ITASA is an English proficiency test for prospective international teaching assistants (ITAs). It is aimed at the high-intermediate to advanced levels and assesses speaking, listening, interactional competence, and transactional competence through teaching-related tasks.
ITASA is intended for nonnative English speakers who must satisfy an English proficiency requirement before they can become ITAs. It certifies that the person has the required level of English proficiency to:
- Teach in a variety of academic settings (classroom, laboratory, seminar, tutorial)
- Hold office hours for the student population
- Interact with students about academic matters, in person or remotely
ITASA is a test of spoken English. It does not require in-depth knowledge of teaching or of the local university environment.
ITASA consists of four teaching-related tasks:
Task 1 Warm‐up (3 minutes) has two aims: to acquaint the candidate with the test format and to engage the candidate in a brief conversation with the evaluators about his/her background and educational interests. Candidates are encouraged to participate actively in the conversation and contribute to the development of topics by offering extended responses (rather than “yes” or “no”) and asking questions of the evaluators.
In Task 2 Lesson Presentation (5 minutes), the candidate teaches a lesson to the evaluators. Candidates decide in advance on a topic or concept that they want to explain to the evaluators. Candidates choose topics that would typically be included in an introductory level class or lab session in the department that the candidate would be working. A chalkboard or white board is available for use during the presentation. Handouts may be used; Power Point or computers may not.
During the lesson presentation, the evaluators ask a couple questions. These questions are similar to those that might be asked by undergraduates. During this task, candidates focus on promoting audience understanding of the topic being taught.
In Task 3 Office‐Hour Role Play (2–3 minutes), the candidate engages in a problem‐solving situation with one of the evaluators, who assumes the role of a student visiting the ITA during his/her office hour. The “student” seeks advice or guidance about problems related to administrative matters or personal academic problems; the “student” may also ask questions about the subject matter of the lesson.
In Task 4 Video Questions (3–4 minutes), the candidate responds directly to five stand‐alone, decontextualized videotaped questions from undergraduate students, which represent typical student concerns. The recording is paused after each question and candidates respond to the inquiry. There is no single, correct reply to any of the questions. Candidates are expected to provide a reply that makes sense as a response.
Sample Video of ITASA
A full-length sample video with commentary that illustrates all four tasks at the B level:
A transcript of the video commentary is available.
Rating and Reporting
Trained evaluators administer the test. The main evaluator leads the test; a student evaluator assists with Task 3 role play; and a faculty evaluator is optional. During the test, each evaluator writes comments based on the evaluation criteria. Each one rates the test taker in real time, using a holistic rating scale. Evaluators then discuss the linguistic strengths and weaknesses of the test taker to reach a final rating. Tasks are not rated separately; the final score reflects performance on the entire test. Scores are then reported on a 4-band scale, and diagnostic feedback is provided.
ITASA is designed to evaluate a candidate’s:
- Overall listening comprehension
- Clarity, intelligibility, and fluency of speech
- Comprehension of direct and implied meaning
- Use of strategies to promote interaction
- Active participation in conversations
- Sociolinguistic competence
- Ability to form thorough and appropriate responses
Institutions can use ITASA as an external benchmark for their own ITA assessments or to standardize ITA screening across various departments.
With decades of experience as a leader in assessment, CaMLA offers its clients standard setting services tailored to the client’s institution. As part of standard setting, CaMLA helps clients establish cut scores to determine which level of proficiency is required of their candidates, balancing the needs of the institution with the type of work in which the candidates would be involved.
ITASA at the University of Michigan
ITASA has been used at the University of Michigan under the name GSI OET (Graduate Student Instructor Oral English Test) since 1983. The assessment continually receives excellent reviews from faculty, ITAs, and administrators as an invaluable tool in gauging English language proficiency in a classroom setting.
What people are saying about ITASA
I have come to appreciate the vital role that ITASA plays at our institution … this exam has been an effective tool for ensuring that graduate student instructors have the proficiency in spoken English needed to be outstanding teachers. ITASA is based on extensive, ongoing research and supported by the time-tested experience of highly qualified staff. By measuring interactional skills in a wide variety of classroom settings, ITASA helps us ensure that our undergraduates receive the quality education that people have come to expect from the University of Michigan.
Terrance J. McDonald
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor
Professor of History
Director, Bentley Historical Library
University of Michigan
Nothing beats authentic assessment. In quite short order, after the four parts of the ITASA have been faithfully administered, you definitely understand the communication and teaching skills of your prospective graduate student instructor.
Brian P. Coppola
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry
Associate Chair for Educational Development & Practice Associate Director
University of Michigan/Peking University Joint Institute
Overall, I think that it is really important for international students to have this kind of test to pass—it not only verifies English language skills and provides useful feedback but also helps participant to feel competent enough to teach in a foreign language.
PhD candidate in the Department of History
University of Michigan
I particularly liked the first task, which was more like a casual, friendly chat. This makes it quite different from your typical rigid—often written—English tests. The other tasks don’t seem to be focused on the less critical parts either (say, grammar), but on what you’ll surely end up dealing with as a GSI student’s questions.
ITASA is sold in packages that provide tokens for online training (depending on the number of examiners your institution will use). Each package includes the following:
- 2 identical DVDs of Task 4 Video Questions
- 1 Test Support Documents CD
- 3 laminated, double-sided, Rating Scale/Evaluation Criteria cards
- 1 photocopiable Internal Test Report on card stock
- 1 photocopiable Final Test Report on card stock
- 3 spiral-bound flip books—Scripts for Evaluators, which contain a suggested script and Task 3 scenarios