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 | How to schedule your assessment | Understanding your language assessment results

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. 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.

Scheduling an assessment

For details on scheduling an assessment, including the calendar of upcoming assessment dates, please see How to schedule an assessment.

Understanding assessment results

To learn more about what your assessment rating means, and your eligibility to teach, please see, Understanding your assessment results.

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 (for more information on the accuracy of the assessment process, see the OPI reliability study). 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.

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