Panel to vote on minimum score for fluency test

By Suzanne Tomse

NIU’s Graduate Council will vote Monday on a recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Effective Classroom Instruction which will require foreign students to earn a minimum score of 200 on the Test of Spoken English before becoming teaching assistants.

“The major purpose of the TSE is to evaluate the spoken English proficiency of people whose native language is not English,” a Bulletin of Information for Test of English as a Foreign Language and TSE stated.

The advisory committee made its recommendation after listening to tapes of the test, Assistant Provost Lynne Waldeland said. She said the minimum score of 200 is out of a possible 300. However, some departments, such as English, might want to require a higher score, Waldeland said. Although departments have the option to raise the minimum score, they cannot go below it, she said.

In addition, Waldeland said NIU will become a test site for the TSE. “This will be more convenient. If foreign-born students come to NIU to study and decide they want to apply for a teaching assistant position, they can take the test here. It also will be good for us as well,” she said.

Director of Testing Services Norman Gilbert, who is making the arrangements for the university to become a test site, said NIU as a testing facility will give students a second chance to take the test if they failed it in their home countries. Illinois has three other TSE testing facilities.

The test is offered internationally, Waldeland said. She said this is helpful to the students and the university because tests scores can be obtained before a student comes to NIU.

When taking the seven-part, 30-minute exam, students are required to answer questions about themselves, read a printed page out loud and complete partial sentences. In addition, they must construct a story about a series of pictures, answer questions about a single picture, answer questions on general topics and give a short presentation as if they were speaking to a group of students, the bulletin stated.

The committee also will be reviewing reports of student complaints about English proficiency. Waldeland said the committee has received about three-fourths of the reports from university departments.

Waldeland said, “The information will be used to determine how widespread the problems are. If necessary, it could lead to the developmemt of more policies to handle student complaints or the expansion of clinical facilities to help teaching assistants.”