Action opportunity to address disparities in the social work licensure process

On August 5, 2022, the Association of Social Work Boards, who administers social work licensing exams in the U.S. and Canada, released pass rate data exposing serious disparities for test takers of color and those for whom English is not their primary language.

The University of Maine School of Social Work has been following and broadly agrees with the initial and subsequent responses by the various leading organizations of social work, including the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Black Social Workers, and the National Association of Deans and Directors.  On October 3, 2022, CSWE wrote every state board of licensure in the United States to say they should suspend the requirement of the exam for licensure.  CSWE said that state boards should consider the action that the state of Illinois took on January 1, 2022 to accept graduation from an accredited School of Social Work as sufficient proof of competency for non-independent licenses.  NASW also went further on February 3, 2023, saying it would not support the interstate compact legislation if the exam was a requirement within it.  Illinois most recently passed legislation that no longer requires the clinical exam for clinical licensure, and has adopted a mentorship pathway for that level of licensure.

The UMaine School of Social Work has been working on this issue through the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee of NASW-ME to support coordinated efforts with Maine social workers of color, State Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, State Representative Lydia Krafts, several Schools of Social Work in Maine.  The first goal is to statutorily eliminate the requirement of the exam for licensure at the non-independent licensure levels.  Speaker Talbot Ross has submitted legislation to this end to be heard in the second session of the 131st legislature beginning January, 2024.

The School is joining coordinated efforts to demonstrate support for eliminating the exam requirement through testimony and regular communication with students, alumni, and the community.  The School is also continuing to develop supports for current students who are still required to take the exam for licensure after graduation.  The School stands in support of people of color and people for whom English is not their primary language, and believes this exam has kept good, competent social workers out of the profession due to structural racism, ultimately harming potential social workers and people in our communities who desperately need their services, especially communities of color.

If you are interested in joining the effort, please contact Chris McLaughlin, Executive Director, at NASW-ME:



ASWB – website and data analysis report

CSWE – letter to state boards

CSWE – statement re data release

NABSW – open letter to ASWB

NADD – statement re data release

NASW – statement re data release

NASW – relationship to the compact

NASW – Illinois Chapter