Monday, June 7, 2021


TO:        Deans, Directors, and Departmental Executive Officers

FROM:  Russell Ganim, Associate Provost and Dean, International Programs

RE:         Recommendations from Working Group on TA Testing and Proficiency

DATE:   June 7, 2021

Dear All,

A working group was convened this past spring semester as a response to concerns related to the testing and proficiency of TAs whose first language is not English.

The working group consisted of the following:

Shelly Campo—Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs, Graduate College
Christine Getz—Associate Dean for Graduate Education CLAS
Violet Tiema—Ph.D. student, Dept of Mathematics, Graduate Student Senate
Frankline Matanji—Ph.D. student, Journalism and Mass Communications, International Student Advisory Board
Anna-Maria Cornell—Faculty, ESL Programs
Melissa Meisterheim—Director, ESL Programs
Todd Rent—Director, University Employee Labor Relations
Russ Ganim—International Programs, Chair

As a result of its deliberations, the working group submitted recommendations to Provost Kregel last month. The Provost approved the recommendations, and agreed to the implementation of the plan below:

Beginning in fall 2021, the Office of the Provost will pilot a program that will exempt some prospective teaching assistants whose first language is not English from the English Speaking Proficiency Assessment (ESPA) exam. This means that qualifying students will take only the English Language Performance Test (ELPT) as a measure of the prospective teaching assistant’s ability to communicate in English in a classroom context in their own field of study. 
The rationale behind this pilot is to address concerns that have arisen regarding the policies around the tests and the corresponding evaluation procedures while applying the least burdensome method to ensure oral competency for instruction as defined by the Iowa Code, the Iowa Board of Regents, and University of Iowa policy. 
The pilot will be implemented only for the academic year 2021-22, and will apply to prospective teaching assistants who meet the following criteria: 

  • Students who obtained degrees at institutions in which the language of instruction was English. This includes:
    • Undergraduate degrees and/or
    • Continuous attendance of English-language schools since the age of 12 (or younger)
  • Students who served as teaching assistants at other institutions of higher learning, provided that they were listed as the instructor of record for a course or led a discussion section for at least one year, with a year defined as either two academic semesters or three academic quarters

We note that the existing policy of exempting students with an official valid (within the last two years) iBT Listening score of 25 and an iBT Speaking score of 26 will remain. 
Per existing policy, requests for exemptions or exceptions must come from departments.

Information about the pilot will be communicated via listservs that include Associate Deans for Graduate Education, Directors of Graduate Studies, Deans and Departmental Executive Officers, Graduate Program Coordinators, Graduate Student Governance, and UI Human Resources.

In addition, the working group recommends the following:

  • The creation of a committee to evaluate and grant exception requests (consisting of the Director of ESL Programs, the Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs in the Graduate College, and a representative from University Human Resources)
  • The hire of an outside reviewer to evaluate current tests

The working group will work with colleges and departments to explain and implement the pilot throughout the summer. One key step in this process is a presentation of the pilot during the Associate Deans for Graduate Education meeting on June 21. 

We would urge all relevant deans and administrators to participate in this conversation.

In the interim please feel free to contact me should questions arise.

Sincerely yours,
Russ Ganim