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  • NASW-IL Staff

Learn More About Social Work Exam Alternative Law HB2365 SA1

Updated: Aug 4, 2023


NASW-Illinois Chapter membership helps us to push for legislation that supports a more equitable profession and a better life for your clients. As the largest membership association in Illinois advocating on behalf of social workers, consider adding your voice to our efforts and join/renew your NASW membership today.

 

UPDATED 8/4/23 to reflect Governor J.B. Pritzker signed HB2365 SA1 into law. The bill does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2024.


UPDATED 05/19/23 to reflect the General Assembly has passed HB2365 SA1 and the bill is now awaiting the Governor's signature.


UPDATED 05/05/23 to include Senate Amendment 1 which requires LCSW applicants to take the ASWB clinical exam at least once before opting to take the exam alternative route.


Among the many bills addressed during the current spring 2023 legislative session, one of the bills getting the most attention is House Bill 2365 Senate Amendment 1 (HB2365 SA1) which strives to provide an alternative to the clinical exam requirement for licensed clinical social work (LCSW) licensure. HB2365 SA1 was initiated by advocates who were organizing against the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam based on findings confirmed last summer—findings that many already knew to be true—that the ASWB clinical exam was biased against older adults, people with disabilities, people with test anxiety, and people from diverse backgrounds from joining the clinical profession.


Read the NASW-IL full statement on the ASWB test analysis here or the national NASW’s statement opposing the ASWB exam here.


At its core, HB2365 SA1 aims only to provide an alternative to the clinical exam requirement for clinical licensure in Illinois; it does not remove any of the other current requirements. For those for whom taking an exam is not a barrier, there still remains that method of earning your LCSW. However, for those who are affected by a costly and biased exam, the bill provides an alternative.


What HB2365 does is maintain the current requirements that all LCSW applicants obtain a master’s degree in social work, 3,000 hours of clinical supervision by an LCSW, and take the ASWB clinical exam for licensure. However, if the applicant does not receive a passing score on the exam, they can choose to retake the exam or opt for the test alternative. The alternative would require an applicant to obtain an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience by an LCSW in lieu of taking an exam; if an LCSW is not available to provide the supervised work experience, they could receive supervision from a licensed clinical professional as per rules (to be defined at a later date).


Text graphic showing current and proposed changes to IL LCSW requirements

For most in our membership as well as those already established as clinicians within the profession, the bill changes nothing—their license remains intact and unchanged. However, for the next generation of social workers looking to join the workforce, providing an alternative to the requirement that a clinician pass a biased exam addresses a very deep gap in our profession, thereby providing older social workers, social workers with disabilities, social workers with test anxiety, and social workers from diverse communities an alternate path to a test that—for a variety of reasons—is disadvantageous to them.


If you have questions about HB2365 SA1 and why the chapter supports it, we hope that you will read our below statement on the bill and why we believe it is essential to furthering and diversifying the profession in Illinois.

 

If Not Social Work, Then Who?


“If not social work, then who?” This is the question we ask every time someone inquires why social work licensure is changing. Since even before ASWB testing information came out confirming disparities in pass rates among Black, Latine, and older adult test-takers, advocates have been organizing against a test that has now been shown to be biased, ineffectual, and a barrier to access for older adults, people with disabilities, people with test anxiety, and people from diverse backgrounds. They have rightly pointed out that the NASW Code of Ethics requires us as a profession to act, and that we can only live out our values if we are truly willing to address the difficult and very real inequities within our own profession.


Having been approached by groups organizing against the ASWB exam, our collective of social workers known as the NASW-Illinois Chapter were (and remain) proud to lend our resources and support to see their goals achieved. HB3265 SA1 has been supported by a diverse group of practitioners mainly comprised of advocacy coalitions representing marginalized communities that have been most harmed by the current system. They are unions, child welfare providers, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), addiction centers, mental health policy groups, and so many more included in this coalition. Social workers, those who represent social workers, those who hire social workers, those who advocate for social workers, and, most particularly, social workers who are actively being harmed, all of these groups have come together to address the injustice of utilizing only one path—proven to be biased—to achieve clinical licensure.


The NASW-Illinois Chapter’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) has been leading our internal charge since even before the ASWB testing data was released. Our member-driven chapter has been focusing on workforce diversification and barriers to diversifying the social work workforce through a grant for the past two years. Our focus groups have been held with marginalized communities throughout the state with both members and nonmembers, social work graduates, and those considering the profession, as well as those who speak English and non-English speakers.


In these focus groups, the ASWB exam was identified as the single greatest barrier to existing social work graduates. It is clear we must create alternative paths to these barriers which serve no other purpose than to keep qualified professionals out of the workforce if we are serious about growing a more diverse profession. Moreover, one of the recommendations of the chapter’s 2021 report included working with employers and state agencies to promote a diverse human service, health, and mental health workforce by hiring social workers as organizational leaders who reflect the consumers of human services.


With this major step toward change and equity, alongside it can be fear. We understand that our work in creating an alternative to an exam known to be unfair in its dissemination and containing cultural biases isn’t supported by everyone in our community. We have heard from social workers who worked hard to pass the ASWB exam and social workers who were involved in the initial push to make social work a licensed profession. These individuals feel like any change—even a change to one element of licensure—is a diminishment of their accomplishments. Some of the concerns were substantive while others were rooted in a fear of the unknown. As HB 2365 SA1 worked its way through the legislature, we worked with the grassroots advocates pushing this initiative and the bill’s sponsors to work through all concerns to make sure all views are heard. As a result, changes to the bill were made. We have included an FAQ at the end of this post to address some of the rumors and questions surrounding the bill.


Legislation rooted in fixing an inequity is always going to be difficult, especially when a profession is predominantly made up of a population not harmed by this inequity. Older social workers, social workers with test anxiety, social workers who need additional accommodations, and social workers who come from more diverse backgrounds are being harmed because we have refused to address a very clear inequity within our own profession. Section 6.04 of the NASW Code of Ethics implores us to act. Our values implore us to act. As an organization, we are charged with addressing all inequities, especially the ones that make us uncomfortable and challenge us to rethink long-held norms.


With the passage of a testing alternative to the ASWB clinical exam, an equity-oriented path informed by the advocates most harmed by the existing system was created for licensure. As passed, all applicants seeking an LCSW are still required to have a master’s degree in social work, to obtain 3,000 hours of clinical supervision by an LCSW, and to take the ASWB clinical exam. However, if an applicant does not receive a passing score on the ASWB clinical exam, the applicant may instead elect to complete an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience under an LCSW. This additional professional work experience is not clinical supervision, and it allows the social worker to work while collecting their hours. For those without access to an LCSW, supervision of their professional work experience may be provided by a licensed clinical professional as per rules (to be defined at a later date). HB2365 SA1 creates an alternative to the test to allow those who do not wish to take an exam, who are unable to retake a costly and biased exam, or for whom the testing body has failed to provide adequate accommodations an alternate path to clinical licensure.


Creating an alternative to one element of licensure does not remove licensure nor does it diminish the accomplishments of those who passed the test or fought for licensure decades ago. Instead, it will modernize an outdated process, remove a barrier to access, and allow social workers to better live up to our code of ethics and our values.


That said, the ASWB exam will still remain the primary path to licensure. Passing the ASWB exam will still remain the fastest path to clinical licensure in Illinois and will allow you to get licensed in other states. Furthermore, the interstate compact will require passage of the ASWB exam for practitioners to partake in the compact. For those for whom the test works, the testing option will still remain.


There are national efforts to reform the ASWB exam, and we applaud those efforts. We also recognize that as a profession, we didn’t push for those changes soon enough. As the ASWB exam will remain in Illinois, we also have a vested interest in their work and implore the national groups to make the necessary changes to the clinical licensure test to reduce some of the built-in inequity. There is also a national consensus from social work organizations that alternatives to a test must be implemented. Even the testing body themselves are working on alternative models (some that they will monetize) to allow alternative paths to licensure.


The Illinois Clinical Social Work and Social Work Practice Act will expire four years from the date of enactment. The state and the profession will have a chance to look back at this alternative to the exam and make changes or adopt new models, including ones that may eventually come out of the national conversation. This alternative gives social workers who have been harmed by the ASWB exam some relief while national efforts work their way through a multi-year process to create a more equitable social work profession. This is not the end of the conversation or the process but rather only the beginning.


We recognize there are other barriers to access that also need to be addressed. Several other workforce/equity-related bills we supported in Illinois would look at payment for field placements, loan repayment, scholarships to help social workers pay for education, and even grants to help social workers pay for clinical supervision.


Change is never easy, and this change is no exception. But we must change for the betterment of our profession or we risk losing social work’s core values. We risk losing credibility. This profession is rooted in dismantling inequities—especially ones created in our name.


The following FAQ was created to address common questions we have heard during the negotiation phase of the bill. We encourage you to review them and ask questions. We will add to this page to continue to address any new issues that arise.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about House Bill 2365 House Amendment 1 (HB2365 SA1)


Who is #StopASWB? #StopASWB is a grassroots group comprised of young social workers of Black, Latine, and Indigenous backgrounds as well as persons with disabilities, all working together to address inequity in the social work profession and end discriminatory social work licensing exams. The coalition’s current petition to halt the use of the ASWB exam and demands for an alternative to the test has reached over 10,600 signatures from social workers. HB2365 SA1 originated with local advocates from #StopASWB who reached out to their elected officials to address the testing barrier.


Are there other groups supporting this bill? Some of the groups who slipped in support include a union representing state employees, a union representing school social workers, health plans, nonprofit advocacy organizations, and coalitions of employers who are struggling with Illinois mental health workforce issues. Among them are the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Rosecrance, Chicago Teachers Union, community behavioral health centers, Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY), Meridian Health Plan of Illinois, Illinois Primary Health Care Association, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), The Kennedy Forum, Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (IARF), Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Illinois Alliance for Re-Entry and Justice Facilities, Center on Halsted, Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, and more.

HB2365 SA1 requires professionally supervised experience to be under an LCSW and, if an LCSW is not available, supervision can be provided by other licensed clinical professionals. What professions are currently allowed to provide this supervised work experience? The following professions are currently approved as per the Clinical Social Work and Social Work Practice Act to provide supervision for professional work experience for the bachelor’s licensure requirement: licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed clinical psychologist (LCP), licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC), licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), or psychiatrist. While exact rules are yet to be written about who can provide supervised work experience as an alternative to the clinical exam, it is likely these professions will be the starting basis of who can provide oversight (with the potential to add other professions) if an LCSW supervisor is not available. Advocates were concerned that due to the difficulties of getting LCSW supervision, the alternate path might create a new barrier.


Other states/advocates have advocated for a testing pause or removal of the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical exam entirely. Why is the test still being used in Illinois under this plan? Social workers moving into Illinois will likely have already passed the ASWB exam, and we would want to make sure that they can work in Illinois without having to fulfill additional requirements. Licensure via the ASWB clinical exam will also remain the quickest path to licensure. Additionally, social workers who plan on moving to another state or who practice on the state border will likely need to have passed the clinical exam for licensure in neighboring states. For these reasons and because a future compact would likely require passage of the ASWB clinical exam, we still anticipate a majority of social workers choosing to take the exam path.


Do you anticipate social workers using the test still? Yes, passing the ASWB clinical exam will remain the quickest way to clinical licensure and will allow the social worker to work in other states. We anticipate the test will remain the most utilized path to licensure.


If Illinois wanted to join a social work compact in the future, does this prohibit it? No, the social work compact allows states to set their own requirements for licensure and then allows social workers to “shore up” by taking the test if they wish to apply for a multi-state license.


Will social workers who utilize the clinical exam alternative be able to join insurance panels, bill for services, etc.? Yes, this has been confirmed. The standard used is only that the state licensing authority certifies that the social worker is a licensed clinical social worker. We have existing models including those that were grandparented in who continue to fully practice as a licensed clinical social worker without having passed the ASWB clinical exam.


Is this going to create a public safety issue? No. In fact, there is no data that shows the ASWB clinical exam has been successful at determining competency or protecting the public. On the contrary, by moving these individuals into licensed professions, the state will have oversight and regulatory authority over these professionals; this something that is not happening now as many work in social work–like positions.


How does this affect social workers who have already passed the test and are licensed? It doesn’t—their license will remain the same. While there is a lot of misinformation being shared around creating an alternative to the clinical exam, the truth is that an existing LCSW will see no difference in their practice if an alternative to the clinical exam is created in Illinois.


In what language(s) is the ASWB clinical exam currently offered? The test is only offered in English.


Does HB2365 SA1 affect the license used by school social workers? No, school social workers are licensed by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and receive a Professional Educator’s License (PEL). School social workers do have an MSW and as such, they may apply for an LCSW after completing other requirements for career advancement, but it is not required for school social work. In fact, a couple of years ago, NASW-IL worked with the Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW) to remove the basic skills test as it was serving as a similar barrier to access.


What’s the difference between supervised clinical hours and supervised professional experience? Supervised clinical hours are a more robust requirement that maintains that an individual obtaining supervised clinical hours must be supervised by a current LCSW. This supervision requires a set minimum of hours per month to discuss caseload and work. This requirement remains in the law. Supervised professional experience is clinical work that is intended to be supervised by an LCSW; if one is not available, the clinical work can be supervised by a much larger pool of licensed clinical professionals. This work still requires supervision by a licensed clinical professional, but it removes some of the high costs of supervision and allows the social worker to fully work while they get additional oversight and instruction. This model is currently in the law and is used for bachelor’s–level social workers pursuing an LSW (licensed social worker) license.


Has anyone else other than the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter, called for an alternative to the ASWB clinical exam? Yes. Among the groups calling for an alternate path to licensure are the Council on Social Work Education, National Association of Black Social Workers, National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, and Social Work and Hospice Care Network. Even ASWB is exploring alternate paths, although they have stated a desire to control that alternative rather than state policymakers.


Does HB2365 SA1 change the clinical supervision requirement currently required by law? No, that requirement still remains. What HB2365 proposes is to maintain the current requirements that all LCSW applicants obtain a master’s degree in social work as well as 3,000 hours of clinical supervision by an LCSW. However, instead of requiring the passage of the ASWB clinical exam for licensure, the bill proposes an alternative. That alternative would require an applicant to obtain an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience.


Is this going to create increased liability for the supervisor? No, the risk is the same regardless of the path the applicant takes. Currently in Illinois, we already allow unlicensed MSWs to work under an LCSW as long as they are working toward their own LCSW. This is no different as the alternate path tacks on an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience.


Are we creating two different levels of licenses? No, we are just creating another path for the final requirement of licensure. Regardless of whether an individual passes a clinical exam or completes the additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience, all recipients will receive the same LCSW.


Why not just reform the test? There are national efforts to reform the test process which is created and administered by an outside entity (ASWB). As the test will remain and will likely be the main path to licensure, advocates and stakeholders have an interest in making sure the test is reformed. However, that process may take years and may never materialize. Furthermore, there is a general consensus (even by the testing body) that there needs to be alternatives to the clinical exam to address bias, test anxiety, and accommodate individuals with language barriers.


Would the state be open to accepting other ideas in the future? Yes. As those previously mentioned national discussions around reforming the exam progress over the next three to four years, Illinois will be watching to see if changes or additional paths should be made. In fact, the Clinical Social Work and Social Work Practice Act expires four years after the enactment of this bill after which point, we will be able to look back at the process and evaluate it.


The original bill had an educational requirement for supervisors—is it still in there? No, the supervisor’s educational requirement was removed per the recommendation of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and concerns raised by other social work associations. Social work continuing education requirements are currently in the rules, and it was requested that if the state pursues this requirement in the future, a supervisor’s education requirement should go there. As rules are subject to a public comment process, there will be time for larger discussions with stakeholders about what that requirement should look like. Currently, Illinois requires licensed clinical counselors to have 18 one-time supervision continuing education hours.


Why are you lowering the clinical hours for PhD social workers? We are not. The current supervised clinical professional experience requirement for individuals who obtained a degree from a doctoral program of social work is 2,000 hours. This bill does not change that requirement.


Shouldn’t we be addressing diversity in the social work workforce in other ways? Yes! There are numerous bills currently in the Illinois General Assembly to address other workforce issues including loan repayment, front-end scholarships, paid field placements, and stipends for clinical supervision. An alternative to the clinical exam is just one of many paths we need to address to fix our critical workforce issues.


Does the department (IDFPR) oppose it? No, the department worked closely with us on what has become House Amendment 1 to ensure public safety while addressing the inequity that having only one path to licensure has created.


Why aren’t we addressing other professions? While we anticipate continued talks about the effectiveness of high-stakes tests in other professions, the data showing direct harm is available for the social work profession. Furthermore, social work is founded on the ideals and ethical requirements to address inequity within our society. If not social work to address these inequities first, then who?


Are you lowering the standards for social work? No, HB2365 HA1 is just an alternative to the clinical exam. This alternate path is a longer one, requiring the applicant to work under the guidance and support of existing licensed clinical professionals which can be an even more rigorous standard than someone with strong testing skills.


Does HB2365 SA1 de-license social work? No, social work licensure will still exist. The clinical exam is not the only element of social work licensure; it is merely one element in the multi-step process of licensure.

What do you say to people who are opposed to removing the test as they were able to pass it? Whenever we make changes, there is going to be some resistance. There are some that worked incredibly hard to pass a biased test, and creating an alternate path that sits parallel to the test does not diminish their accomplishment. It is just an equitable way to address very real challenges with the current system.


Why should we make it easy for people to get licensed? The clinical test alternative is not an easier one as it requires an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. Furthermore, the clinical exam has not been proven to identify competency or provide public safety. With passage of HB2365 SA1, social work applicants must still obtain a master’s in social work, must still have completed multiple field placements, must still have completed 3,000 hours of rigorous clinical supervision with an LCSW, all before arriving at the final step of choosing whether to take the clinical exam or the alternate path. For those that test well, that option remains for them. For those for whom the test has failed, this bill would provide an alternate path toward demonstrating competency.


Is this bill a result of a “long running feud between NASW and ASWB?” No, this bill came from grassroots advocates of Black, Latine, and Indigenous backgrounds as well as persons with disabilities. NASW continues to work with ASWB on critical issues facing the profession. NASW is an association that advocates for social workers while ASWB is an association that advocates for licensing boards. At times, the two organizations might not agree but professional work continues.


If this bill passes, can changes be made later or other alternative paths added if national ones materialize? Yes, legislation can always be amended. In fact, the bill sponsors are looking at a working group comprised of stakeholders to evaluate the data from this alternate path while also evaluating national discussions on other alternatives. Changes can be made by the Illinois General Assembly if needed or desired.

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