Language Assessments

The language assessment process helps ensure that all international students who speak English as an additional language and are appointed to teaching assistantships meet the expectations for oral English proficiency in an academic environment set by the Office of the Provost so that they can move on rapidly to the focus of their teaching and studies at Cornell.

Below you will find a description of the language assessment process. For specific information about language assessments for students or program administrators please follow these links:

Information for students | Information for DGSs & GFAs

About the language assessment

The Office of the Provost requires all first-time teaching assistants from a country where English is not the first language to demonstrate a minimum level of oral proficiency via a language assessment. Language assessments are conducted four times per year, in August, December, January, and May. Students who have earned a TOEFL iBT speaking score of 28 or higher or an IELTS speaking score of 8.5 or higher can be exempt from this requirement.

Oral Proficiency Interview

The language assessment is a modified version of the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), a reliable, peer-reviewed method for evaluating true linguistic abilities. It is conducted by a professional team that works hard to ensure fair, accurate assessment. A strong majority of students who participate in the language assessment process achieve the expected level of oral proficiency required by the Office of the Provost and move on directly to their TA appointments.

ITAP staff are professionally trained in language assessment. Staff engage in blind scoring exercises and review to maintain high-quality language proficiency assessments. This ongoing training and review allows ITAP to maintain high inter‐rater reliability rates among assessors to ensure equitable and impartial assessment ratings. In the assessment process, one staff member conducts the interview and a second rates it. If the second staff member has questions about the student sample, a third staff member will review the sample.

The American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has 5 levels of proficiency: novice, intermediate, advanced, superior, and distinguished. The lower levels each have 3 sub-levels: low, mid, and high. For more information on the levels and criteria for each one, please see the ACTFL proficiency guidelines.

  • Students who achieve an assessment score of Advanced Low or above (some departments require Advanced Mid) may move on directly to their TA appointments without enrolling in an ITAP course. Most students achieve this level.
  • Students who achieve an assessment score of Intermediate High may teach as a TA while enrolled in the ALS 5780 or ALS 5790 course at the same time.
  • Students who score Intermediate Mid or below need to successfully complete ALS 5780 and be reassessed at the end of the course before serving as a teaching assistant. In some cases, students may need to take ALS 5780 more than once before achieving the needed proficiency level to teach as a TA. If that is the case they have the option of retaking ALS 5780 or taking ALS 5790, a follow-up course to ALS 5780.

How to Schedule an Assessment

Graduate Field Assistants (GFAs) communicate with students about when and how to schedule a language assessment. Language assessments are scheduled each academic year in August, December, January, and May. See the table below for the current schedule.

If you have questions about dates, please email the ITAP team.

It is recommended that students be assessed upon arrival and/or during their first semester at Cornell to determine their eligibility to teach as a TA. Assessments take approximately 30 minutes.

Assessment Schedule




For ITAs with Duties Beginning



8, 9, 10, 13

Spring 2023




Spring 2023

2022 May 12-13 Fall 2023

Time: Assessments take approximately 30 minutes and may be scheduled on the half hour (e.g., 10, 10:30).


Graduate Field Assistants (GFAs) communicate with their ITAs about when and how to schedule an assessment appointment.

Prior to the appointment, students should review the information for students and fill out the application form to provide information about themselves to ITAP staff to help facilitate the assessment process.

Please contact the ITAP team with any questions about language assessments.