A continuing commitment to listening, learning, and supporting: Exam program updates

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Last year, ASWB took the groundbreaking step of publishing pass rate data for the social work licensing exams to contribute to and lead engagement in profession-wide conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

At that time, we also pledged to include a more diverse set of voices in our exam development process and provide more support and resources for educators and supervisors as they prepare licensure candidates. We are committed to listening to and learning from the social work community.

Exam education webinar series

exam education webinar series logoWe’ve heard from candidates, as well as many in the social work profession, that they’d like to better understand how the exams are developed. As a result, we developed our exam education webinar series to provide education on the measurement of social work competence. The first webinar in the series was held in December 2022 and shared information on ASWB’s suite of exam resources for educators with 445 attendees.

In February, we continued the series by hosting expert presenters for The art and science of exam development: Exploring best practices for building reliable, valid, and fair exams, a live webinar on the statistical measurements used to guard against bias in exam questions. The 264 attendees heard from Nnamdi Ezike, Ph.D., and Jennifer Klafehn, Ph.D., of HumRRO, as well as academics Stephen Stark, Ph.D., and Sang Eun Woo, Ph.D., who shared their expertise on psychometric measurement techniques. Many attendees had further questions on DIF (differential item functioning) and DTF (differential test functioning). In response, ASWB and the panelists developed a Q&A on DIF and DTF.

Collecting qualitative data

image of speech balloonsIn addition to the webinar series, ASWB is undertaking other initiatives to collect formal qualitative data from members of the social work community about their experiences with licensing and taking the exams.

In line with our strategic framework, we are exploring potential alternative assessment options. We are evaluating new ways for candidates to demonstrate competence beyond the use of a multiple-choice examination, carefully weighing the feasibility and fairness of various assessment options. Our primary concern is ensuring the validity and reliability of any assessment format, but we are also reviewing the impacts that changes could have on the test-taker experience.

We have engaged HumRRO, an independent nonprofit research and consulting firm, to gather qualitative data by facilitating a series of community conversations. The sessions are small group discussions, held virtually, in person, and through a self-paced online survey for social workers in the United States and Canada. The community conversations launched in January and will continue to run through May. To date, more than 120 participants have already shared their experiences. The data gathered will be reported alongside the August 2023 publication of pass rate data and used as we evaluate alternative assessment options and potential modifications to exam delivery.

Testing experience enhancements and test-taker support

Illustration of a lightbulbEven as we conduct these conversations, ASWB is already exploring and implementing several testing experience enhancements. These include the January launch of three-option multiple-choice questions, following psychometric expertise confirming the validity of that format. The change is expected to improve the test-taking experience by reducing time pressure. Test center changes include allowing access to food during testing and the end of a requirement to seal electronics in a tamper-proof bag. A recent adjustment to administrative practices is the simplification of the procedure for requesting and receiving an excused absence. Finally, we are evaluating the possibility of offering secure, remote proctoring of examinations as a way to increase accessibility.

Fifth Theory logoAnother initiative is aimed at supporting test-takers who have been unsuccessful on the social work licensing exams. We have engaged Fifth Theory, an independent, minority-owned firm with expertise in helping individuals understand and develop the test mastery mindset required to succeed on high-stakes exams. Rather than teaching specific exam content, Fifth Theory provides tools that strengthen general skills — such as anxiety reduction and preparation strategies — needed to pass important exams. ASWB is also piloting a test mastery program, available at no cost to unsuccessful candidates.

ASWB continues to invest in supporting candidates on their journeys toward earning a social work license and will continue updating its examinations in accordance with industry standards for reliability, validity, and fairness. Please visit Exams for the Future of Social Work for more information.