English Language Testing (MSU Speaking Test)

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

MSU ITAs who are not native speakers of English are required to 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. ITAs may meet this requirement in one of the following ways:

Receiving a score of 50 or higher on the MSU Speaking Test

Taking ENG 097 (a three-credit course called ITA Speaking and Listening) and receiving a score of 50 or higher on the ITA Oral Interview (ITAOI).

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 Interview (ITAOI), the latter of which is only available to those graduate students who complete ENG 097, ITA Speaking and Listening. 

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.  ITAs have four opportunities to meet the university proficiency requirement for ITAs free of charge.  After four unsuccessful attempts, students must pay a testing fee to take oral English proficiency tests, but they may only do so with the approval of their departments. In some cases, the department may decide to pay the fee on behalf of the student.
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 the language support course, ENG 097, ITA Speaking and Listening.  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.

English 097 (ENG 097) and the ITA Oral Interview (ITAOI)

ENG 097 is a 3-credit course in English pronunciation, fluency, and classroom culture and communication skills for current or prospective ITAs. The prerequisite for enrolling in the course is an MSU Speaking Test score of 45.  Students with an MSU Speaking Test score of 40 may be admitted to the course with the permission of the ITA Program coordinators.  Priority in enrollment is given to students who already have TA appointments. 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 ENG 097 students take the ITA Oral Interview (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 the students’ four opportunities to meet the requirement free of charge.  Students who do not complete ENG 097 are not eligible to take the ITAOI.

For questions about ENG 097, contact ITAprogram@elc.msu.edu

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 testing@elc.msu.edu .