FAQs: ITA testing and training

Photo of ELP student in class

Determining an individual’s speaking status can be a complex question. For example, being a native speaker of English is different from being a heritage speaker or having native-like fluency. Because the purpose of Fluency Certification is to maintain Penn’s compliance with state law, the English Language Programs employs a narrow definition in this context, out of caution. To that end, native speakers are individuals who used English as their principal language in school starting in the primary grades and continuing through graduation in a country where English is the dominant language.

If this is true for you, you can work with your department to complete the certification form. If you or your department are uncertain of your language status, the safest course of action is to register for the Interactive Performance Test. The process is straightforward and quick, particularly if you are a confident user of English.

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 predominantly 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.

The full policy is located in Section VI.I of the Faculty Handbook (page 303-309). The policy was adopted in 1991 and last amended in 2019.

Yes. If you are a US 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, IPT, etc.). If you are a native speaker of English, please connect with your department about completing the certification form. 

You can be certified immediately if you can produce evidence of a rating of Advanced Mid 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. You can complete a certificate request form. 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.

Students without a sufficient TOEFL score 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 recorded for later review and evaluation. 

The IPT is rated pass/fail based on a holistic rubric. If you pass the test, then you will be certified.

The IPT is administered three times per year, prior to the start of each semester: August, December, and 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.

Candidates who take and fail the IPT will need to retake it in a subsequent testing cycle. For example, if you take the IPT in August but do not pass, you will be permitted to retake it in December. IPT candidates receive detailed feedback on their score reports with suggestions for strengthening skills. The ELP permits candidates one attempt per cycle, and otherwise does not limit the number of times the IPT is taken.

Each summer, the ELP offers a training program sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences. Application for the program begins in the spring through your department or directly with the ELP.

In the fall semester, a graduate-level spoken English course (GAS 6000: English Language Skills for International Teaching Assistants) is offered. Enrollment in this course is by permit only and there are limited seats available. For more information, contact English Language Programs at elp@sas.upenn.edu.

The IPT is 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 elp@sas.upenn.edu with any questions.

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 IPT if you do not have a TOEFL or ACTFL score.