TA Language Screenings
English language screenings are a way to assure that Teaching Assistants have the needed oral/aural English skills to present information and interact successfully with undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky. They do not assess teaching ability.
TAs whose primary language is not English may demonstrate their oral/aural English skills in one of two ways:
- Submitting valid speaking sub-scores for TOEFL iBT or IELTS Academic English exams that align with their TA duties
- Earning a score in the TA Language Screenings that aligns with their TA duties
TOEFL iBT/IELTS Academic and TA language screenings protect:
- TAs whose primary language is not English from the stresses and frustrations of being in inappropriate teaching situations, as well as from students who might blame the TAs' language skills for their difficulties in class.
- Departments by decreasing student complaints about instruction and documenting language proficiency, by providing a neutral evaluation of language skills not subject to departmental issues and pressures, and by sending the message to TAs and undergraduates that spoken English language skills and undergraduate instruction are important.
- Undergraduate students by assuring an appropriate level of spoken English language skills in instruction/grading, and by providing TAs whose primary language is not English with resources and support for improving their language skills as well as developing their pedagogy skills to account for any language difficulties.
Screenings are required of all TAs whose primary language is not English. Using English as the language of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official language does not necessarily 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.
Valid TOEFL iBT or IELTS Academic speaking sub-scores can be substituted for a language screening. Test scores are considered valid for up to two years prior to the first day of classes that a TA engages in TA-related duties.
Language Screening Category
Category I (3.5 or above)
Category II (3.0-3.49)
The Screening Committee
- An undergraduate student representative
- A departmental representative (often the Director of Graduate Studies or department chair)
- An ESL specialist
The Screening Process
All language screenings occur remotely via Zoom and are recorded. Participants will need to have access to a computer with a camera, microphone, and reliable internet connection.
- A 3-5 minute interview between the ESL specialist and TA will begin each screening.
- The ESL specialist will ask general interest questions rather than specific questions about the TA’s field of study.
- A 5-7 minute, planned lesson that simulates a discipline-specific, classroom teaching situation.
- TAs should teach introductory-level, discipline-appropriate content that they might teach early in the semester.
- Departments may provide advice on topics, but the topic is essentially the TA's choice, as long as it is introductory and discipline appropriate.
- A maximum of 3 static PPT slides will be permitted as aides for the teaching simulation. These slides should not include any audio or video clips.
- Evaluation will be based on comprehensibility of communication in English, not on the slide or teaching quality.
- During and/or following the teaching simulation, committee members will ask questions related to the material the student is teaching.
- Questions will be basic ones such as, "Can you explain or clarify a particular term used?"
- Evaluation will be based on the TA's listening comprehension and the comprehensibility of their answers to the questions asked.
- The role play is an opportunity for the TA to act out a typical instruction-related interaction similar to office hours. The undergraduate representative will serve as a hypothetical student enrolled in the TA's class.
- Evaluation will be based on the comprehensibility of communication with the student.
Ratings and Approval
Each committee member rates the TA's communication skills separately for the four activities (interview, teaching simulation, question/answer, and role play)
- 4 - completely comprehensible, NO impediments to communication
- 3 - generally comprehensible, MINOR impediments to communication
- 2 - partially comprehensible, MAJOR impediments to communication
- 1 - not comprehensible
Weightings of the screening components
- Interview - 20%
- Teaching Simulation - 30%
- Question/Answer - 20%
- Role Play - 30%
After the screening is complete, members combine their ratings to calculate an overall score.
Approval (two levels):
- Category I, or a rating of 3.5 or above -- any assignment, including having primary responsibility for teaching a course
- Category II, or a rating between 3.0 - 3.49 -- recitation or laboratory instructor who interacts with students or a grader who makes subjective decisions about written work. The TA may NOT teach a course independently (i.e. may not serve in primary-instructor role).
- A rating of 1.5-2.99 -- With conditional approval, TAs may serve during the first semester of appointment as a “Non-Interactive” lab assistants with minimal student contact or graders for objective tests only.
- A TA earning a "Conditional Approval" or below must enroll in the ITA course the first semester of serving as a TA.
- TAs may work under the "conditional approval" category for a maximum of two semesters and must be re-screened at the end of their first semester. They may not circumvent these requirements by switching departments.
- A rating of < 1.5. Only non-teaching duties, to be funded by departments.
- With a non-approval rating, to be eligible for Teaching Assistantship funding through The Graduate School, students must be re-screened at the end of their first semester and earn at least a "Conditional Approval."
Official scores will typically be available from departments in 1-2 business days following the screening. Departments are asked not to provide TAs with unofficial scores.
If TAs want to move to a different teaching assignment, they must be re-screened if the new assignment requires a higher ranking than the one received during the initial screening.
TOEFL iBT / IELTS Academic Placements and TA Language Screenings fall under:
- ESL 090 and ENG 098 -- speaking courses for TAs whose primary language is not English
- ESL 093—speaking/listening course for graduate students (not specifically TAs) whose primary language is not English
- ESL Courses through UK's Center for English as a Second Language
- Lexington Public Library
- Bluegrass Community & Technical College (BCTC) ESL Offerings
- Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning periodically offers ESL classes