NASW-Illinois Chapter Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (NASW-IL DEIC)
NASW-Illinois Chapter Full Statement on ASWB Test Analysis
The social work profession is one founded upon and guided by ethical principles and standards which help guide our practice as clinicians and fundamentally protect the people we serve. However, the licensing testing entity needs to be severely reproached for not upholding and practicing our ethical standards, which is proven by its egregious practice of bias and systemic racism in its testing practices. The Association of Social Workers Board’s (ASWB) release of test analysis proves that racism continues and is deeply rooted in the fabric of our profession. The blatant discriminatory design of the test perpetuates racial and systemic injustice among marginalized populations such as members of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community.
The recent findings from the ASWB report on 2022 ASWB Exam Pass Rate Analysis are despicable, damaging, and not trauma-informed (to say the least), towards BIPOC social workers pursuing licensure as regulated by the ASWB.
The irony is that these findings goes in direct opposition the ASWB’s Mission—in a quote from their board of directors on the dismantling of institutional biases, they write: “The Association of Social Work Boards commits to promoting and upholding equity and justice. In doing so, the association will hold itself accountable in denouncing racism, intolerance, exclusion, and other forms of discrimination and bias in carrying out its mission.” While the ASWB put forth objectives in their “Strategic Framework 2022–2023” plans to “Position ASWB to be more inclusive, accessible, and responsive,” their logic is similar to that of segregationists in the US who, for decades, kept schools segregated by skewing demographic data; the continued use of skewed demographic data has been ongoingly used by the ASWB to keep BIPOC—particularly African American social workers—from licensure.
Thurgood Marshall's masterful arguments in the Brown v. Board of Education case ended racist laws which had supported segregated schools under the specious argument that keeping schools "separate but equal" for students of color was perfectly equitable. So too must the social work community end the racist practice of skewing and manipulating data and testing so as to limit and/or curtail the licensing of BIPOC social workers. There is nothing equal or ethical about the separate ways in which white and BIPOC social workers are treated during the licensing process.
Upon the release of this report, many social workers were not surprised by the lack of inclusion and the omission of an actionable plan to rectify the inequities stated within the ASWB report.
For example, in an article on “Racial Bias and ASWB Exams: A Failure of Data Equity,” by Matthew P. DeCarlo, he states that in an open letter to social work deans and directors dated December 21, 2020, ASWB Chief Executive Officer Dwight Hymans responded to calls from academic leaders to produce data about how often various demographic groups passed or failed licensing exams. His letter acknowledges the historical moment of anti-racist justice movements, the need to make exams less expensive, and the desire to engage with academic stakeholders. However, his statement raises more questions than it answers, and, more troublingly, it evinces a shallow commitment to racial equity and open data that will preserve an untenable status quo.
In another example from Senreich and Dale (2021), there have been concerns within various social work professional communities that the licensure exams may contribute to racial bias in social work licensing as ASWB has historically not reported passing rates by demographic groups. Additionally, Senreich and Dale noted within their article that white graduates had significantly higher rates of licensure than those who identified as Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, mixed, or other. Furthermore, older Black and Latinx graduates had far lower rates of licensure than their younger counterparts.
The ASWB exam test analysis demonstrates the continual reinforcement of social injustice in the practice of making money off the backs of the BIPOC community. According to the ASWB report, “The lowest pass rates were observed among men, older test-takers, individuals whose first language is not English, and Black test-takers.” In order to pass the exam, clinicians are required to continue to pay these fees which continually build profit for the ASWB test while BIPOC communities continue to pay the cost, both as clinicians and through the limited access to BIPOC licensed clinicians for BIPOC individuals. Men of color are grossly underrepresented in mental health care, particularly at the clinical licensure level. This often leads to inequitable mental health care both in access and appropriate treatment for the BIPOC community. While the number of clinicians taking the clinical exam more than doubled between 2011 to 2021, there was a forty percent difference in pass rates between whites and African-Americans and about a twenty percent difference in pass rates between whites and Native American and Indigenous people, demonstrating that while the need for BIPOC clinicians is high, particularly in communities that have been severely impacted by racial trauma, the system continues to serve as a barrier to allowing new BIPOC clinicians into the professional arena of this work.
Despite producing an extensive report on their exam, the ASWB report minimizes key disparities that impact the social work field. The ASWB exam test analysis proudly recognizes that 88% of all test-takers eventually pass; however, it fails to show the average number of tests it takes for each ethnic group to pass. For example, with 44% of African Americans passing the clinical exam on their first attempt—with only 57% eventually passing—we still have 54% of African American test takers continuing to pay exorbitant fees until they eventually pass. As of April 2020, the cost of the ASWB exam was $260. The average non-licensed social worker salary within Illinois is $59,603, which averages to approximately $1,241 per week (Indeed). The exam cost of $260 is roughly 5% of this weekly payment which can multiply exponentially based on the number of test attempts needed to pass. Thus, ASWB continues to profit off minority groups within the field by continuing to utilize a biased test that is required for social work clinicians to professionally advance. This reinforces institutional racism by uplifting unfair testing practices and presenting a barrier to the attainment of equitable wealth within the social work profession.
The ASWB report concludes their analysis by stating, “the social work examinations must continue to reflect the highest standards of validity and reliability, and further research should be conducted to continue to inform the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion.” However, this conclusion is insufficient when it comes to actually addressing and uprooting the systemic issues that are clearly apparent from the gap number of first-time test passes by ethnic group. A multi-systemic approach is needed to address and dismantle the disparities, starting with fee waivers as well as continual analysis of bias both within the ASWB test as well as within clinical interventions that have been typically based on the majority standard treatment models.
BIPOC clinicians have endured years of racial microaggressions across systems and now we have become a victim by our very own association that we serve. The licensing exam has served as an enormous obstacle, thus creating issues of oppression amongst BIPOC clinicians and the lack of representation of BIPOC clinicians within the social work field. This systemic issue has caused many BIPOC clinicians to experience frustration, mental trauma regarding their self-worth, and setbacks in their careers.
Unfortunately, the racial barriers systemically put in place and supported by the ASWB have left BIPOC clinicians with no choice but to be subjected to the cycle of re-testing, furthering the financial and mental burden placed upon them. In addition, the racial barriers have often prolonged careers, forcing BIPOC clinicians to remain in low salaried positions, and—in some cases—have led to a change in profession. This essentially contributes to the low number of BIPOC clinicians which directly impacts the community and clients we serve.
According to statistics, 66% of social workers are white, 15% are African American, and 12.4% are Hispanic or Latino (Zippia). This clearly shows the disparities among clinicians in our field. BIPOC clinicians are significantly underrepresented, which creates a lack of resources and services for clients/communities in need. This perpetuates harm by creating obstacles for BIPOC communities who have been grossly underserved since the origin of our profession and greatly impacted by disparities in mental health and issues associated with low socioeconomics. The scarcity of BIPOC clinicians only creates more issues of burnout of clinicians and lack of treatment which in turn leads to poor mental health outcomes and documented social problems that further devastates communities.
What does this mean for the future of social work? The ASWB undoubtedly diminishes the integrity of our profession. As social workers, we are held to a standard set forth by our governing board of how we practice and serve those who are disenfranchised and from marginalized groups who are regularly oppressed. However, this association proves to engage in hypocrisy as it is complicit in the same practice of oppression that we as social workers seek to dismantle. Admission of guilt is not repairing the damage and trauma caused by this egregious act. This practice further adds to the huge mistrust that BIPOC individuals have towards systems. We must do more than issue meaningless apologies. This highlights a great need for change and dismantling of an old system, giving way to the construction of a new system that is more just, inclusive, and equitable. The time to act is NOW!
The NASW-Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL) continues in our commitment to strengthen and diversify the social work workforce in the state of Illinois. Thanks to effective advocacy by the chapter, the state of Illinois eliminated the ASWB test for the non-clinical level of licensure (LSW) which had proved to be a significant burden to access and blocked advancement in the profession and the path to eventual licensure.
Since 2020, NASW-IL has been specifically focused on identifying and addressing barriers to the social work profession for BIPOC individuals through an initiative funded through the Telligen Community, and this work continues through the work of the chapter’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee (DEIC).
The NASW-Illinois Chapter and the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee (DEIC) calls for swift change and actions of justice for BIPOC social workers and the BIPOC community at large with the following recommendations:
Abolish the current testing model and reconstruct a new model to create a more fair, unbiased, and inclusive option. This is the only way to rectify this injustice and harm.
Reparations be allocated to members of the BIPOC social worker community in the form of test waivers for individuals who have been unsuccessful with passing the licensing exams.
Reparations be allocated to members of the BIPOC social work community in the form of waivers for licensing renewal fees for up to 5 years for those who currently hold licenses.
A commitment and action plan outlining ways to diversify the social work workforce in our country, including but not limited to an investment in initiatives and incentives aimed at recruitment of BIPOC clinicians into the profession to directly address the disparities.
This statement was written in collaboration by the following members of the NASW-Illinois Chapter Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee (NASW-IL DEIC):
Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW, NASW-IL DEIC Chair
Samantha Allen, MSW, LCSW
Chante' Gamby, LCSW
Lauren Miller, Natalie Haimowitze Postgraduate Fellow, MSc, AM, LSW
2022 ASWB Exam Pass Rate Analysis: https://www.aswb.org/exam/contributing-to-the-conversation/
ASWB Mission: https://www.aswb.org/about-aswb/mission/
ASWB Strategic Framework: https://www.aswb.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/strategic-framework.pdf
Senreich, E., & Dale, T. (2021.) Racial and age disparities in licensing rates among a sample of urban MSW graduates. Social Work, 66(1), 19–28. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/swaa045
Licensed Social Worker Demographics and Statistics in the US: https://www.zippia.com/licensed-social-worker-jobs/demographics/
Social Worker Salaries in Illinois: https://www.indeed.com/career/social-worker/salaries/IL
The NASW-Illinois Chapter Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (NASW-IL DEIC) works to promote the NASW programs and efforts that encourage awareness, respect, and appreciation of diversity in the social work profession and our society. Its particular focus includes race and ethnic diversity, social justice, women advancement, and sexual orientation (LGBTTQQIAAP) issues.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with over 120,000 members. The NASW-Illinois Chapter is one of the association's largest chapters representing over 20.000 licensed Illinois social workers and school social workers, with over 5,000 active members. NASW strives to advance social work careers, grow social work businesses, and protect the profession.