ASWB social work examination update
As we enter 2023, the Association of Social Work Boards wants to provide an update on our social work licensing examinations. Last year, we took the groundbreaking step of publishing the national, state, and school exam pass rate data to contribute to and lead engagement in profession-wide conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The data highlighted disparities in exam pass rates for different demographic groups. For Black test-takers and older test-takers, pass rates were particularly low. The discrepancies seen in the data are unacceptable. Recognizing that multiple factors impact a test-taker’s performance and need to be addressed, we remain committed to doing our part and working with other members of the social work community to address the societal inequities that are reflected in the pass rate differences.
We are actively exploring the causes of these gaps with educators and practitioners and are already taking action to better prepare all social workers for licensed practice while continuing to support our members—social work regulators—with their public protection mandate.
We welcome the chance to share our latest efforts with the profession. The initiatives outlined below build on our previously communicated pledge to include a more diverse set of voices in our exam development process and recent efforts to provide support and resources for educators and supervisors as they prepare licensing candidates.
ASWB is taking seriously the feedback we have received from the social work community and is committed to continue listening. ASWB has engaged HumRRO, an independent nonprofit research and consulting firm, to collaborate with community partners in facilitating inclusive and productive conversations about the social work licensing exams. This series of community conversations launched in January and will continue through May. The sessions are designed to gather information to be used as we develop exams for the future of social work. For anyone not able to participate in a session, we are also offering a self-paced online survey to gather additional feedback and ensure the largest possible number of voices can be heard.
We are also exploring additional or alternative assessments, in line with our strategic framework. As we reenvision competence assessment, we are looking at ways that candidates can demonstrate competence beyond the use of a multiple-choice examination format. We are carefully weighing the feasibility of numerous assessment options. Our primary concern is to ensure the validity and reliability of any assessment format we choose; however, we are also reviewing the impacts of changes on test-taker well-being and the potential for cost increases for test-takers. We anticipate that qualitative data gleaned from the community conversations will influence decision making.
In addition, we are continuously reviewing our exam administrative policies and procedures. We are considering, for example, the possibility of offering secure, remote proctoring of examinations. As each possibility is explored and measured, the goal of keeping the exam fair and accessible for all will remain at the forefront.
Finally, we will issue a call for proposals for third-party research in March. ASWB will provide data sets and limited funding for approved proposals through its research arm, the American Foundation for Research and Consumer Education in Social Work Regulation. ASWB has committed to investing in this important work. Areas that would benefit from research include exploring how the professional standard of competency is defined and measured and gaining a more complete understanding of pipeline variables that account for differences in pass rates.
While these important research initiatives are underway, ASWB is continually evaluating other ways of supporting test-takers that are appropriate to our work as stewards of a professional competency assessment program. In January, we began piloting a free test mastery program for test-takers who did not pass the social work licensing exams. We have engaged Fifth Theory, an independent 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 needed to pass important exams, like anxiety reduction and preparation strategies. ASWB will solicit feedback from users during this pilot phase of the initiative.
We look forward to more collective conversations and action in the future. Look for updates on aswb.org.