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Information for Directors of Graduate Studies

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DGS Information Effective Fall 2012

Beginning Fall 2012, some changes have been made to the procedure for certifying the Oral English Proficiency of international teaching assistants. It is important that you keep the certification requirements in mind as you recruit new international students. The English proficiency of these students affects their assignments as teaching assistants.

In place of the TSE or SPEAK test scores that have been used in the past, the Oral Certification Process will incorporate the use of admissions required incoming iBT (internet-based TOEFL) or IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems) scores to filter newly appointed ITAs into 4 tiers:

  • Immediate full certification based on iBT/IELTS admissions scores
  • Full certification based on a combined iBT/IELTS admissions score and an in-house Performance Evaluation or Interview
  • Conditional status requiring one to two semesters participation in ESL 401 (Communication and Teaching Strategies for ITAs), concurrent with their initial TA assignment
  • Conditional limited status requiring participation in ESL 401, and limited TA responsibilities, such as tutoring, office hours, or grading.

As you know, state law (State of Illinois Bill 1516) requires all international teaching assistants that provide instruction in a classroom, discussion group, laboratory, or office hour situation to be certified as orally proficient in speaking and communicating in English.

All certifications must be done by the ITA Program staff in collaboration with faculty in the various programs. In addition, the ITA Program office maintains a database that contains information on the certification status of international graduate students appointed as teaching assistants for possible audit by the state. Departments are expected to make assignments and plan for ITA participation in communication support (ESL 401 or Consultations) according to the certification of the student.

To assist you, the ITA Coordinator, Vandana Loebel,( is available for assistance with any issues related to the Oral English Proficiency of ITAs and other communication issues. The ITA Program can also help you design pre-offer filtering processes, which would improve the department’s chances of being able to offer unconditional teaching assignments to students whose English proficiency is adequate for a classroom assignment. For example, the ITA Program staff has advised one large science department at UIC on how to do an initial assessment of spoken English via phone or Skype interviews with prospective international students. This process has proven to be successful in reducing to almost zero the number of conditional status ITAs for this department.

If you have any questions concerning the oral English certifications or need a consultation, please contact Vandana Loebel (312-413-2235 or

ESL 401 Teaching and Communication Strategies for ITAS
  • ESL 401 focuses on improving communications skills in an academic setting.
  • There are 3 required elements to the course:
    • a 2-hour once-a-week interactive workshop/class
    • 2-4 field-related presentations (Fall) or discussion groups (Spring) 
    • independent soundwork posted on Blackboard (~1 hour/week)
  • The final evaluation at the end of the term is a Performance Evaluation for those students who have not yet received full Oral Certification status
  • The course grade (Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory) is based on completion of a required level of work (class attendance, amount of soundwork completed, and number of presentations/discussion groups participated in).
  • The grade of S or U does not reflect their certification status, only that a required amount of work was completed or not completed.

Performance Evaluation Schedule: Please contact the ITA Program office for this information (312-413-2235, or

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