Doing what they do best

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photograph of exam committee
New members of the Exam Committee include many from the 2016 item writer cohort. From left to right: Vicki Coy (NB), Julia López (MO), Rikki Davlin (ID), Steven Parks (TX), Ruben Mina (NY), Rae Marsh (NC), Vanna Thuston (TX), and Marcy Shaarda (CA).


“Once again, the ASWB examination program is proud to welcome a group of committed and diverse subject matter experts to the Examination Committee.” — Lavina Harless, Director of Examination Development.

Social work is called a “helping profession.” This attribute was at the forefront during the first meeting of the 2019 Examination Committee in Charleston, South Carolina, March 27–31. Eight new members joined the Bachelors, Masters, and Clinical exam committees that review questions (called items) before they debut as unscored pretest questions on the licensing exams. “Encouragement” and “support” were mentioned frequently by the new committee members as they completed an orientation and jumped right in, working side by side with more seasoned peers. Exam Committee members are appointed to the committee by the ASWB president and approved by the Board of Directors, with input from ASWB staff. Committee members have all had experience as item writers, which is as critical to informing their work as their professional experience and demographic diversity.

“Once again, the ASWB examination program is proud to welcome a group of committed and diverse subject matter experts to the Examination Committee,” said Lavina Harless, director of examination development. “Many of our new committee members this year are classmates from the same ASWB item writer training in 2016. Over the years they have developed strong connections to each other and the examination program as a whole, so they’ve really been able to hit the ground running during a year that will demand much of them as volunteers.”

Meet the new committee members

Bachelors exam committee

Vicki Coy of New Brunswick is returning after more than ten years to serve on the Exam Committee. She has been a part of the board of directors or chapter executive for the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers since 2001. Coy has a private practice and provides bilingual (French) counseling for individuals and couples, from teens to adults. “What I loved most about this past meeting was the participation levels of the people involved,” said Coy. “For a first meeting, it was wonderful to see people speaking up and contributing. … There was a good mix of different areas of work and diversity within the committees.”

Julia López of Missouri is a public health researcher at the Institute for Public Health, where she uses her clinical practice skills to further advance the field of sexual health using public health theories and frameworks. López got involved in ASWB’s Item Writer Program because, she said, “I thought it would be a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and expertise into a dedicated network of well-trained professionals.” As a new member of the Bachelors exam committee, she appreciated the support of committee co-chair Carl Hokanson of Minnesota and liked the dynamic of the Bachelors group.

When she’s not at an Exam Committee meeting, Rae Marsh of North Carolina is a school social worker for a middle school and a high school and has a private practice. She is a Child Welfare Scholar with expertise in crisis intervention with adolescents and families. She says she was excited to become an item writer and “contribute to the social work profession at large.” Now, she says, she feels privileged to serve on the Exam Committee. During orientation, she found the training focused on working in pairs and reviewing items on screen most beneficial.

The fourth new member of the Bachelors exam committee is from Texas. Vanna Thuston values the purpose of the Exam Committee to ensure that candidates will be tested “on current and relatable knowledge in a fair and unbiased manner” because of the diversity, subject matter expertise, and cultural knowledge of the committee members. Thuston is coordinator of the Psych Response Case Management Program with Memorial Herman Healthcare System, where she leads a team of eight case managers supporting patients in crisis and super-users of the health care system.

Masters exam committee

“The orientation to exam committee was fun and extremely helpful,” said Rikki Davlin of Idaho.  She also said that working on the committee will help her “continually grow as a writer, critical thinker, and social worker.” Davlin has a private practice and has been working closely with local fire and emergency medical service departments to improve peer support programs and teach skills to build resiliency. Her previous work was in multiple areas, including providing case management and resource navigation and serving on a crisis team. She also was a designated examiner for the state.

Ruben Mina of New York was encouraged to become an item writer by a fellow social worker. As a new member of the Masters exam committee, he was encouraged by the more experienced committee members and found the small group review training most helpful during orientation. Mina is a director with the New York City department of education’s Office of Equity and Access. He has expertise in youth and family program development, community development, policy analysis, and group facilitation.

In addition to serving as manager of children’s mental health at Jewish Service Center in Houston, Steven Parks of Texas has a private practice and is an adjunct at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. His biggest a-ha from the committee meeting: “Social workers work well as a team no matter what part of the country we come from.”

Clinical exam committee

Marcy Shaarda of California was an item writer and exam reviewer for the state jurisprudence exam before being selected for the ASWB item writer program. She was excited to accept the invitation to serve on the Exam Committee, noting, “I really felt we came together with a common goal. I genuinely feel that committee members want to provide test-takers with a fair exam that accurately reflects a wide variety of experiences, cultures, and issues.” Shaarda works for the Department of Veterans Affairs in a program that serves chronically homeless military vets. Previous experience at the VA includes the Veterans Justice Outreach program.

The eight new members round out the full committee of 18, with six members on each of the individual exam committees. They will meet four times in 2019 to approve items to be pretested on live exams. After completing their term on the committee, members are eligible to return to writing items or go on to serve as the final subject matter expert reviewer of exam forms before the forms go live.