MSU Policy Affecting International Teaching Assistants

MSU Policy Affecting International Teaching Assistants


English Language Testing: MSU Policy Affecting International Teaching Assistants (ITAs)


MSU candidates for TA appointments who were required to demonstrate English proficiency as a condition for regular admission to Michigan State University must also demonstrate that they meet a minimum standard of proficiency in spoken English before they can be assigned teaching work that involves oral communication with undergraduate students. Those ITAs who received a waiver of the TOEFL or of other accepted tests of English proficiency for admission, must also meet the requirement of proficiency in spoken English before they are assigned to teaching work that involves oral communication with undergraduate students. To meet this requirement, those ITAs may use any of  three options listed below: 

Individual exceptions from these requirements (on a case-by-case basis in rare circumstances) will be considered by the Graduate School in consultation with the ELC upon the request of the department and with the endorsement of the Associate Dean of the College.


Oral English Proficiency Tests for ITAs

MSU recognizes scores on two oral proficiency exams for the purposes of meeting the English proficiency requirement for teaching assistants: the MSU Speaking Test and the ITA Oral Interaction Test (ITAOI), the latter of which is only available to those graduate students who complete AAE 451 or AAE 452.

MSU Speaking Test

To be eligible to take the MSU Speaking Test on campus, students must have regular admission and proof of TA status as well as the approval of their departments.

Students who do not receive a sufficient score on the MSU Speaking Test may opt to retest, but they are not permitted to retest within two months of a previous test.   Students with an MSU Speaking Test score of 45 are also eligible to enroll in a language support course.  Those with a score of 40 may be admitted to the class with the permission of the ITA Program coordinators.
For more information on how to request an MSU Speaking Test and the current ITA Testing Schedule, visit the ELC Testing site.

ITA Language Support Courses, AAE 451 & AAE 452 and the ITA Oral Interaction Test (ITAOI)

AAE 451 and 452 are 3-credit courses in English pronunciation, fluency, and classroom culture and communication skills for current or prospective ITAs. To enroll, eligible students must first make a request through the MSU Speaking Test System online. Prospective students in the course will then be contacted by the ITA Program coordinators with further information and instructions for reserving space in the course. 

All AAE 451 and 452 students take the ITA Oral Interaction Test (ITAOI) at the conclusion of the class as part of the course requirements. Students who receive an ITAOI score of 50 or higher satisfy the TA English requirement and can be cleared for teaching. Students who score below 50 on their first ITAOI may retake this test only once to try to meet the language proficiency requirement for teaching; however, retaking the ITAOI counts as one of a student's four opportunities to meet the requirement free of charge.  Students who do not complete AAE 451 or 452 are not eligible to take the ITAOI.

For questions about AAE 451 and 452, contact

Appeal Procedure by Review Board (updated as of December 2017) 

If a student obtains a 45 on the MSU Speaking Test or the ITAOI and the department wishing to hire the student feels the test result inaccurately reflects the student's speaking ability, the department may ask a Review Board to evaluate independently the student's spoken English. The review request must be based on the score from the most recent administration of the test. Each hiring department may also request an appeal for a student who received a 40, but only for one such case per academic year (August – July), and that student can have no subsequent reviews by any department unless he or she retests and scores 45.  The intended assignment for that student must require less than a full waiver.  A full waiver will not be granted as the outcome of an appeal for a score of 40. A retest may be recommended in the case of an apparent irregularity.

There are two exceptions to the policy of a minimum requirement of 50 to be a TA with no assignment restrictions:

The first exception is for TAs assigned to foreign language classes conducted primarily in the target language, in which case the required score on the MSU Speaking Test or ITAOI will be 45, and candidates scoring 40 will be automatically eligible for an appeal that will not count toward the department’s one allowable 40 per academic year.  

The second exception is that the speaking proficiency requirement will be waived for applied music studio TAs under the following three conditions:

  1. The instruction is one-on-one and primarily demonstration based.
  2. Mandatory, close faculty supervision is provided for the first semester.
  3. The TA’s performance is evaluated after each semester of instruction.

The Review Board will consist of (a) a departmental representative with faculty status (b) two ELC representatives, and (c) a representative of The Graduate School. The Graduate Director of the student’s hiring department must request the review on the student’s behalf. The Review Board can grant interviewees a full or partial waiver to teach. They can also make a determination that interviewees’ language skills do not merit any waiver. REQUESTS FOR APPEALS MUST BE MADE WITHIN 2 WEEKS OF THE DATE THE SCORE WAS REPORTED OR WITHIN NO MORE THAN 1 WEEK OF THE FIRST DAY OF CLASSES, WHICHEVER IS EARLIER.

Online ITA Applicant Screening

The ELC conducts applicant screening interviews via Skype and Zoom jointly with senior representatives from participating departments.  The aim of the interview is to determine the likelihood of the applicant passing the MSU Speaking Test upon arrival on campus.  Departments may obtain more information and request this service by sending an email to