher ranking than the one corresponding to the TOEFL iBT or IELTS Academic speaking sub-score or earned during a TA Language Screening.

Who is on the TA language screening committee?

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

What does the TA language screening look like?

The TA language screening has 4 parts (times are approximate):

  • A 3-5 minute interview
  • A 5-7 minute teaching simulation
  • Brief questions and answers (typically related to the teaching simulation, but potentially the interview and/or the role play)
  • A 3-minute role-play of a typical instruction-related incident (ie., office hour scenario)

The screening is video-recorded.

All screenings will occur online via Zoom.  To participate, TAs should have access to a computer with a cameral, microphone, and reliable internet connection--no phones or tablets please. TAs should prepare for the teaching simulation by creating a short, discipline-specific lesson 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 quality of the slides will not be assessed during the screening.  All teaching simulations must be conducted in English.

How binding is this 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.

Why do Language TAs (German, Spanish, Italian, etc.) have to be screened?  Our courses are conducted entirely in that language, 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. 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 is the ITA Language screening available?

TAs are screened before the beginning of each Fall and Spring semester. These screenings typically occur during the week before classes begin. TAs should check with their departments for screening times before making travel plans or determining an arrival date. Note:  All screenings will occur remotely via Zoom.

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 through the screening?  (Or, “Can I participate in the screening without telling my department about it?”)

The TA 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.

Students may be notified of their official scores from their department within 1-2 days of completing the screening. TAs will not receive any direct notification from the Graduate School.

If preliminary scores are provided to the TA immediately following the screening, departmental representatives should emphasize that the preliminary scores are unofficial until the department has been informed of official scores by the Graduate School.

Whom do I contact with questions?

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

For scheduling, departments should contact Chad Gilpin at chadwick.gilpin@uky.edu (859-257-4137). For policy and procedural questions, contact Dr. Morris Grubbs at morris.grubbs@uky.edu or Angela Garner at angela.garner@uky.edu.