Jessica González-Rojas, an assembly member from New York, has reinvigorated legislation seeking to abolish the state’s clinical examination prerequisite for aspiring social workers, hoping to broaden access to the profession and address systemic and demographic disparities in the field.
The initiative follows data that illustrates a pronounced racial imbalance in examination success rates, where between 2018 and 2021, 45% of Black, 65.1% of Latino, and 72% of Asian first-time test-takers passed, compared to an 83.9% success rate for white test-takers.
A 2022 audit from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli revealed that 95% of the state’s school districts lacked the suggested ratio of one social worker per 250 students, with New York City improving that figure to 80%.
González-Rojas emphasized that there’s a nationwide trend towards discontinuing such exams, highlighting that there’s no conclusive evidence linking the exam to the quality of care provided by social workers.
She noted that after Rhode Island and Illinois enacted legislation to eliminate the exam, Illinois, for instance, witnessed an increase of 3,000 licensed social workers actively engaging in the field.
Some social workers and educators argue that the test not only stands as an unnecessary impediment, particularly for people of color, but also does not augment the quality of care delivered by social workers.
Melissa Begg, dean of Columbia University’s School of Social Work, underscored the rigorous existing preparation, stating, “Through extensive practicum learning, each student in New York State is required to obtain at least 900 hours of supervised, hands-on experience…An additional written exam creates an unnecessary, systemic hurdle.”
Conversely, the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB), the entity responsible for crafting the test, maintains a steadfast stance, asserting that the test serves as a crucial, objective, and standardized measure of a candidate’s knowledge and skills within the domain of social work, even while conceding to past imperfections in the testing process.
The association sees the exam as a pivotal element that provides a uniform measurement metric across the board, ensuring that licensed social workers possess a baseline level of knowledge and expertise, thus safeguarding the integrity and standards of the profession.
The association spokesperson, Curry Smith, said, “ASWB does not support legislation that would remove the exam requirement as a part of licensure,” adding it brings legitimacy to the profession.
González-Rojas, who has fortified her legislative push with a plethora of data and poignant testimonies from social workers who have encountered substantial obstacles with the exam, envisions the abolition of this barrier as an imperative measure, especially amidst the pressing crises.
She highlighted, “We’re in a moment where we’re faced with essentially a number of crises that require the skilled support of social workers.”
She also advocates that the legislation can foster more diversified professionals to enhance their community impact, especially in light of the current heightened demand for social workers across the state and country.