Exam use policy compliance: An important update

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Only eight months remain until the June 30, 2021, deadline for the exam use policy enforcement initiative. Member boards have made progress as reported in the August association news, but a number of member boards have more work to do.

Policy enforcement initiative beginnings

When the initiative began in 2016, the Board of Directors established a five-year time frame to allow member boards that were not following policy to make needed changes. The primary reason for the initiative was outlined in a letter from ASWB to boards: “Enforcing appropriate use of the exams helps maintain the highest psychometric and legally defensible standards on behalf of our members that use the exam(s) as part of their licensing process.” Appropriate use means that members are using the exams according to the purpose of each exam as defined in item 14 of policy 2.1, Procedures.

With the number of exams administered continuing to increase each year, the potential for undermining both reliability and validity of the exams also increases as long as member boards do not follow the exam use policy. “For members that are using the exams as part of the licensing process, helping to ensure exam validity and reliability is every member’s responsibility and should be every member’s priority,” said Lavina Harless, senior director of exam services. “The way to ensure these critical psychometric measures is through using the exams as outlined in policy.”

ASWB staff members have worked closely with member boards to identify issues and assist members in making needed changes. In 2019, delegates adopted bylaws amendments tying membership to compliance with exam policies, bringing members into closer alignment with the Board’s 2016 initiative. Throughout this time, staff has sent reminders, provided status reports, and published updates in the newsletter.

Member responses to the policy enforcement initiative have been varied and unique to the mandates of the individual member board, according to Jennifer Henkel, senior director of member engagement and regulatory services. Henkel pointed out that while some member boards quickly focused on making the needed regulatory changes, other member boards have not contacted ASWB to indicate awareness of the policy enforcement initiative. She went on to identify a third response, one that she considers troubling: Member boards enacting new legislation or regulation specifically counter to following the exam use policy.

COVID-19 disruptions

COVID-19 repercussions affecting how each ASWB member board licenses its citizens and uses the exams to do so will continue to be felt long into the future, not only from a political perspective but from a workforce perspective. “We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s work,” said Henkel. “The pandemic may have limited your board’s ability to meet and discuss issues such as the exam use policy—and that is quite understandable and valid.

COVID-19 notwithstanding, Henkel emphasized the importance of member board staff communicating with ASWB staff so that ASWB stays updated on the progress being made, challenges being faced, and need for support from ASWB. “Because we are unable to meet in person for our annual meeting, we wanted to take the opportunity with this article to provide the current status of this initiative,” said Henkel.

Current status

Regulatory modifications

Modifications in some jurisdictions include separating license categories to more clearly align education and exam with license title.


Since 2016, the Board has received 14 waiver requests and approved 11. The Board denied but later approved one request after the request was rewritten and resubmitted. The Board has asked for more information on two pending requests. The Board has denied only one request outright.

Ongoing concerns 

Recurring issues that appear to be problematic across membership:
  • Allowing applicants with a degree other than a BSW to sit for the Bachelors exam
  • Using the same license title for multiple license tracks

Avenues available for achieving compliance

Henkel encourages members to apply for exam use waivers. Categories of waivers already approved include:

1.       Allowing applicants to sit for the appropriate examination during the last semester of their educational program. (Boards are generally requiring a letter from the program director stating that the applicant is in good standing and on target to graduate.) Applies to:
  • BSWs in their last semester (to sit for the Bachelors exam)
  • MSWs in their last semester (to sit for the Masters exam)
2.       Allowing applicants to sit for the Clinical examination after a minimum of 18 months of supervised clinical experience as long as that time frame matches the language in the jurisdiction’s regulation (as reflected by the excerpt from the exam use policy, below)
  • Clinical. This examination has been developed for use as a licensure requirement by Member Boards that issue to individuals who have an MSW and two years (or commensurate experience as defined by the jurisdiction) of experience in clinical settings, licenses for the practice of Clinical Social Work. The practice of Clinical Social Work requires the application of specialized clinical knowledge and advanced clinical skills.
“ASWB staff has had the honor of meeting with several regarding exam use policy.  We have met with just staff members, staff and board chairs, entire boards, and entire boards with public attendees,” Henkel said.  “We are poised, willing, and able to offer our support and listen to the conversations.”

The June 30, 2021, deadline will be here before you know it. If your board has questions, needs assistance, or needs to understand your current status regarding compliance with the exam use policy, please contact Lavina Harless or Jennifer Henkel.
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The transition to PSI test centers has begun. Test-takers who register for the exam beginning November 1, 2023, will be testing with PSI.