Beyond data: A call to action

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Message from the CEO and Board of Directors

Photograph of Stacey Hardy-Chandler
ASWB CEO Stacey Hardy-Chandler, Ph.D., J.D., LCSW

The Association of Social Work Boards acknowledges and calls out systemic and institutional racism, specifically anti-Blackism, as being core to the racial disparities evidenced by the recently released licensing exam pass rate data. While other pass rate disparities exist, the most jarring and disappointing gap is in the rates reported for Black candidates. ASWB stands firm that this revelation does not in any way reflect on the ability of Black candidates to demonstrate competence. Rather it illuminates the historical burdens of racial trauma, marginalization, and social injustice to which Black candidates have been disproportionately subjected along their journey to licensure.

In November 2021, the ASWB Board of Directors, representing regulatory bodies across the United States and Canada, made the unanimous and groundbreaking decision to invest in the compilation and reporting of disaggregated pass rate data. The Board of Directors acted knowing that they were venturing into territory unprecedented in the health and human services professions and that, given the oppressive histories of our two countries, disparities would most certainly be reflected in the results. Undeterred, the Board held to the belief that this level of sharing was grounded in a clear commitment to foundational social work values, and we did so intending to make these data accessible as a baseline for advocacy and as a barometer for progress.

Accountability in antiracism and equity requires disaggregated data—no matter what it shows—as a necessary first step toward identifying the current realities and allowing for an intentional emphasis on measuring progress. Although demographic self-disclosures by candidates are voluntary and not independently verified, ASWB took affirmative steps to make pass rate data reports public because this decision serves a greater good. Releasing the data provides a pivotal opportunity for the profession to advance upstream solutions that may mitigate the ravages of systemic and institutional racism—starting with those poised to enter the social work profession.

As a profession, and as members of the community, it is dangerous to draw conclusions based on limited information, misinformation, or disinformation. Unfortunately, in some spheres, firm conclusions have been drawn beyond the limits of interpretation for descriptive information and in the absence of knowledge and understanding of the rigorous exam development protocols that ASWB meets and exceeds. On behalf of ASWB and its Board of Directors, stated in no uncertain terms: We are in the pursuit of fairness for the long haul and will continue to regularly publish disaggregated pass rate data because this information needs to be in the light, not in the shadows.

Simultaneous with the data release, ASWB issued a profession-wide invitation for meaningful, solution-focused collaboration and partnership. Individual segments of the profession must join together and ASWB calls for all relevant communities to collaborate toward meaningful change. Diverse opinions and perspectives will always be welcomed; however, ASWB absolutely denounces all actions that target, threaten, or disrespect anyone, including our colleagues and members.

We are in the pursuit of fairness for the long haul and will continue to regularly publish disaggregated pass rate data because this information needs to be in the light, not in the shadows.

A call to schools

Shining a light on disparities reveals that many more questions need to be asked through future research. And work with schools of social work is needed to increase access to and use of exam preparation opportunities. The data show that although everyone takes the exact same exam for their education level, disparities are not universal. A closer look at school results shows that there are some programs where graduates perform the same across demographic categories. Continued analyses must be undertaken to better understand the factors that support candidate success and those that pose unjustified barriers.

ASWB is grateful to those who have reached out to us to share their preparation stories. Anecdotal accounts from former students of color have ranged from: those never having any discussion of licensure or what it entails until after graduating from school, to those having been told about licensure from day one, at new student orientation and throughout their programs. From those who were given misinformation and even disinformation about what is needed to pass the exam, to those who felt their preparation was directly enhanced by faculty of color who mentored them.

ASWB is committed to looking behind the numbers and taking a deeper dive into the questions raised by the data. This exploration will help the profession better understand the factors affecting success in demonstrating competency. The association shared descriptive data, knowing that it was only a first step. There is now an opportunity to learn more, and we plan to lead those efforts in collaboration with social work researchers and educators similarly committed to informed, substantive change.

A call to the profession

The value of high-quality, equity-informed supervision, a cornerstone of social work, might prove to be a key factor in promoting positive change, at least as it pertains to the Clinical examination.

There may be newfound opportunities to bolster the important and impactful relationship between a candidate and supervisor. ASWB invites supervisors, supervisees, field instructors, and interns to explore what does and does not work in a candidate’s journey along the path to licensure.

Looking upstream offers potential insights as well as potential opportunities for impact. Peoples’ stories—individually and collectively—start long before they meet with a social worker. And professionals know that those histories are crucial to the helping process. The same holds true for licensure. Ignoring or minimizing candidates’ disparate experiences in the months, years, and even generations leading up to the exam conflicts with basic tenets of social work. ASWB contends that failing to honor peoples’ histories and experiences prior to exam candidacy not only does a disservice to the profession, but it also dishonors the candidates themselves.

Accounting, engineering, medicine, nursing, teaching, social work, and other fields all have established standards of practice used to assess those seeking to enter the profession. However, historically female-dominated professions tend to be the most vulnerable to having their legitimacy as a true profession questioned and their standards diminished. ASWB is vigilant about factors that affect the practice of social work as a genuine profession, and as such, believes licensure serves the public good, for both consumers of services as well as licensees. As mandated guardians of the public trust, member regulatory boards across the United States and Canada are keenly attuned to consequences impacting the status of the profession and that potentially affect their mandate to protect and to be accountable to the public.

ASWB is committed to providing leadership in stimulating coordinated action consistent with the missions of partner organizations in elevating the status of the profession.

A call to ourselves!

The data release offers social work a historic opportunity. From the regulatory side, ASWB is committed to leading change in collaboration with social work partner communities toward addressing the systemic and institutional factors that disproportionately affect Black licensure candidates and those of other historically marginalized groups. ASWB is actively seeking short- and long-term solutions by taking concerted actions:

  • Exploring how the professional standard of competency is defined and measured
  • Researching and understanding upstream factors accounting for differences in pass rates
  • Revisiting the exam structure to increase equitable access, including possible alternative assessment formats
  • Providing multiple avenues for engagement and respectful collaboration with the diverse voices of individuals and organizations, including educators, practitioners, and regulators

ASWB will do this work in full alignment with our mission and purpose and is committed to offering regular updates on our progress. Together, we can work to make social work more equitable and to ensure the profession reflects values of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

ASWB CEO Stacey D. Hardy-Chandler, Ph.D., J.D., LCSW and President Roxroy Reid, MSW, Ph.D., LCSW on behalf of the ASWB Board of Directors, invite you to:

✓ Volunteer to participate in a community conversation
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✓ Learn more about how ASWB measures competence fairly
✓ Learn more about exams for the future of social work
✓ Access free exam resources for social work educators