Listening and learning: Two meetings deepen the conversation around exams for the future of social work

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Creating the next version of the ASWB examinations requires making connections and understanding context. That’s exactly what happened during recent meetings of two groups directly involved in providing input into how ASWB will gather workforce data and build new social work licensing assessments.

Both ASWB-sponsored meetings offered opportunities for conversations about the analysis of pass rate data that ASWB published on August 5, 2022. Equally important, the gatherings provided attendees with a platform for sharing perspectives, taking in new information about ASWB’s goals, and thinking creatively about collaborative approaches to ensuring the future of social work as a regulated profession.

The Social Work Workforce Coalition meets again

The second meeting of the Social Work Workforce Coalition, held in Washington, D.C., August 18–19, gave ASWB leaders the opportunity to listen to and learn from the diverse voices of coalition members representing U.S. and Canadian social work organizations. Conversations began with examining the data publication in detail in presentations by consultants from the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), a third-party psychometric consulting firm working with ASWB. Coalition members discussed the analysis of exam pass rates and participated in brainstorming sessions on what actions and initiatives may contribute to closing the performance gaps seen in the exam pass rates.

The Social Work Census was another topic that the workforce coalition discussed. The census, slated to be the largest workforce survey of social workers ever conducted, will serve as the foundation for building the content outlines for the next version of the exams and will provide valuable data about the profession that could be of use to the profession beyond the licensing examinations. The Social Work Workforce Coalition has been involved in updating the questions asked on the demographic and task survey portions of the census.

Conversations that took place during the latest coalition meeting will be useful to ASWB as it follows through on its decision to recalibrate timing around the release of the survey. Initially set for release in 2023, the census project will now launch in 2024 to give the association and coalition time to ensure that the intended scope of the project can be met.

“Because the Social Work Census will play such a key part in the next iterations of the ASWB exams—and in gaining the fullest possible understanding of our profession—we want to make sure we’ve built an on-ramp to this project that will make this major effort as successful as possible,” said Lavina Harless, LCSW, senior director of examination services. “We see a historic opportunity that can move social work, social work education, social work regulation, and the licensing examinations forward together, and we want to maximize our effectiveness as we collaborate on this project.”

The Practice Analysis Task Force holds its first meeting

Much of the work involved in creating the Social Work Census and analyzing the results to build new versions of the ASWB examinations rests with the ASWB Practice Analysis Task Force, the all-volunteer group of social workers, some 40 strong, who gathered for the first time in Alexandria, Virginia, September 9–10.

These social workers representing diverse demographics, selected from more than 1,000 applicants, gathered for two days of learning and conversation. Because this group of social workers is new to the ASWB examination, the meeting launched with presentations on how the examinations are developed, administered, and statistically monitored and how the exam program meets and exceeds industry standards for creating high-quality licensing assessments. The publication of the pass rate data analysis was also discussed with the task force.

Many task force members expressed appreciation for the extensive process ASWB follows to ensure the exams are fair and uniform for all. One respondent wrote on the postmeeting survey: “I got the impression staff members are striving for excellence in developing a gold standard exam.”

Others were impressed by ASWB’s decision to lead the conversation about racial bias in the profession, calling the association forward-thinking, authoritative, and caring. “ASWB is committed to leading the way in ensuring an equitable process in the creation of social work exams,” noted one task force member.

The HumRRO psychometric consultants who were present at the meeting invited the task force to participate in conversations about the exams that were designed to gather qualitative data and ideas for future actions. These conversations began with building empathy maps that challenged each small group to answer questions such as Should social workers be licensed? from the perspectives of saying, thinking, doing, and feeling. Another activity focused on practical ideas for change that could be implemented by different parts of the social work community. For example, suggestions for ASWB included getting more media exposure and offering resources to schools. Suggestions for schools included discussing the exam in classes and orientation and identifying students early who may struggle with testing. Ideas that employers could use included offering incentives for licensure.

ASWB is grateful for the work and insight of these social work leaders and practitioners. Their input helps further member boards’ public protection mission, as the association continues to create and explore competency assessment methods that keep equity at the forefront.