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Posts Tagged ‘speaking’

I work with my institution’s international teaching assistant (ITA) program. The program, like those at many universities and colleges in the USA, is designed to provide language and pedagogical training to non-native English speaking graduate students who serve as teaching assistants for their departments.

Last fall, after testing all potential ITAs for oral proficiency training, our program received many concerned calls from departments whose international students did not meet the minimum English language standards to be TAs. In fact, a large number of the students were well below cut-off in the university’s policy regarding ITAs. Departments were concerned that these students needed funding and now they did not qualify to work as TAs due to their oral proficiency. To put it mildly was a very frustrating experience for many stakeholders.

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Given the University’s need to assess the English language proficiency of in-coming transfer students from the community college system, I was able to continue assessing the effectiveness of our ESL placement test. Earlier this week, a group of transfer students took the new grammar/vocabulary test, as well as the existing oral interview, and a revised writing test. Now that I have additional examinee data, I have been able to conduct an initial item analysis. (more…)

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I was entirely focused on the teaching of writing during the two years that I previously attended TESOL (2006 and 2007) . In 2006, I was working on my thesis related to the rating of ESL writing, and in 2007, I was working full-time as the Writing Skill Area Coordinator at the BYU ELC. TESOL contains plenty of writing related sessions, so I dedicated myself almost exclusively to that topic.

However, I took a different approach this year. Although I remain interested in writing (and in fact co-presented a session on ESL writing), I decided to seek out sessions that would help me in the broader context of my teaching and administrative duties. So, I attended sessions on a new topic for me: ITA aka international teaching assistants.

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My current institution uses the SPEAK test (retired forms of the TSE – Test of Spoken English) in International Teaching Assistant (ITA) assessment. Earlier this semester, many departments sent their students to us for testing. We completed the assessments and sent the scores back to departments and students, who were not pleased with their performance.

In reality, student scores on this semester’s test was not any different from previous semesters. However, more departments are relying on new, in-coming international students to work as ITAs without really understanding their English proficiency. What makes this all the more frustrating is that these departments thought that they were being proactive in assessing students’ oral skills before they arrived by using telephone interviews. As a result of these unexpectedly low scores, many departments were left with classes without TAs and scrambled to find alternate means of funding these international students.

In an effect to mitigate these problems in future semesters, my department set up a meeting with graduate directors. We prepared to show them how TOEFL iBT speaking section scores (which many students are now submitting) can be a good predictor of SPEAK test scores. Even though many of these departments had access to iBT scores, many of them did not know how to interpret these scores, nor how they related to SPEAK benchmarks. Although we were prepared for some negative criticism in our meeting, we were pleased to learn that they were grateful for our help and explanations. I hope it helps guide them in their admissions and funding decisions.

This is just one of many ways in which this new position requires cooperation and good communication across schools and departments. I’m pleased to see that the ESL program here is so well connected throughout the university.

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