English Speaking Proficiency Evaluation

All International Teaching Assistants/Associates (ITAs) from non-English speaking countries must demonstrate proficiency in spoken English.  Attendance at an English-speaking institution does not qualify a student to be a Teaching Assistant. Additional evidence of English proficiency is required to assume the role of a teaching assistant.

Tests that satisfy the requirement are listed below, along with their minimum passing scores. A passing score from any one of these tests will satisfy this requirement.

·         TOEFL IBT Speaking Section – score of 24

·         TOEFL PBT - those who took the revised test after 2017 will be asked to take a UA CESL test of speaking skills.

.         TOEFL Essentials Test Speaking Section - score of 11

·         IELTS -Speaking Section 7.5

·         CEPT - Speaking Section 44

·         Completion of ESPE


Please note that the TSE/Speak, and TBEST exams are no longer administered, but will be accepted as long as the minimum passing score was met (TSE/Speak – score of 50 or TBEST – score of 6.8) and the student has not been out of the country for more than one year since taking the test.

English Speaking Proficiency Evaluation (ESPE)

If an International TA has not taken any of the approved tests (listed above) or does not meet the minimum passing score(s), the hiring department must perform an English Speaking Proficiency Evaluation (ESPE). The Graduate College requires that the English Speaking Proficiency Evaluation be completed prior to the student being hired.

A recommended method of early evaluation is a video interview for prospective International GATs ahead of the classroom assignment.  This will make it possible to evaluate speaking proficiency before class scheduling and teaching assignments are set.  The interview can be conducted via Internet chat (Skype™, Elluminate™, Google Hangouts, Facetime, etc) and should last a minimum of 10-15 minutes.    A minimum of two evaluators should conduct the evaluation of the interview.

ESPE Scoring

Hiring departments are free to use any evaluation method they feel is appropriate, as long as it is used consistently for all students being evaluated.  One method used successfully in some units is the rubric below.  The rubric should be drawn up to include the evaluation of several elements of speaking proficiency, including intelligibility, fluency, accuracy in pronunciation, etc.

Language Use





Speaks in phrases, not word by word        
Speaks clearly and at a reasonable rate        
Has few mistakes in grammar or pronunciation                    
Converses at length rather than answering yes/no        
Speaks confidently and convincingly        
Can explain a technical concept in their discipline        
Correctly understands questions        

Students should receive a majority of scores in the “Acceptable” range to be considered to have passed the test. Those that have many conditional scores should be treated as “conditional passes” and have only limited TA duties, such as grading. Those that have more than 1 unacceptable score should be considered to have failed.  Departments are encouraged to impose stricter standards to their ITAs if they wish.

International students that are evaluated by their hiring departments should be given one of three possible scores:

  • Pass (numerical score of 2) = unlimited instructional duties.   
  • Conditional Pass (numerical score of 1) = limited or no direct instructional duties. (Ex. grading, lab prep, website support, office hours, etc). A list of the ITAs duties must be submitted with the grade.  A student who receives a score of 1 will need to be re-evaluated each semester that they are hired, until they achieve a score of 2.  
  • Fail (numerical score of 0) = Not eligible for hire as a Graduate Teaching Assistant/Associate. A student who receives a score of 0 will need to be re-evaluated again, and must obtain a score of either 1 or 2 to begin in instructional duties.

Departments must report scores to the Graduate College by filling out the English Speaking Proficiency Evaluation form. Once the Graduate College receives this form, the score will be entered into UAccess Student. Failure to report a score will delay benefits processing. Programs needing assistance in applying this test should contact either the University's Center for English as a Second Language, or the University's English Applied Linguistics program. 

Courses to Improve Spoken English and Other ITA Resources

Courses to help students improve their English are offered through the University of Arizona’s Center for English as a Second Language

Workshops to improve spoken English are offered through the Clinic Services in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing under the direction of Janet Hawley, janet@arizona.edu or 520-626-6073. Please contact the Clinic Office at 520-621-1826 for an appointment.

Other important resources to help you with your TA position are Office of Instruction and Assessment and the English Applied Linguistics program

Syllabi Suggestions

Departments should prepare undergraduate students for working with ITAs. It may be helpful to include the information below (or something similar) in the syllabi for courses with ITAs:

“In a global society, you need a global education. In your career, you’re likely to be dealing with people from all over the world. Many of them will speak English with an accent. Learning to accommodate to accented English is a critical skill. At the UA, we have instructors and students from over 120 different countries, so you will encounter faculty, TAs, and fellow students who may, at first, be difficult to understand. With more exposure, it will become easier. In the meantime, remember that communication is a two-way street, and you have to do your share to improve the experience. Below are some strategies for dealing with International TAs:

  • Don’t focus on differences in pronunciation and accent:  Concentrate on what your TA is saying by studying their verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • Record your lecture. (Ask permission first.) Take notes in your classes and then review the lectures. 
  • Ask for clarification or paraphrase what you’ve just heard.
  • Ask your TA to write down words you don’t understand.  Have your TA use the board or overheads to list words that are difficult to understand.
  • Ask your TA to slow down.  Talking fast is a sign that you are fluent in a particular language.  If your TA is talking fast and you do not understand what they are saying, ask them to clarify what they’ve just said.
  • Adjusting to a new culture is difficult for anyone. Be sensitive to cultural differences. Be cautious about using slang.
  • Be patient.  The more you communicate with your TA, the more you will understand each other.  All TAs want to make sure you learn, so ask questions, and seek clarification.
  • Remember, your TA is highly qualified to teach the course material.  Please give him or her appropriate respect.
  • Get to know your TA and take this opportunity to ask questions about your TA’s culture and life experiences. The more you know and like your TA, the easier it will be to patient.

If you try these suggestions and are still having difficulties, discuss the problem with the department chair.”