English as a Second Language

ESL Testing

Academic Readiness

When an international student who has a lower score of 550 on the TOEFL*, and is incapable of retaking the TOEFL before the semester starts, the ESL coordinator will give a battery of tests in reading, speaking, listening, and writing to determine the student's readiness for academic work. These tests are only given when a department at Rensselaer requests them.

*TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is not given at Rensselaer. The ESL, Undergraduate, and Graduate Admissions offices have TOEFL application forms.


New Teaching Assistants whose first language is not English must take the SPEAK (Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit) test to evaluate his/her oral proficiency. The SPEAK test is approximately 20 minutes long and consists of tape and booklet speaking, only. There are seven sections on the test that consist of:

answering brief questions
reading a paragraph aloud
completing partial sentences
telling a story from a series of pictures
answering questions based on a single picture
describing certain objects and giving opinions
explain a schedule or notice

SPEAK examinee handbooks that include sample questions are available from the Advising and Learning Assistance Office and can be studied before taking the test. Two trained evaluators then rate the student based on their pronunciation, grammar, fluency and overall comprehensibility. The test is scored on a scale of 0-300 and results are sent to the student, department chairs and graduate student coordinators. Shown below is a flow chart describing the process and particular outcomes of test scores.

Score below 170

No formal contact
w/ students
Must take
Oral Comm. for TA's
Must take
Micro-teaching grader

Score 180-220

Student must
take a

Score above 230

Fully approved, full contact
w/ students, lab, recitation,
discussion leaders


No formal contact
w/ students
Must also take
Oral Comm. for TA's
Redo Micro-teaching grader

Marginally Satisfactory

Limited contact
w/ students
Must enroll in
Oral Comm. for TA's
Re-take micro-teaching

Partially Satisfactory

Full contact
w/ students
Must also enroll in
Oral Comm. for TA's
Retake Micro-teaching

Fully Satisfactory

Fully approved
Full contact
w/ students,
lab, recitation

Micro-teaching sessions

Micro-teaching sessions are given to assess the new TA's English and teaching skills in order to determine the level of contact the TA should have with undergraduates. Presentations are evaluated based on the speaker's:

Eye Contact
Clarity of explanations
Examples and details
Asking and answering questions

English Proficiency Recommendations

The ESL office will write English evaluations for students who have enrolled in and successfully completed an ESL class with the ESL coordinator. The coordinator will only evaluate or comment on the particular English skills taught in class, and/or has sufficient data and knowledge of the student's competence. For instance, if a student took Listening and Speaking English, the coordinator would be able to comment on the student's oral/aural skills.

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