policy and PA law require that all students, undergraduate as well as graduate,
who are nonnative English speakers must pass a screening test before
they can work as teaching fellows, teaching assistants or graders who will meet with students. Since this
policy went into effect, we have had tremendous cooperation from all
departments, and both the undergraduates and the ITAs themselves have
benefited from this system.
Some departments have raised questions
about the interpretation of this requirement. Let us take this opportunity
to clarify some of these commonly asked questions:
1. What is a nonnative English speaker (NNES)?
Anyone for whom English is not a native language/ mother tongue regardless of citizenship or visa status. This can include:
Note: using English as the primary language of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official
language is not the same thing as "native language".
- Newly arrived international students
- Students who attended all or part of high school or college in the US
- Students who attended an English speaking high school in another country
- Students who are speakers of another variety of English (e.g. from India, Singapore, Hong Kong)
2. Do US residents / citizens have to take the ITA Test?
Any student who is not a native speaker of English should be tested regardless of citizenship.
US residency or citizenship is no guarantee of English proficiency. For example, a Canadian student who is a
native English speaker does not need the test; a native French speaking Canadian does.
3. Do speakers of other varieties of English
(e.g. students from India, Singapore, Hong Kong etc.) need to take the ITA test?
Clearly, many students in this category have strong English skills, but many do not. Using English as the primary language
of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official language is not the same thing as "native language".
4. Do graders need the ITA test?
It depends on how a particular department defines "grading": different skill sets are required for
quantitative grading only with no student contact vs. grading while also meeting with students to explain
and discuss grade vs. grading that requires the ability to communicate effectively in written English
(e.g., grading lab reports, journal entries, essays, responding to discussion boards, writing test
Use the chart below to determine what type of assessment would be appropriate for a
specific "grading" job. However, be aware that the TOEFL Writing score does not give information about the
ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to students (e.g., on email discussion boards, comments
on papers, etc.).
|Type of grading assignment
||Method to certify appropriate language skills for
|Grading that also requires meeting with students
to explain and discuss grade, answer questions, etc.
||ITA test required, Restricted II minimum; if writing competency required,
departments should also use assessment criteria below.
|Grading that requires ability to communicate effectively in written English
(e.g., grading lab reports, journal entries, essays, writing test questions, responding to discussion boards, etc.)
||Recommend minimum TOEFL Writing score of 24 along with department assessment of the necessary
skill set (including ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to students, e.g., on email discussion boards,
comments on papers, etc). The ITA test assesses spoken language; does not provide information about ability to
communicate effectively in written English.
|Quantitative grading only with no student contact
||TOEFL Speaking score of 18 (minimum recommended for academic work at CMU).
5. Does a student still need
to be tested if he or she has been studying in this country for
We have tested students who had completed undergraduate and graduate
work in this country and still have basic problems with speaking
and listening skills. Even a student who has worked as a TA at another
university may not have the language skills necessary to function
as a TA at Carnegie Mellon University. Again, to insure a uniform policy, please
insist that all nonnative speakers take the test.
6. When are ITA tests offered?
ITA testing is offered for three weeks each November and April. We
strongly encourage students to take the test the semester before they will
work as a TA. For students who get last-minute TA assignments, there is
make-up testing the first and second week of each semester. For a $100
fee, departments can request the test at other times, but it is often difficult
for us to schedule the test outside the regular testing periods. ITA testing is
labor intensive; each test takes 30 minutes with four intructors, followed by a
30-minute feedback appointment with one instructor.