Education, experience, and exam
Kelly Bass, DSW, CSW-PIP, ACS
MSW Program Director
University of South Dakota
Social work knowledge, skill, and ability benchmarks have been a standard to measure the social work profession for many years, specifically in social work education and practice. For example, the Council on Social Work Education has standards that require social work programs to implement a coherent and integrated curriculum that addresses the nine required social work competencies and any additional competencies added by the program (CSWE, 2015, p. 11). Likewise, the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics Competency 1.04 (NASW, 2017, p. 9) states that social workers should provide services that represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, and licensure. As a result, social work education programs are using factors related to social work licensing (exam pass rates, number of test takers, etc.) as indicators of programmatic success.
Yet few, if any, social work programs have been required to ensure the curriculum designed to prepare students to understand the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to study for social work licensing exams and ultimately to practice, meets licensure requirements for each state in which their students plan to practice postgraduation. Nor have they been required to engage student learners in a knowledge-based curriculum on preparing for licensure until recently. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (2016) added professional licensure compliance rules to its State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), establishing uniform national standards for interstate offerings. The newly created requirements support the Path to Licensure program implementation across university settings.
According to SARA, it is the responsibility of universities to disclose (both publicly and individually) to prospective and enrolled students professional licensure or certification information that leads to licensure granted by a state entity. Additionally, SARA requires universities to keep students, applicants, and potential students informed about whether such offerings actually meet state licensing requirements within the state where these individuals reside or plan to practice social work. As a result, the Path to Licensure program works well to aid social work programs to meet SARA, NASW, ASWB, and CSWE standards through its pragmatic approach to providing all social work students the necessary knowledge to become prepared for licensed social work exams and licensed professional practice.
CSWE Commission on Accreditation & Commission on Educational Policy. (2015). 2015 Educational policy and accreditation standards for baccalaureate and master’s social work programs. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.
National Association of Social Workers. (2017). NASW Code of ethics. Washington, D.C.: Author.
National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. (2016). State authorization reciprocity agreements: Policy and operations manual. Boulder, CO: Author.
Kelly Bass’s 2017–2018 Path to Licensure highlights
- Provided students in the introductory seminar with an overview of ASWB, licensure requirements, and state licensure website locations
- Focused on different categories of licensure during weekly field seminars
- Gave students access, through a D2L sandbox for licensure preparation, to a variety of state licensure requirements, steps to get licensed, laws and regulations, and several videos in the license exam curriculum
- Taught a licensure preparation course in which students could discuss topics specific to the licensure exams
- Reported Path to Licensure activities at department meetings to encourage faculty engagement
The social work curriculum as opportunity for integrating licensure awareness
Joan Groessl, MSW, Ph.D., LCSW
Assistant Professor and BSW Program Coordinator
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Every social work curriculum has core courses taken by all majors to gain the knowledge, values, and skills related to the core social work competencies. Faculty often have concerns about coverage of the required materials within each of those core courses leaving little time for any additional “nonmandatory” material. In addition, increasing demands on faculty time provide a further barrier to integrating credentialing information across the curriculum. One effective means to manage the challenge is to develop a guide that includes a map linking credentialing to the curriculum’s course objectives and provides resource materials that professors can integrate into courses.
Many social work courses include an emphasis on social work professionalism and ethics, covered under Competency 1 of the educational program accreditation standards (Council on Social Work Education, 2015). Since the code of conduct outlined in licensure law is closely tied to the ethics of the profession, connections are easily created to expected behaviors in practice.
As example, in a research course one can link the standards pertaining to research from the NASW Code of Ethics (2017) and the code of conduct for credentialed social workers to a learning objective for the course. Instructors can discuss these ethical connections to the course content. Often learning objectives in research courses relate to validity and reliability of assessment tools. This concept can be applied to development of the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensing examinations. Students can be advised to go on the ASWB website to research examination development or purchase the Guide to the Social Work Exams, 2nd edition, which provides a discussion of the process of item development.
In a policy course, discussion of regulation and licensure of social workers can be linked to the Competency 5, engaging in policy practice. Students can be encouraged to review the standards, learn the history of licensure in the jurisdiction, and explain how credentialing impacts the profession. Linking to the Code of Ethics standards as professionals and applying a policy analysis framework to the regulations are ways that licensing as a central social work policy can be examined.
Another method of integrating materials included use of multiple-choice questions. The majority of assignments for our program were narrative in nature; very few courses implemented multiple-choice questions. As a means of readying students for the critical thinking involved in the ASWB examination, instructors used multiple-choice questions as discussion in a range of courses. Students appreciated the discussion as well as the training on thinking deeply about the topic. Linkage to ASWB’s exam content outlines (knowledge, skills, and abilities) can help students to determine areas of further study as they prepare for the next step in professional development.
The up-front work of curriculum analysis, linkage of licensing standards, and determination of potential class activities is well worth the effort. Integrating these activities into trainings on the licensure process rounds out a program encouraging licensure for your students.
Joan Groessl’s 2017–2018 Path to Licensure highlights
- Created a resource for busy faculty that outlines credentialing/licensing materials for use across the curriculum
- Encouraged faculty to include critical thinking multiple-choice questions to increase familiarity with this examination style, reduce anxiety, and increase critical thinking ability
- Provided Path to Licensure information at fall orientation and spring credentialing workshops
- Mapped the licensing and regulation information in the curriculum to CSWE educational and policy and accreditation standards competencies.
Diversity program interns learn about licensure
Jane Hurley Johncox, MSW, LICSW
University of St. Catherine, St. Thomas
Minnesota’s Diversity Social Work Advancement Program trains racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse second-year MSW students and recent MSW graduates to become mental health professionals and leaders in the social work community. The goals of DSWAP are to increase the number of mental health professionals who identify as people of color, immigrants, refugees, and/or LGBTQ; increase the availability, accessibility and effectiveness of trauma-informed treatment for culturally diverse clients; and to enhance the cross-cultural knowledge and skills of clinical supervisors.
Between six and nine clinical students have participated in the DSWAP program each academic year for the past eight years. Students apply to be a DSWAP intern. Once accepted to the program, their role is to provide outpatient mental health services, support, and community outreach to diverse populations. Providing support to students in becoming licensed is one of the goals of the Path to Licensure program at St. Catherine and University of St. Thomas.
Jane Hurley Johncox’s 2017–2018 Path to Licensure highlights
- Made Path to Licensure information available at an open house for prospective social work students
- Noticed increased interest in and requests for information about licensure
- Planned to create a Minnesota licensure information video to share with new students
Social work licensure prep courses: Lessons from the field
Shakira A. Kennedy, Ph.D., LMSW
Assistant Professor, Coordinator, At-Risk Populations Research and Grant Initiatives
Graduate schools of social work should recognize the importance of ensuring students understand how licensure and regulation tie to the profession. As social workers, our role is to strengthen the guiding light of social justice through bringing the importance of regulation and licensure into focus at all levels of our profession, starting with education (Monahan, 2013). How academic institutions think about licensure requires innovation, collaboration, and creativity. Innovation commonly involves a new or significantly improved product, process, marketing method, and/or organizational models (Henderson, 2017). Hence, it is incumbent upon graduate schools of social work to create a culture of innovation that opens the way for creative thinking and problem-solving. One solution is presented for consideration.
Licensure preparation courses
Moving toward innovative, student-focused solutions could yield beneficial results through creating a licensure preparation course. A high-quality course should include information about registering for the exam, information about testing locations, approximate wait time for state responses, the types of forms candidates must complete for their school and to register for the exam, contact numbers for their respective state, information about navigating the Association of Social Work Boards website, and test-taking strategies such as question and answer isolation. Licensure preparation courses are not complete without students’ learning that it is critical to understand the purpose of licensure regulation. A licensure preparation course serves a dual purpose: to provide familiarity with the licensure process and to help students manage their level of anxiety.
Students are interested in learning about the ASWB Masters exam even if they don’t vocalize it. Their level of anxiety may be unmanageable because they worry about their ability to recall everything they learned in graduate school, to be effective test takers, to acquire the social work license they need for employment, and the list goes on. Graduate schools of social work can assist students to confidently achieve licensure by exposing them to standardized testing and by including in coursework the knowledge, skills, and abilities and content areas needed to demonstrate minimum competency for entry to the practice of social work.
Henderson, T. (2017). Why innovation is crucial to your organization’s long-term success. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/05/08/why-innovation-is-crucial-to-your-organizations-long-term-success/#7765ccfc3098
Monahan, M. J. (2013). Licensure: The strength behind the values of the social work profession. Association News, 23(1), 1.
Shakira Kennedy’s 2017–2018 Path to Licensure highlights
- Initiated interest and student engagement in Path to Licensure during new student orientation in one-on-one and group interactions
- Provided information regularly in Loopkeeper, the faculty and student magazine
- Provided curricular material for the capstone class detailing how to navigate the state website and ASWB website for information about licensure, the exam, and the purpose of regulatory boards
- Began a review of all course syllabi for seamless inclusion of licensure regulation information
BSW and MSW Generalist Path to Licensure: Regulatory and Licensing D2L Training courses
Carolyn Szafran, LCSWC
Field Practicum Coordinator/Senior Lecturer, Social Work
The Association of Social Work Boards and Washburn University social work department partnered in ASWB’s Path to Licensure program during the fall 2017-spring 2018 terms. The goal of the social work department was to integrate social work regulation and licensure information into the department’s explicit and implicit curriculum and to help better prepare students to take the ASWB social work licensing exam.
The social work department developed a strategic plan beginning August 2017. One of the first action steps required selecting faculty instructors and students from BSW SW 352 Micro Practice and MSW SW 640 Foundations of Social Work Practice to enroll in the newly developed BSW and MSW Generalist Path to Licensure: D2L Regulatory and Licensing Training courses. Included in the D2L courses were self-assessment surveys that students took during the first two weeks of September 2017. Prior to students taking the surveys, Path to Licensure faculty visited both classrooms to explain the ASWB Path to Licensure program and the D2L Regulatory and Licensing Training courses to instructors and students. The visits emphasized the goal of helping strengthen the students’ knowledge of professional regulation and their understanding of its important connection to public protection and social work values and ethics. Faculty also highlighted their sincere desire to help better prepare students to take the ASWB social work licensing exam. After the classroom visits, students were taken to a computer lab to complete the 16 quantitative and two qualitative self-assessment pre-survey questions. Students were told that pre-surveys were not graded and were confidential.
Shortly after the surveys were completed, instructors and students had direct access to the D2L Regulatory and Licensing Training course content. Instructors were encouraged to use the D2L course and to create regulation and licensing competency scenario assignments to help students increase their understanding of social work regulation and licensure. D2L course content included PowerPoint presentations prepared by ASWB and the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board. Other helpful resources incorporated state and national information about the three pillars of the SW profession: ASWB, National Association of Social Workers, and the Council on Social Work Education.
BSW and MSW students who took the survey in fall 2017 were then enrolled in spring 2018 D2L BSW and MSW Generalist Path to Licensure: Regulatory and Licensing Training courses. At the end of April 2018, post-surveys of the 16 quantitative and two qualitative self-assessment questions were administered.
The outcomes of the fall 2017 pre-survey and the spring 2018 post-survey were compiled and compared. The results were striking! They clearly and powerfully reveal that students had gained significant insight and understanding of social work regulation and licensure. The strategic plan turned out to be very successful and well worth the effort!
An essential part of the fall 2017-spring 2018 strategic plan to help integrate social work regulation and licensure information into the department’s explicit and implicit curriculum was to identify important stakeholders. One of the most important stakeholders identified were department faculty members.
Many action steps of the strategic plan involved faculty members. One of the early steps was to present monthly ASWB Path to Licensure reports in faculty meetings. We also invited Jan Fitts from ASWB to present on the Path to Licensure program via Zoom conference during one of our faculty meetings. Jan emphasized the goal of integrating social work regulation and licensure information into the department’s curriculum to help better prepare students to take the ASWB social work licensing exam and prepare for professional social work practice. Meaningful discussions took place. Faculty members were engaged and able to ask questions. This was an extremely personal and effective way to connect the ASWB staff to WU faculty members.
We asked all faculty to participate. It was easy to see the few faculty members who did not buy into the idea, but most did. Then in our first faculty retreat in September, the results of the student’s pre-survey were revealed in a PowerPoint presentation. The results were stunning and showed that students had very little knowledge and understanding of social work regulation and licensure. Also, most students feared that they would not pass the exam. The visual charts and results were sobering to all. During small breakout group discussions, faculty members were asked to think of possible explicit and implicit regulation and licensure competency scenario assessment assignments to help students learn more. CSA assignments were shared as examples. Everyone seemed engaged, and many good ideas were offered and adopted. To our surprise, some faculty members confessed to having a limited understanding of social work regulation and licensure themselves. Many shared that they were either unfamiliar with the acronyms CSWE, NASW, and ASWB or were confused about the mission and purpose of each.
One of the most exciting action steps ahead is to reveal the fall 2017 and spring 2018 student pre- and post-survey outcomes during our September 2018 faculty retreat. It is our hope that when faculty see how favorable the BSW and MSW student pre- and post-survey outcomes were, they will also be amazed by how much learning can take place within one year’s time. A big thank you will go out to all faculty members who contributed to student learning success. It is our hope that we will generate stronger and more comprehensive support for the ASWB Path to Licensure program for the fall 2018 and spring 2019 terms.
Carolyn Szafran’s 2017–2018 Path to Licensure highlights
- Used several resources at the annual student licensing workshop, including the ASWB Group Review Practice Test; presentation on applying for a license, the role of the board, and ongoing licensure expectations by licensing board staff; presentation on ASWB exam resources, managing test anxiety, and creating an individual study plan by Szafran
- Hosted a meeting of stakeholders, alumni, and social service agencies about a community licensing workshop
- Designed a D2L Path to Licensure course to provide greater regulatory and licensing knowledge among students
- Engaged students in designing graphics and compiling information for the social work school website around the three professional associations, CSWE, ASWB, and NASW