Language Proficiency Requirements for Teaching Assistants

Responsible Officer
Rebecca Ropers
Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs
Owner
Jeff Lindgren
Assistant Director - Center for Educational Innovation
Primary Contact
See Contacts Section
Last Revised
Effective Date

Policy Statement

All nonnative English-speaking graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) must demonstrate proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in English appropriate to the demands of their teaching assistantship.

Proficiency is assessed in one of the following ways:

  1. English Language Proficiency (ELP) rating earned through coursework with the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI);
  2. Speaking section of TOEFL iBT (internet-based Test of English as a Foreign Language);
  3. Speaking section of IELTS (International English Language Testing System);
  4. SETTA (Spoken English Test for Teaching Assistants) test (Twin Cities campus) or alternative test chosen by Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester campuses.

Scope

This policy governs all TA appointments (Job codes 9511, 9512, 9513, 9515, 9517, 9518, 9519, 9571, 9574, and 9575) held by nonnative English-speaking graduate and undergraduate students.

Exclusions

All other graduate and undergraduate assistant appointments are excluded from coverage under this policy.

Proficiency Requirements

Proficiency levels and required scores for various types and levels of TA duties are found in Appendix: English Language Proficiency Requirements.

Policy Exceptions

Departments may submit a request for exceptions to the Assistant Director of the Center for Educational Innovation for consideration and approval.

Reason for Policy

In support of high-quality undergraduate education, the University requires evidence of English language proficiency of its nonnative speakers of English employed as TAs. This policy also serves as a response to a request from the Minnesota Legislature to ensure that classroom TAs for whom English is a second language are proficient in speaking, reading, and writing English (see 1985 First Special Session Laws/ Chapter 11, Section 7 subdivision b).

This requirement engenders continuing cooperation of each academic department in maintaining high standards of English-language communication skills for all nonnative speakers of English who provide instruction at the University.

Contacts

Subject Contact Phone Email
Primary Contact(s) Jeff Lindgren 612-625-3070 [email protected]
Registration for the SETTA test Barbara Beers 612-625-3048 [email protected]

Definitions

Center for Educational Innovation (CEI)
The Center for Educational Innovation promotes research-informed, transformative, and inclusive teaching and learning across the University of Minnesota system. CEI is a division of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs.
Cleared
Eligible for teaching assistant duties without required enrollment in English communication coursework.
English Language Proficiency (ELP) Rating
An assessment of a nonnative teaching assistant’s spoken English proficiency and eligibility for a teaching assistant assignment.
Nonnative speaker of English
A multilingual person for whom the primary language in the home during childhood was not English, and who received all or most of their elementary, secondary, and undergraduate education outside the United States.
Spoken English Test for Teaching Assistants (SETTA)
A 15-minute assessment of a prospective nonnative teaching assistant's spoken English proficiency while teaching topics in their field.
TA
Teaching Assistant.
Test of English as a Foreign Language internet Based Test (TOEFL iBT)
The speaking sub-score of this test is used to assess a prospective nonnative teaching assistant's ability to use English to perform academic tasks.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
The speaking sub-score of this test is used to assess a prospective nonnative teaching assistant's ability to use English to perform academic tasks.

Responsibilities

Collegiate Director of Graduate Studies or Designee
  • Informs potential graduate students/teaching assistants of English Language Proficiency policy upon offer of admission to graduate program;
  • Informs potential graduate students/teaching assistants of any additional departmental expectations regarding assignments of TA duties;
  • Schedules incoming graduate students to meet with a CEI representative to discuss language testing and coursework options;
  • Refers to English Language Proficiency - Eligibility for TAs UMN report for student eligibility before making TA assignments; and
  • Contacts CEI with any language-related questions, complaints, or requests for exceptions.
Center for Educational Innovation
  • Advises interested nonnative English-speaking graduate and undergraduate students about testing and coursework options;
  • Routinely arranges for SETTA testing and makes this information available to departments;
  • Provides English communication coursework to meet the needs of prospective TAs;
  • Evaluates effectiveness of programming;
  • Administers proficiency tests at the end of each semester of coursework;
  • Maintains records on eligibility of current and former students;
  • Communicates with departments each semester; and
  • Submits ELP status reports to the Human Resources Management System in a timely manner.
Nonnative English-Speaking Prospective Teaching Assistants
  • Meets with a CEI representative to determine testing and coursework Enrolls in and completes coursework with CEI as required; and
  • Registers and takes the SETTA test, if appropriate.
Departmental Administrator Who Oversees TAs
  • Informs applicants for an undergraduate TA position of English Language Proficiency policy;
  • Schedules nonnative English-speaking undergraduate TA applicant to meet with a CEI representative to discuss language testing and coursework options;
  • Refers to English Language Proficiency - Eligibility for TAs UMN report for student eligibility before making TA assignments; and
  • Contacts CEI with any language-related questions, complaints, or requests for exceptions.

Related Information

History

Amended:
April 2022 - Comprehensive Review. Minor Revisions.
  1. Added IELTS as a testing option for proficiency
  2. Modified nonnative speaker for English definition
  3. Minor changes for clarity
Amended:
February 2012 - Definition of a Nonnative speaker of English was changed for clarification.
Amended:
June 2010 - Comprehensive Review. Policy was expanded to include undergraduate TA's. The TOEFL iBT test replaces the SPEAK test. General edits made and the procedure and appendix.
Amended:
November 2007 - Policy converted to the new University-wide format for administrative policies.
Amended:
January 2003 - Title revised to: Language Proficiency for Teaching Assistants. Updated information was added and policy was reformatted.
Amended:
August 2000 - International Student SPEAK Test
Effective:
January 2003 - Since 1983 the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus has offered a two-fold program of screening nonnative speakers of English to determine their eligibility for teaching and to prepare them for the classroom. In 1985 during its first special session, the Minnesota legislature drafted the following language in Chapter 11, section 7 of its Laws:
The university is requested to continue to ensure that classroom teaching assistants for whom English is a second language are proficient in speaking, reading, and writing English. The University is requested to report the actions it is taking on this matter to the legislature by January 15, 1986.
Two standard-setting Committees worked to determine the communication standards for the Twin Cities Campus. Members of one committee consisted of department chairs, directors of graduate studies, directors of undergraduate studies and TA supervisors. Members of the second committee consisted of undergraduate students from various disciplines. The recommendations from these two standard-setting committees were forwarded to a decision-making committee. This committee consisted of the Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Vice President of Human Resources, and College Deans or their representatives. After reviewing the recommendations of the standard-setting committees, the decision making committee set the score of 55 as the score necessary for clearance for TA assignment on the Twin Cities Campus.

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