Learning More About Removing Testing Requirements for LSWs with SB1632
Updated: Aug 6
UPDATE: Governor Pritzker signed this bill on August 6, 2021. It will go into effect on January 1, 2022.
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. It would also require BSWs to take yet another ASWB test placing additional burdens on students. 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 overdue 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 for communities who are historically oppressed. 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.
Click on the link to read our article, "Frequently Asked Questions About the New Illinois LSW Testing Law," posted on September 17, 2021.