What is TELPAS? - Definition & Resources

Instructor: Frank Clint

Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.

TELPAS stands for Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System. Let's explore the performance-based holistically rated exam used every spring to assess English language proficiency of English language learners.

Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS)

Nora looks back at her almost 20-year career as an educator and can't remember a time without the TELPAS. Texas started giving English language proficiency tests in reading to students in grades K-12 in 1999. Holistically rated exams have been used since 2003-2004. Holistic rating is used to grade work as a whole based on overall quality. TELPAS is the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System. It is an assessment for English language learners (ELLs) to test language proficiency of K-12 ELLs in four language domains. The domains tested are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These K-12 assessments are federally mandated to assess the progress that students make in proficiency toward the use of academic English.

Proficiency Level Descriptors (PLDs)

Proficiency level descriptors are the rubrics, or scoring criteria, Nora uses to holistically rate students on English language proficiency. In 2007-2008, they were incorporated into the state curriculum called the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS) for teachers to use in the classroom to reinforce their use as formative tools during instruction. Students are rated at four stages. The four proficiency levels are beginning, intermediate, advanced, and advanced high. There are six sets of descriptors among the four domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The reason for this is because reading and writing have different sets of descriptors for grades K-1 and 2-12 due to the different format of data collection. Aside from those nuances, all six sets share the same basic key features:

  • Beginning - Little or no English ability
  • Intermediate - Limited ability, simple language, high-frequency vocabulary, routine contexts
  • Advanced - Grade appropriate, with second language acquisition support
  • Advanced High - Grade appropriate, with minimal second language acquisition support

TELPAS Speaking PLD from

TELPAS Domains

After winter break, Nora prepares herself for TELPAS in the domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. ELL students are rated using PLDs differently for K-1 and 2-12. Speaking and listening are rated the same way K-12.


Assessments for K-1 use classroom observations and interactions with students to rate listening, speaking, reading, and writing holistically. Reading summative assessments are given in the spring when teachers, who receive training through the school district as raters, engage students in performance-based reading activities to measure English language proficiency.

Nora eventually became a TELPAS trainer for her district. Each year she trains teachers on examples of performance-based activities recommended by the state of Texas. Some of her favorites are paired reading, sing-alongs and read-alongs, chants and poems, shared reading with big books, charts, overhead transparencies and other displays, guided reading with leveled readers, reading subject-area texts and related materials, independent reading, cooperative group work, and reading-response journals.

Reading assessment for grades 2-12 are different. They use multiple-choice reading tests. Students take a computer-based test that measures what they can and cannot read to rate their proficiency in the English language. Math and science contexts are measured specifically. Students start the test with questions and passages at a lower proficiency level. As a student moves through the test, proficiency levels are varied. A mix of more challenging reading passages are presented with less challenging texts.


Similar to K-1 reading assessments, K-1 writing assessments are performance-based activities that are rated by trained teachers in the spring as a summative activity. Students in this grade band will show emergent forms of writing. Nora trains teachers to holistically rate observations of student writing from the following state recommended activities. These activities include journal writing for personal reflections, shared writing for literacy and content area development, language experience dictation, organization of thoughts and ideas through prewriting strategies, publishing and presenting, making lists for specific purposes, labeling pictures, objects, and items from projects, cooperative group work, and first drafts.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account