ITA language proficiency testing : recommended replacement for the SPEAK test
Stoughton, Anne M.
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Oral language tests have been used since the 1950s to assess the proficiency of spoken language. In the 1980s and 1990s, the need for oral proficiency testing increased as states began to mandate that universities within their jurisdictions test the English proficiency of instructors due to growing concerns over international teaching assistants' (ITAs) comprehensibility. Many universities turned to the Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit℗ʼ (SPEAK test), a language proficiency test created and distributed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), as means to test ITA proficiency in English. ETS's discontinuance of the SPEAK test in 2010 has forced, and is forcing, many universities to look for new ways to assess ITA proficiency. This research identifies replacement opportunities for the SPEAK test by exploring the major theories impacting oral proficiency tests and studying the assessment tools being used at 17 Midwestern universities as a means for evaluating ITA spoken language ability. The types of tests being used, the nature of the questions asked, and the processes used to place ITAs are assessed. The paper provides a recommendation for establishing an ITA spoken language proficiency process that includes two forms of oral language assessment (a teaching demonstration and either a language test or oral interview), a tiered ITA placement system, and required or recommended English as a Second Language (ESL) coursework. Recommendations are also provided for developing an ITA proficiency assessment from former SPEAK tests. The suggested ITA process provides a means to assess, develop, and validate ITAs' communicative competence in authentic ITA language situations.