ITA Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


Why must I be certified?

The General Assembly of Pennsylvania enacted a statute (Senate Bill 539) in 1990 "requiring institutions of higher education to evaluate their faculties for fluency in the English language; providing for certifications as to that fluency; imposing penalties; and conferring powers and duties upon the State Board of Education." The act includes "every member of an institution of higher education, other than visiting faculty but including graduate teaching assistants, who teaches one or more undergraduate credit courses at a campus of that institution within this Commonwealth except: 1] such courses that are designed to be taught predominately in a foreign language; 2] student participatory and activity courses such as clinics, studios, seminars and laboratories; 3] special arrangement courses such as individualized instruction and independent study courses; and 4] continuing education courses." The act requires each institution of higher education to file annual reports with the Pennsylvania Department of Education showing compliance. The Secretary of Education may impose penalties for each course taught by an uncertified faculty member.


What is the fluency policy at Penn?

The full policy is located in Section VI.I of the Faculty Handbook (page 303-309), which can be read online at this link. The policy was adopted in 1991 and last amended in 2010.


I’m a U.S. citizen. Do I have to be certified?

Yes. If you are a U.S. citizen whose native language is other than English, then you will follow the same process as other non-native speakers and demonstrate fluency with a standardized exam (TOEFL, SPEAK, IPT, et.). If you are a native speaker of English, please connect with your department about completing the certification form. 


How can I become certified as fluent in English?

Initially, you must speak to your department chairperson, who can certify you immediately if you can produce evidence of a rating of Superior on an ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview or a score of 27 or higher on the Speaking component of the iBT TOEFL. The evidence you need is official score results. If you have not received sufficient scores on any of these measures, or have not taken any of these tests, you will need to contact the ELP for information on in-house testing.


What tests does English Language Programs administer for certification?

Most students will take the SPEAK as an initial measure of language proficiency.  The SPEAK is an institutional version of the Test of Spoken English (TSE). It evaluates English speaking proficiency in four areas: coherence/organization, audience awareness, linguistic accuracy and functional competence. The test takes 20-30 minutes to administer in the language laboratory. Your responses to test questions are recorded and later judged by a team of trained raters.

Candidates may also need to take the Interactive Performance Test (IPT), which is designed to evaluate the fluency and intelligibility of English spoken by nonnative instructors in a simulated university classroom setting. In this test, you prepare and give a ten-minute lecture on a topic specific to your field of study before a class of mock students who are trained raters and will listen and ask questions during your lesson. After the lecture, you will be asked to sit for a five-minute meeting with one of the "students"; much like a meeting during office hours. The performance is video recorded for later review and evaluation. Students may not take the IPT without first taking the SPEAK test.


What scores are valid for certification on the SPEAK and IPT?

If you receive a SPEAK score above 55 out of a possible 60, you will be certified as fluent in English. However, if you don't reach that score but receive a score of 45 or above, you have the option of taking the Interactive Performance Test in the same testing period. The IPT is rated Pass/Fail based on a holistic rubric.  If you pass this test, then you will be certified.


 When are the tests administered?

The SPEAK and IPT are administered three times per year, prior to the start of each semester: August, December & April.  If your department wants you to take on teaching duties for the fall semester, for example, the last opportunity you would have to test would be in August.  During each testing round, the SPEAK is scheduled about two weeks before the IPT so students who need to take both tests can do so within the same testing period.  See test dates for details.


What if I don’t pass the SPEAK or IPT?

Candidates who receive a SPEAK score below 45 out of a possible 60 will not be permitted to take the IPT.  In such a case, the candidate would need to retake the SPEAK in a subsequent testing cycle.  Candidates who receive a SPEAK score of 45-55, who take and fail the IPT, will need to retake the IPT in a subsequent testing cycle.  IPT candidates receive detailed feedback on their score reports with suggestions for strengthening skills. 

A student who does not attain fluency certification will not be eligible to take on any duties that involve oral instructional communication with undergraduate students.


What language training support is available?

Each summer, the ELP offers a training program sponsored by the School of Arts & Sciences. Application for the program begins in the spring through your department or directly with the ELP. See Summer Training Program for more information.

In the fall semester, a graduate-level spoken English course (GAS 600) is offered. Although this course is credit bearing, the credit does not contribute to your degree requirements. Enrollment in this course is by permit only and there are limited seats available. For more information, contact English Language Programs at


I will be out of town on the date that the SPEAK test is given.  Can I schedule it for another day?

The SPEAK test and IPT are only offered three times per year, near the end of the fall, spring, and summer semesters.  If you are expected to teach in an upcoming semester and have yet to demonstrate English fluency, please preview the test dates in advance of making any travel plans.  We are unable to schedule single testing appointments for individual students.  Please contact with any questions.


I graduated from high school/college in the United States (or other English speaking country).  Does that mean I'm exempt from the Fluency Certification requirement?

The state of Pennsylvania requires specific proof of language fluency, and will not accept a high school or college diploma in place of English proficiency test results.  Please note that this requirement is different from your department's language requirement for admissions. Thus, even if test results were waived for you for admissions purposes, you will likely still need to take the SPEAK test or IPT.