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To maintain high education standards for all students and faculty, Lehigh University complies with Pennsylvania's Act 76, the English Fluency Act of 1990. This legislation requires that universities assess all instructional faculty and certify that they are fluent in English. ICAPE staff offers TOPSS for teaching assistants at Lehigh University for this purpose. Pursuant to PA State mandate, ICAPE staff first pre-screen all teaching assistants at Lehigh in order to determine if further English language assessment is required.

ICAPE offers two tests to evaluate the English language skills of students, faculty and staff. 

TOPSS—Test of Pedagogical Speaking Skills—is a three-part test to evaluate the English proficiency of international graduate students interested in becoming teaching assistants.

The Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is a 30-minute interview (maximum) that serves as an alternative to TOPSS for some students, faculty, staff or new J-1 visa holders.

Learn more about these tests below.

To help students prepare, we offer FREE TOPSS workshops. Watch for the date of the next workshop series. Please register in advance

TOPSS Workshops

TOPSS Overview

Friday, November 22nd, 8:30 am-9:30 am  (Maginnes Hall - MG 111)

Recommended for students who have not taken the TOPSS exam before.  Learn about the background of the TOPSS exam and resources available to help you do as well as possible. 

TOPSS Presentation Skills Workshop  

Friday, November 22nd, 9:45 am-11:15 am  (Maginnes Hall - MG 111)

Learn how to make a successful presentation in an academic setting, including preparation, organization, audience interaction, non-verbal communication, visuals and clear speech.  

Articulately Making an Announcement  

Friday, November 22nd, 11:30 am-12:30 am  (Maginnes Hall - MG 111)

This workshop will prepare graduate students who are ITA candidates for Part I of the TOPSS: Make an Announcement.  Students will learn how to make a clear announcement and how to transition smoothly to Part II of the TOPSS: Guided practice with feedback will be offered. 


TOPSS Testing

TOPSS—Test of Pedagogical Speaking Skills—assesses the speaking proficiency of Teaching Assistants (TAs) in a broad range of instructional contexts at Lehigh University. Testing is coordinated between your department and ICAPE staff. The scores of this assessment can only be used for TA placements at Lehigh University and are not transferrable to other institutions. 

TOPSS is scored on a scale of 1 to 4. To assume a full range of TA duties, you will need to receive a score of at least 3.5. If you score below a 3.5, you must meet additional English language requirements and retake the test before working as a TA. These requirements do not negate or replace the English language requirements in your graduate acceptance letter. If you do not plan to begin TA duties immediately, you can wait to complete the requirements.

Learn more about the test, who needs to take it and how to register below.

If you have questions, please email

Section 1

Who Needs to Take the TOPSS

Pennsylvania Act 76 states that all instructional faculty, other than visiting faculty, who are teaching one or more credit-bearing courses must be assessed and certified for English language fluency. Pursuant to State mandate, such instructional faculty include teaching assistants, faculty lecturers, instructional staff, professors of practice, and tenure/tenure-track professors.

If you assume teaching duties without first being cleared through pre-screening and/or taking and passing the TOPSS, your department runs the risk of a significant $10,000 fine levied by the State of Pennsylvania for each course section that you teach.

Teaching Assistants

Regardless of linguistic and cultural background, ICAPE assesses all new teaching assistants who will be communicating with students in a broad range of instructional contexts: lecture courses, seminar courses, recitation sessions, clinics, lab classes, individualized independent study courses, emailing students with instructions and feedback, grading student work and engaging in office hours and tutoring with students. In accordance with PA State mandate, we do not require testing for courses taught primarily in languages other than English (e.g., an intermediate to advanced level language class taught primarily in Chinese), but we DO require testing for laboratories, seminar classes, office hour consultations, grading sessions, etc. In the case of tutors at Lehigh University (e.g. the Writing Center, the Learning Center, etc.), the language assessment is recommended but not required.

Pre-screening Assessment: Initial pre-screening holistically weighs several factors for all TA candidates, including previous English language education, years successfully completed in higher education in an English-dominant context, standardized English language test scores,  professional peer-reviewed publications and presentations in English in a specific academic discipline, and Lehigh department interviews for admissions.

After this pre-screening, your department will be notified as to which students are required to take the TOPSS, which students qualify for an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), or which students require no further testing. If you feel you have been required to take the TOPSS in error, please speak to your department. Your department can contact

Other Instructional Faculty

In the case of new faculty lecturers, instructional staff, professors of practice, and tenure/tenure-track professors of credit courses, one or more of the following can suffice as language assessment: department job interview, job talk, and/or review of scholarly publications/presentations in English. Departments should notify Dr. Ouellette via email with confirmation of English language fluency on the part of new faculty. ICAPE staff members are also available to participate in, or help prepare for, a job interview, job talk, or review of job application materials, offering feedback and advice on English language proficiency.

Section 2

Structure of the TOPSS

The TOPSS has three parts to assess different aspects of teaching.

Part I: Extemporaneous Speaking: Make an Informative Announcement. You will get a paper with a schedule for an event. On the piece of paper are some changes. In three to four minutes, you must inform the audience of the announcement, emphasizing the changes. You must then make an appropriate connection to Part II.

Part II: Planned Speaking: Presentation on an Academic Topic. You will prepare an oral presentation on a topic relevant to your discipline with a PowerPoint or other visual such as a handout or board work for an audience. Some interrupting questions from audience possible. A department representative will choose the topic and notify you in writing at least 48 hours before the test.

Part III: Impromptu Speaking: Responding to Audience Questions. After your presentation, audience members will ask questions about the topic.

Section 3

TOPSS Scoring

All three parts of the presentation will be reviewed by two ICAPE staff members and one or more faculty members from your department. After finishing the TOPSS presentation, you will be excused from the room, and each rater will independently assign scores using the evaluation rubric. After each assigns a score, one ICAPE professional and the department faculty will discuss your performance with recommendations. The other ICAPE rater will independently write his or her recommendations.

Your final score for all three parts of your presentation will be an average of all raters’ scores and will determine if you need English courses. Your results will be emailed to you within five business days after you take your TOPSS.

To retain your TA status, you must successfully complete the English coursework and any other requirements during the semester immediately following the TOPSS to remain in compliance with Act 76. You can delay these conditions only if you do not plan to assume TA responsibilities in that immediate semester.

TOPSS Evaluation Rubric

Each rater will assign one holistic score (1-4) for all three parts of the TOPSS that reflects your English language performance across the following criteria:

  • Oral Delivery: Appropriate rate of speech with few distracting pauses or “ums” or incomplete sentences.
  • Pronunciation: Understandable pronunciation of key words. Pronunciation did not significantly affect comprehension.
  • Grammar: Understanding of points and details or examples. Grammar errors, if any, were minor because they did not significantly affect comprehension.
  • Vocabulary: Use of correct general vocabulary words to express meaning. Use of discipline-specific vocabulary was accurate and clearly defined.
  • Organization: The overall organization of the presentation was clear. Use of transitions was clear.
  • Logical Flow: The logical flow from one idea to the next was easy to understand.
  • Response to Questions: The ITA adequately and appropriately responded to audience questions.
  • Teaching Standards: The ITA met department’s standards and expectations for effective teaching of disciplinary content. (Assessed by Department representative only)
English Language Requirements
Score Decision Next Steps
<3.0 You must enroll in and successfully pass the following: ESLP 012 and ESLP 003 before assuming any TA responsibilities.

You will have a final micro-teaching presentation as a final assessment for your required ESLP 012 language coursework as part of your grade.(You must receive a final grade of B or 83% in order to pass your ESLP courses and to assume the full range of TA responsibilities.


If you do not complete the required language coursework, you must retake the TOPSS in order to assume TA duties. You will be required to pay the $120 fee.

3.0-3.49 You can assume some TA duties (only grading, office hours, emailing students) while completing English language coursework, but you cannot teach a class independently. In order to continue in these limited TA duties and to assume additional full TA duties, you must pass ESLP 012 or complete 12 tutoring appointments in the ELLA Lab, depending on individual need as determined by the results of the TOPSS.

You will have a final micro-teaching presentation as a final assessment for your required ESLP 012 language coursework as part of your grade.


You will retake the TOPSS after completion of tutoring.


If you do not complete the required language coursework or tutoring, you must retake the TOPSS in order to assume TA duties. You will be required to pay the $120 fee.

3.5-4.0 You can assume full range of TA duties, including independent teaching of a class, grading, office house, emailing students, etc. None.
Score Disputes

If you think your score is wrong, discuss your concerns with your academic advisor or department representative. If they feel that your score is an inaccurate representation of your English abilities, that person should contact Final test scores may be reviewed if one of the following is suspected:

  • The person in the audio recording is not the person who received the score.
  • There was a significant discrepancy between the paired raters' scores.
  • Standard testing procedures were not followed.

In these cases, the Assistant Director will check the assessment records and the video recording to ensure the accuracy of scores and procedures may may issue an additional rating. If there was a mistake, you may be eligible to take the test again. If there was no mistake and you want to take the test again, you must pay a test administration fee of $120.

Section 4

Registering for TOPSS

Your department will register you for a TOPSS testing session. We typically offer testing before the start of the semester in August and January, at the end of the semester in December and May, and in June and July. Some departments may request that you register yourself.

Register for TOPSS

The first time you take the TOPSS, it is free, as long as it is within ICAPE scheduled TOPSS sessions and as long as your department approves. The TOPSS is also free as your final exam in ESLP 012, ESLP 003, and required tutoring. If you do not take English coursework and must retake the TOPSS, the cost is $120 per scheduled session. If you cannot take the TOPSS during one of the ICAPE scheduled testing sessions, you must pay $120.

Cancellation Policy

If the university delays opening or closes due to weather during your scheduled TOPSS exam, we will reschedule as soon as possible at no charge. Please contact our staff at for assistance. If you have to cancel your scheduled TOPSS exam with at least 48 hours notice, we will try to reschedule. However, if we cannot reschedule you in another session, you may have to pay the $120 fee to test outside the schedule. If you cancel with less than 48 hours notice, you must pay the $120 administrative fee to reschedule.

Section 5

Preparing for the Test

We recommend several things in order to prepare and do well on the TOPSS:

  • Review the TOPSS material on this page
  • Register and attend one or more free TOPSS workshops
  • Talk to your academic advisor or department representative
  • Organize your presentation with an introduction (with a main point), step-by-step individual points with examples and using transition phrases, and a final conclusion. Take brief notes on index cards. Don’t write out the whole presentation in full sentences.
  • Prepare your visual in a neatly organized, professional, and grammatically correct manner. Have someone check your visual and give you feedback on it.
  • Practice for the TOPSS in front of friends and colleagues—tell them to ask you questions during and after your presentation
  • Don’t memorize your presentation
  • Get a good night’s sleep and have a healthy breakfast or lunch
  • Arrive early to the test site and spend some time setting up and mentally preparing
  • Don't forget to bring a photo ID to your test session!

Section 6

Video Recording

The TOPSS is video-recorded. The recordings are used only to train test raters, to use as a teaching tool with the TA, and to review when there is a test score dispute. Only test raters, test administrators, and the TA can view the recording, which will be securely stored and then deleted after three years. If you would like to view your recording, email to set up a time to bring your USB to the ICAPE office (Maginnes 246). If you do not want to be recorded, you may choose to audio-only recording or no recording if you notify the test administrator in advance of the test date.

Section 7

Retaking the TOPSS

You must wait eight weeks before retaking the TOPSS. You can take the test up to three times. You are limited to two semesters of English language coursework (ESLP 012, ESLP 003, and/or tutoring) to prepare for the test.

If you did not pass the TOPSS and you choose to re-take the TOPSS without first completing the required coursework/tutoring, there is a $120 fee.

Learn About the TOPSS Test

TOPSS Test Part I

TOPSS Test Part I

TOPSS Test Part II

TOPSS Test Part II

TOPSS Test Part II

TOPSS Test Part II

Oral Proficiency Interview

The Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is a maximum 30-minute interview with one ICAPE rater that assesses your English language proficiency during formal and informal academic conversations. The OPI can be used to assess qualifying international teaching assistants as an alternative to the TOPSS as well as non-native English-speaking faculty or staff, and new J-1 visa holders. The OPI is free for all Lehigh University faculty, staff and students.

During the interview, the rater will ask you several questions that gradually increase in complexity, starting with questions about your hobbies and interests, to your past experiences, to your future goals, and ending with abstract concepts in your field of study. You should try to speak clearly and concisely and talk as much as you need to in order to make yourself understood. You will be evaluated on a score of 1-4 based on the following criteria:

  • Can your general ideas and points be understood by the OPI Rater without too much guessing or negotiation?
  • Can specific words be understood by the OPI Rater without too much guessing or negotiation?
  • To what extent are you able to effectively restate and clarify meaning to make words and ideas clearly understood?
  • To what extent are your statements appropriate in terms of formality, politeness, and listener awareness to suit the context of the conversation?
  • To what extent do your statements represent a “fluent” stream of speech (i.e., lack of awkwardness, lack of halting or choppy speech, etc.)?

If you are deemed eligible for an OPI, either ICAPE or your department will contact you to arrange an appointment. Don't forget to bring a photo ID to your test session!