University of Maryland international teaching and graduate assistants can now fulfill English Language proficiency requirements by passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam, according to a Dec. 2023 graduate school policy revision that went into place this semester.

Previously, some international teaching and graduate assistants would be exempt from taking a Maryland English Institute English teaching exam based on their TOEFL or equivalent test scores. But students who weren’t exempted were required to complete the exam. If a student didn’t pass the MEI teaching exam, they had to enroll in an MEI English language support course.

The current system, a two-year pilot program, now allows students to submit their TOEFL scores to this university for English proficiency requirements. Those who meet or exceed the required threshold are eligible for teaching and graduate assistantship. Students whose scores fall below the TOEFL threshold are required to take English support courses without the need for additional testing, this university’s associate provost and graduate school dean Stephen Roth said.

The TOEFL has now been reinstated to the accepted list of standardized exams. Students can submit TOEFL, Pearson Test of English or International English Language Testing System scores to meet the graduate school’s English proficiency requirements.

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“It used to be that we simply sent people to MEI,” university president Darryll Pines told The Diamondback. “[TOEFL] appears to be now a good measure of the competency in English skills.”

Engineering graduate student Ankur Chavan emphasized the benefits of having an internationally-recognized standardized test that various universities use.

“One does not have to prepare for different exams,” Chavan, the Graduate Student Government operations director,said. “Giving standardized exams like TOEFL and IELTS reduces the burden on international students.”

There are still some common challenges international students face, particularly in the writingsection of the TOEFL and other English proficiency exams, Chavan said. Some of Chavan’s friends had to take another exam due to inadequate scores, he added.

Neha Madhekar, a robotics international graduate student and teaching assistant, described the TOEFL exam as “not difficult” and noted her strong performance in the reading, writing and listening sections. But Madhekar retook the speaking portion of the exam after circumstantial and technical difficulties, she said.

“During the speaking section, there were many people in the room and they were speaking simultaneously,” Madhekar said. “There can be some different technical difficulties like the mic is not working or my voice is not getting communicated properly.”

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The results of TOEFL scores allows students to determine if they will have to take additional English support classes, Roth said. The TOEFL scores are used as a threshold that automatically qualifies students for their teaching or graduate assistant positions, he said.

Some departments previously expressed concerns about being notified at the last minute on whether their teaching assistants would require additional English language support due to the MEI testing, Roth said. The new system allows for students and programs to be informed in advance about their placements as graduate and teaching assistants.

“Students and programs automatically know where these students would go, and so they can make decisions around teaching assistantships and know that those decisions will hold through the next academic year,” Roth said.

Roth noted that while the policy revision provides many benefits, it is still a pilot program that will verify the exam’s effectiveness over the coming years. The change ”absolutely” has the potential to be permanent, he said.