Building exams for the future of social work

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Editor’s note: The Thunderbird Circle has now joined the Social Work Workforce Coalition as a member organization.

ASWB is committed to listening to the entire social work community, learning from the profession’s diverse voices, and including as many perspectives as possible as it builds exams for the future of social work.

ASWB spent much of 2021 planning for its upcoming analysis of the practice of social work, the first step in creating the next version of the ASWB social work licensing exams that are targeted to go live in 2025. The association is committed to listening to the entire social work community, learning from the profession’s diverse voices, and including as many perspectives as possible as it builds exams for the future of social work.

As the field of social work evolves, the social work licensing exams must remain relevant, reflecting current social work practice. To ensure that the examinations continue to do just that, ASWB is expanding its research-driven process to create opportunities to look at other possible changes that may be appropriate, such as changes to the exam format.

What needs to be done to create a new exam version?

To create the exams for the future of social work, a new content outline must be developed; the statements of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) tested on the exams must be updated; and the content areas must be weighted according to importance. The content outlines provide guidance to item writers as they contribute exam questions and Pearson VUE as it builds the exams from ASWB’s item banks.

To build the content outlines, ASWB analyzes the practice of social work to learn what knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed for competent, safe, and ethical practice upon entry. This is done by administering a survey of social work practitioners to gain more insight into who social workers are and how they practice.

Who performs this practice analysis work?

An oversight panel, made up of ASWB item development consultants, provides leadership to the overall practice analysis process. These independent consultants work with item writers to create and submit for review high-quality items that meet standards for inclusion on high-stakes licensing exams. Oversight panel members are subject matter experts who are seasoned, licensed professionals who bring a social work and item development perspective to the practice analysis. They are involved at multiple points during the process, considering factors such as emerging practices, ways that certain KSAs should be assessed, and how items can be written to satisfy the new content outlines.

The Practice Analysis Task Force is made up of a diverse group of volunteers who provide subject matter expertise to the practice analysis process. ASWB is recruiting more members than ever before, doubling the size of the task force from previous years to allow for an even larger number of perspectives to be heard. The volunteers will help develop the practice analysis survey and use the results to shape the next iteration of the social work licensing examination content outlines.

How will the development of the next version of the exams be different from past efforts?

ASWB is collaborating with the social work community to bring additional, diverse perspectives into the exam’s development. The association will begin with a core group, the Social Work Workforce Coalition, then extend the work to gather input through community input sessions, and finally widen the invitation to include input from every social worker practicing in the United States and Canada through the practice analysis, which is being expanded into the Social Work Census.

What is the role of the Social Work Workforce Coalition?

Social Work Workforce Coalition logo

The Social Work Workforce Coalition includes a range of U.S. and Canadian social work organizations that represent diverse perspectives. This coalition will provide input on emerging trends in social work practice, help structure new community input sessions, and contribute questions to the Social Work Census.

The Social Work Workforce Coalition will include representatives from:

  • 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

What is the purpose of the community input sessions and how are they being carried out?

ASWB will host up to 20 online focus groups, or community input sessions, to expand the range of voices involved in the exam development process. The feedback from these sessions will inform the development of a large-scale survey of social workers and social service professionals called the Social Work Census.

How is the Social Work Census different from the practice analysis done in past years?

The Social Work Census will launch in March 2023 with the purpose of understanding who social work practitioners are and what they do. ASWB expects to survey 10 times as many individuals as were surveyed during the 2016–2017 practice analysis and include expanded demographic questions.

The census will inform the development of the next exams to be released in 2025. Demographic data from this survey also will be shared with the coalition member organizations and the public to help enhance understanding of the social work profession and guide efforts to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What can our board or college do to support the construction of exams for the future of social work?

ASWB needs the collaboration of every member board in the collective effort to recruit participants for the Practice Analysis Task Force, the community input sessions, and the Social Work Census. Please share links to the Practice Analysis Task Force interest form and the volunteer form for the community input sessions. You can expect more later in 2022 about participating in the Social Work Census.

When is all this happening?

Now Recruitment for community input session and Practice Analysis Task Force
April 21–23 Social Work Workforce Coalition meeting #1
May–July Community input sessions
August TBD Social Work Workforce Coalition meeting #2
July/August TBD Practice Analysis oversight panel meeting
September 9–10 Practice Analysis Task Force meeting #1

March 1–April 12 Social Work Census
Third quarter Social Work Workforce Coalition meeting #3/
Practice Analysis Task Force meeting #2
Fourth quarter Volunteer recruitment for examination standard setting
December Content outlines from Social Work Census data complete

Second quarter Social Work Workforce Coalition meeting #4/
Standard setting meeting

January 1 Updated exams launch