Learning More About Removing Testing Requirements for LSWs with SB1632
On the final day of the spring legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly advanced Senate Bill 1632 (SB1632), a bill sponsored by Illinois State Senator Karina Villa and State Representative Lindsey LaPointe which removes an unnecessary burden to access and saves licensure for BSWs in Illinois. This critical legislation removes the testing requirement for LSWs (LCSWs still must pass the ASWB exam) while leaving in all of the other rigorous requirements and oversight that exists in Illinois law. This bill is an NASW-Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL) initiative as the chapter strongly believes this bill will protect licensure for BSWs and remove another unnecessary burden to access.
In order to become a licensed social worker (LSW) in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) requires applicants to pass the masters exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Just over a year ago, ASWB informed Illinois that the state was out of compliance with their testing standards and that BSWs would soon no longer be eligible to take the exam required for the LSW. This left the state with two options:
The state of Illinois could create a new BSW license that utilized the ASWB bachelors exam. The new license would have a smaller scope of practice than the current LSW, upending existing bachelor’s level LSWs. NASW-IL opposed this option.
The state could stop licensing BSWs altogether, effectively making social work an MSW-only profession in Illinois. The NASW-IL opposed this option.
Faced with two options that would dramatically change the social work profession in Illinois, the chapter asked the question: Is the ASWB exam absolutely necessary for the LSW license?
In looking at this issue, we discovered several states, including California, do not require the ASWB exam for basic licensure. In discussions with IDFPR, data showed this population (basic licensed–social workers) poses very little risk to the public and that rigorous pre- and post- graduation supervision requirements, coupled with existing Illinois requirements (All LSWs performing clinical social work must be under the order, control, and full professional responsibility of a licensed clinical professional) created an environment where additional testing became unnecessary.
Furthermore, NASW has repeatedly requested, at the national and state chapter levels, racial disparity data on the ASWB exam scores to which we were (and still are) denied access. The chapter continues to hear ancillary evidence that the ASWB exams disproportionately harms social workers based on minority demographics, yet efforts to reform the exam to better align with social work values have so far failed to materialize substantive changes.
In totality, it became clear to the association that the LSW exam, rather than strengthening professional standards, was instead serving only as yet another burden to access. Our state and our profession would be better served by advocating for its removal.
Removing the ASWB exam as a requirement to becoming an LSW would achieve the following:
Allow Illinois BSWs a continued path to licensure and employment in the profession.
Remove a burden to access that disproportionately affects BIPOC communities and social workers without resources to pursue an MSW.
Remove another financial strain on recent MSW graduates and BSWs (who have already completed three years of post-graduate supervision) by waiving the exam and exam prep costs associated with licensure.
Create a logical path for MSWs to becoming LSWs while collecting the required supervision hours for becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This would allow these individuals to legally be called social workers while giving IDFPR better oversight of these currently unregulated professionals.
Creates a much needed path for macro-level social workers to legally be called a social worker and become licensed as a social worker in Illinois, a title they have earned and are entitled to carry.
Change is often difficult, and that holds true for changes in the profession of social work as well. If the social work profession is to become more inclusive while continuing to protect jobs and professional standards in Illinois, some things “we have always done” may look different in the years to come. We are confident the changes reflected in SB1632 will ultimately result in a more inclusive and stronger social work profession.
We extend an emphatic thank you to our legislative NASW-Illinois Chapter members—Senator Karina Villa and Rep. Lindsey LaPointe—for their strong advocacy and assistance in protecting and strengthening the profession.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is this law in effect yet? No. The bill still needs to be reviewed and signed by the governor. If signed, the effective date will not begin until January 1, 2022.
How will this bill affect you if you…
…are working toward your LCSW? This bill does not change any requirement—including the requirement that you pass the LCSW exam—for acquisition of the LCSW. If you have an MSW and the bill becomes law, you mayapply for the LSW without taking the ASWB exam as you work towards collecting the required supervision hours needed for the LCSW; however, licensure is not a requirement in Illinois while working toward your LCSW.
…are graduating with a BSW? If this bill is signed into law, you still cannot get licensed right away. All other requirements for BSWs in Illinois must be fulfilled first, including working for three years under direct supervision of a licensed clinical professional. The only thing the bill changes is that you no longer have to pass the ASWB exam upon completion of your supervision hours.
…have already signed up to take the ASWB masters exam for the LSW? If this bill is signed into law, we strongly recommend you contact ASWB immediately and request a special circumstance refund. Currently, the ASWB’s Candidate Handbook states that examination fees will not be refunded, but we recommend trying to request it if this bill is signed into law.
If ASWB does not agree to a refund and you currently have an MSW, we recommend you still sit for the test since you have already paid for it. While Illinois may soon no longer require the ASWB masters exam to obtain the LSW, your test score is still transferable if you later decide to work in another state.
If ASWB does not agree to a refund and you currently have a BSW and have completed your three years of supervised work, we recommend you contact ASWB to see if they will allow you to take the bachelors exam instead so that you can transfer that test score if you decide to work in another state. Since BSWs cannot transfer their test score for the masters exam, there is no value in sitting for the test other than possibly for practice.
…have already passed the ASWB exam? The bill makes no changes that affect existing LSWs who passed the ASWB exam.
…have an MSW but are not yet licensed? If this bill is signed into law, assuming you qualify, you would be allowed to apply for and immediately acquire your LSW license without taking the ASWB exam.
…are a macro social worker with an MSW? Macro social workers are often not required to be licensed for most jobs in which they are employed; however, we strongly recommend macro social workers consider licensure. Licensure allows you to legally call yourself a social worker (a title you have earned and are qualified to carry) and allows you additional work opportunities. This bill will allow you to acquire the LSW license without taking the ASWB exam—so long as all other requirements are met.
...are a school social worker with a PEL? School social workers are not required to be licensed as an LSW or LCSW since you have instead acquired the PEL. If signed into law and as an MSW, you would be eligible for the LSW without taking the ASWB exam, but it is not required for your profession.
Additionally, if you hold a PEL and get an LSW, you may use CEUs for both your PEL and your LSW license. Please verify before attending a course that they are an approved continuing education sponsor in Illinois. The NASW-Illinois Chapter is authorized to provide continuing education for both licenses in Illinois.
Even though it is not required, would I ever want to still take the exam? If this bill is signed into law and you plan on working in Illinois, the LSW exam would no longer be required. If you are a graduating student who plans to move to another state after graduation, we recommend that you look into that state’s requirements to see if the ASWB exam is required and the steps for applying for licensure.