August 31, 2022 at 9:09 a.m.

Responding to the ASWB Report

Dear CSSW Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

For the last couple of weeks, the social work community has been discussing the recent report that the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) released on social work licensing exam pass rates. These data were released by ASWB after years of pressure from deans and directors of social work programs. The report is deeply concerning at a number of levels, and confirms the profession’s worst fears about this exam. We must press for change.

The National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work Programs (NADD) has responded promptly and assertively to take action. Under the thoughtful and effective leadership of Dr. Martell Teasley of the University of Utah, NADD has created a task force to address this issue. NADD members have been meeting weekly (and the task force more frequently) to develop a strategy and action steps. Some of the preliminary recommendations can be reviewed here. Some of the key take-aways from those discussions have included:

The ASWB data must be widely shared throughout the profession and beyond.

Collaboration across social work schools, organizations, and multiple sectors is important to bring about change.

A unified voice from the profession is critical. At the same time, each state controls its own regulations around social work licensure. So we need to have sustained national-level and state-level conversations, ultimately seeking to influence legislators and legislation around regulatory requirements.

While we are working for change, we must also protect our students and graduates who are subject to current regulations, to avoid causing more harm.

We must all re-commit to providing an anti-racist education.

I will keep you posted as the NADD activities evolve, and also will meet regularly with New York State deans to develop our own action plan given our unique state regulations and requirements.

There are decades of data that demonstrate biases in the results of standardized tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, relating to race, family income, sex assigned at birth, and parents’ educational level. For the ASWB exam, we see the same patterns emerge by race/ethnicity, age, and language. This is true nationally, and for CSSW. These challenges are by no means exclusive to social work; they are observed at the post-grad level for other fields, too – such as law, architecture, surgery, etc. Furthermore, such test results deeply impact individuals’ ability to advance in their careers and increase their income.

Which is why many are not surprised by the ASWB data. There is a long history of using exams and other barriers to thwart the advancement of people of color across domains and professions. These data serve as a reminder that at the very core of the social work profession is the need to question every status quo, including the systems and institutions we are a part of.

These systems work so well that they create blindspots for us all. Even those in social work, who are alert to identifying inequities in our systems and structures, are not immune to upholding those same inequities. If we aren’t intentional in asking questions at every corner, leaning in to what makes us uncomfortable – even using that discomfort as an indicator of what we should actually be doing versus what we should avoid – then we are not pushing the profession (and ourselves) to be the best we can possibly be.

I plan to include this issue as an important agenda item for our first All-School meeting of the year, which will be scheduled on Monday, September 12th, from 10 to 11:50am. We will want to focus especially on how we can best support our students and graduates. More on that soon. In the meantime, please feel free to share your ideas on what we can do as a school and as a profession to address this issue.

In community,