Programs for International Teaching Assistants: Overview
The English Language Center (ELC) coordinates programs for international teaching assistants at Drexel University including (1) a preparation (education and orientation) component for the development of English language skills and American cultural competence, and (2) a testing and screening component. These are described below, along with their principal evaluation mechanisms.
Preparation (education and orientation)
Since 1980, Drexel University has offered a summer intensive orientation program for new international teaching assistants, providing intensive instruction in language, pedagogy, and culture of the American classroom. Funded through the Provost's Office, the primary goal of this program is to orient new graduate assistants to the United States and ready them for their tasks in the academic year. New international teaching assistants (up to a maximum of thirty) are invited to the program for the month of August, housed in the university dormitories, and provided with health insurance and a small stipend for living expenses during the program.
An academic year follow-up course (HUM006: Oral communication skills for non-native speakers) is offered with two sections in Fall, one section in Winter and one section in Spring. This course is offered free of charge to graduate students and is offered for the purpose of improving spoken language proficiency, including preparation for the SPEAK test. A special support group for teaching assistants in the classroom is provided weekly by the instructor of HUM006.
Testing and Screening
In 1990, the State of Pennsylvania passed the "English Fluency in Higher Education Act," which requires institutions of higher education to "evaluate their faculties for fluency in the English language …using varied and appropriate criteria, such as personal interviews, peer, alumni and student observations and evaluations, publications, professional presentations, tests, or any other appropriate criteria which effectively evaluates such fluency." At Drexel, all non-native English-speaking teaching assistants within the university are screened for language proficiency through an oral proficiency examination (the SPEAK test—an institutional version of the Test of Spoken English). Scores on the SPEAK test are matched with a recommendation for a teaching assignment commensurate with performance on the test.
In 1996, a standard-setting panel made up of testing specialists from the ELC and faculty members from throughout the university listened to samples of test performance and recommended SPEAK test standards for instructional assignments.
The SPEAK test is offered free of charge by appointment through the English Language Center. Students may take the test once each term. Preparation materials are available at the ELC and students may request a personal review of the test with the ITA Coordinator to receive more information about their performance.