Oral Proficiency Test | CESL | SIU

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Oral Proficiency Test

Do I have to take the test?

Per SIUC policies and procedures, to qualify for teaching duties, candidates must “pass an examination of oral English skill before undertaking classroom duties” (page 17 of the 2007-2008 Graduate Catalog).

Exemptions to the Oral Proficiency Test will be given if you are:

  • an applicant who is exempt from the TOEFL exam (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and United Kingdom, for example).
  • an applicant who has recently completed a bachelor's degree (four years attendance and completion of at least 100 semester hours of graded coursework) at an accredited institution in the United States.
  • an applicant who has completed a master's degree at an accredited institution in the United States, who obtained a TOEFL score of at least 550 immediately prior to beginning graduate studies and who has been in residence in the United States continuously prior to application to SIUC.

Why do I have to be tested?

In 1986, the State of Illinois required that all state universities establish a program to assess the oral English proficiency of all persons providing classroom instruction to students at each of the State Colleges and Universities and campuses thereof… The program required by this Shall be fully implemented to ensure the oral English language proficiency of all classroom instructors at each of the State Colleges ad Universities and campuses thereof…”

Because English is the mode of instruction at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the university must be able to certify that those interacting with students have the appropriate language skills. This certification protects the students, the departments, and the ITAs themselves by ensuring that a fundamental level of English has been attained.

I am a TA for a foreign language. Why do I have to be tested for my English ability, when I’ll be teaching in my own language?

The classroom language may be one other than English (French, Japanese, German, etc.). However, SIUC does not have an immersion program and you will still have to make explanations, conduct office hours, write evaluations, and perform other tasks that still need to be in English. Consider the following situation: a first-semester student is struggling with Spanish, and comes to see the TA. If the TA cannot communicate effectively in English, and the student has just started studying Spanish serious miscommunications can occur.

How do I schedule the test?

Potential Graduate Assistants may not schedule the test. The department must schedule the test to ensure that a departmental representative is available.

NOTES to departments:

  • Please contact Catherine Caldwell (ccaldwel@siu.edu) to schedule tests in the fall and Crystal Marlow (cmarlow@siu.edu) to schedule tests in the spring.
  • If tests need to be scheduled after the semester has begun, the deadline for doing so is within two weeks from the beginning of the semester, regardless of whether that occurs in the fall or the spring. 

What is the test?

The test is a short oral assessment that consists of an interview (5-10 minutes) and a micro-teaching sample (about 5 minutes). During the micro teaching, the potential ITA should teach a simple – concept to the evaluation team. 

How should I prepare?

Don’t worry about the interview portion of the test. Focus on preparing a solid, well organized, simple micro-teaching. Remember, you are NOT being evaluated on teaching ability.

Who evaluates me?

The evaluation team consists of three people: a department representative (usually the student’s faculty advisor, graduate advisor, or department chair), a representative from the Graduate School and a representative from the Center for English as a Second Language.

What is evaluated?

The evaluation team is ONLY interested in oral production. Many students try to teach a very technical concept, which often requires more difficult language, to impress their faculty. We know you are smart – you are here in graduate school, so you do not need to show us your intelligence; just your language.

We evaluate three elements of oral language:

  • Pronunciation – This section focuses on how well you pronounce your words and is your accent a barrier to communication.
  • Speaking – This section focuses on your fluency and grammaticality.
  • Comprehension – This section focuses on how well you understand what is said to you during the test

What do the scores mean?

Students can either:

  • pass the test and teach;
  • hold a conditional assignment based on the recommendation of the evaluation team; or
  • fail the test and not teach.

The test has five levels (4 scores). Click HERE to download the table.

A conditional assignment indicates a graduate assistant’s English abilities are not strong enough to be an instructor of record, but that they do have the language proficiency to perform other, non-language dependent, assignments.What does “conditional assignment” mean?

Examples of conditional assignments include

  • facilitating a lab
  • staffing a computer lab
  • grading
  • tutoring
  • assisting a faculty member

What if I fail or receive a conditional assignment?

You will be required to actively participate in the ITA Workshop offered by the Center for English as a Second Language and retest prior to being given teaching duties.

How am I notified of my results?

You will NOT receive notification from the Graduate School. Your department representative (who comes to the test with you) or department secretary will tell you your results. The department receives notification from the Graduate School, but the letter is filed in your personnel file in your department.

I still have questions. Who do I call?

You are free to contact Catherine Caldwell (ccaldwel@siu.edu) or 453-2265, with any additional questions you may have.