ASWB exam initiatives for 2022 and beyond

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ASWB’s new strategic framework positions the social work licensing examination program as a central focus, directing the association to expand understanding and acceptance of the necessity for assessing social work competencies through valid and reliable competence measures.

The framework articulates commitments to engage with stakeholders, to educate and increase understanding of the licensing examinations, and to explore the creation of an additional assessment for those candidates who are unsuccessful on the licensing exam.

The association’s effort to increase engagement around the examination program is closely related to ASWB’s commitment to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in both regulation and the profession as a whole. The ASWB Board of Directors and staff recognize that no one operates in isolation and that this concept is true at the systems level when it comes to the social work profession. Educational programs, regulatory frameworks, and society interact. ASWB’s DEI work challenges the association to explore ways the organization can contribute and, when appropriate, lead while continuing to listen and learn.

ASWB is undertaking several important initiatives to fulfill the competency measurement goals of the strategic framework, initiatives that challenge all members of the social work community to explore the contributions they can make toward diversity, equity, and inclusion. CEO Dwight Hymans and Senior Director of Examination Services Lavina Harless are leading all initiatives.

Listening to and learning from diverse perspectives: Exams for the future of social work

Action on ASWB’s commitment to listen to and learn from the entire social work community has already begun. ASWB is reenvisioning the next practice analysis and asking for input from the largest possible range of social workers. Staff are collaborating with the social work community to bring more perspectives, including those of individuals representing diverse racial, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds, into the exam development process. ASWB is expanding its research-driven process to update the licensing exams to continue to build on current practices through these initiatives.

Social Work Workforce Coalition

A group of leading social work organizations from the United States and Canada that will:

  • Expand the diversity of voices contributing to the development of the practice analysis and the examinations
  • Identify participants and questions for community input sessions, to be held in early 2022, to ensure a variety of perspectives are heard

Coalition member organizations

  • National Association of Social Workers
  • Canadian Association of Social Workers
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • Canadian Association for Social Work Education
  • National Association of Deans and Directors
  • National Association of Black Social Workers
  • Latino Social Workers Organization
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators
  • Association of Social Work Boards


Social Work Workforce Coalition logoThe first meeting of the Social Work Workforce Coalition will be held in the spring  of 2022, in Washington, D.C. Activities on the agenda include reviewing current content outlines, reviewing demographic questions to be asked on the Social Work Census, and planning for the community input sessions that will begin early in the year.

“The meeting represents an exciting first step in a multiyear process that will require participation, involvement, and engagement from every part of the profession to comprehensively address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in social work,” Harless said.

Community input sessions

Focus groups that will expand the diversity of voices involved in the exam development process by:

  • Providing perspectives from a diverse range of stakeholders
  • Offering feedback that will inform the development of the Social Work Census
  • Presenting viewpoints about professional licensing and the role of an exam


Social Work Census

The largest survey of social work practitioners ever undertaken that will provide insight to:

  • Gather demographic data to define who today’s social workers are and what they do
  • Inform educators, professional organizations, and other stakeholders about the day-to-day activities of the social work profession
  • Shape the content of the licensing exams


Examination performance data

On November 9, ASWB’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion to gather, analyze, and release examination performance data by certain demographic variables. The motion directs ASWB staff and consultants to develop a plan to implement this important information-sharing initiative.

Investing in this review of test-taker–reported data breaks new ground and contributes to the profession’s larger discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
— Lavina Harless, senior director of examination services

ASWB anticipates that the new analysis will include performance data broken down by demographic group for sharing with member jurisdictions as well as schools of social work. In this process, staff are working with independent psychometric consultants. While ASWB is moving forward as quickly as possible, the organization is committed to ensuring accurate reporting.

“Investing in this review of test-taker-reported data breaks new ground and contributes to the profession’s larger discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Harless said. “We look forward to taking this new step in the association’s commitment to participating in conversations around data and social work values.”

Examination resources for educators

ASWB is looking at how well candidates are prepared to demonstrate their competence on a multiple-choice examination. Because social work education programs play a major role, ASWB is developing and enhancing resources for educators. The resources outlined below are designed to help educators better understand the examinations and in turn share their understanding with students. The suite of free resources, to be released in August 2022, takes a comprehensive approach, reduces financial barriers, and offers educators more opportunities for direct engagement with ASWB.

Data release to schools

ASWB is expanding on its commitment to social work education programs by helping educators better understand how their graduates are performing on the ASWB licensing examinations. The association has offered aggregate pass/fail data to schools of social work for a fee for several years. The 2020 reports, released in May 2021, were made available for free to accredited programs. Future plans around data include:

  • Pass rate data for demographic subgroups (2022)
  • Aggregated subscore data related to performance on the major content area of the examinations (August 2022)

New exam materials

Free exam materials will provide educators with insight they can use to prepare their students to demonstrate competence on the licensing exams.

The current ASWB Guide to the Social Work Exams is being reworked and combined with the Exam Candidate Handbook to provide a more streamlined source of exam information. The new publication will help test-takers register for and take the exam and create a study plan that works for them. It will include updated sample questions retired from the exams and a refined list of core references for each content area created with the help of a volunteer advisory panel of social work educators.

Enhanced Group Review Practice Test

The Group Review Practice Test is made up of retired exam questions and includes rationales for correct answers. It is available to social work educators for classroom and online use. ASWB is expanding the guide that educators receive when they access the Group Review Practice Test. The enhanced supplemental material will serve as a course guide to help educators use the Group Review Practice Test with students.

Educator training

ASWB item development consultants will create and lead online training for educators in accredited schools of social work to teach skills in writing multiple-choice questions according to ASWB standards.

Additional assessment

ASWB is committed to exploring additional assessment methods that meet the association’s high standards of validity and reliability in assessing the competence of candidates who are unsuccessful on the current ASWB examinations. Explorations into possible options are just beginning as part of the new strategic framework.

Investigating this new pathway includes offering recommendations around examination retakes. “Psychometric data and other research show that regulatory boards and candidates are not well served by policies that allow for unlimited retakes,” Harless noted. “We believe that an additional assessment would help to address this issue.”

Exam administration enhancements

ASWB has begun to reassess and enhance some of its examination administration practices in ways that improve access and responsiveness while maintaining ASWB’s to exam validity and security. Areas that have already changed include:

  • New race and gender categories on the exam registration form
  • Improved access to lactation arrangements
  • Addition of job jeopardy as a reason for granting a 90-day waiver