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1998 Annual Report

The Association of Social Work Boards moved toward its 20th year by proving itself to be an organization able to handle new responsibilities and ready to provide a wider range of services to its member boards.

The year began with a big challenge-a testing administration programming failure that prevented tests from being administered for the first 23 days of 1998. Through most of January, ASWB staff worked closely with ACT, the association's new testing vendor, to iron out the system-wide difficulties, and to make accommodations for the social work licensure candidates affected by the shutdown.

Throughout the delay, ASWB kept its member boards fully informed about the problems and the steps being taken to solve them. By the end of January, the system was up and running, and ASWB, ACT, and ACT's subcontractors were holding regular conference call meetings to maintain communication about the entire test administration system.

The crisis early in the year, and its resolution, reinforced something that has become increasingly apparent as the association moves toward its 20th year: ASWB is at the center of social work regulation, and its work directly affects not just its member boards, but thousands of social workers across the country. The realization that ASWB has grown, and has the potential for even greater growth, guided much of the association's activities through 1998.

ASWB's growth during 1998 was most evident in its expanded role in examination development and administration. The addition of a Candidate Registration Center (CRC) nearly doubled the size of the national office staff, and filled out the addition to the association's headquarters in Culpeper, Virginia completed in 1997.

The CRC opened in December of 1997, and has been handling a steady stream of calls ever since. By the end of 1998, the in-house registration center had answered a total of 56,406 calls to make 26,182 registrations. Overall, examination candidates seem well satisfied with the service they receive at the CRC-monthly satisfaction ratings have averaged about 90 percent.

The change to an in-house registration system means that ASWB now deals directly with examination candidates. Social workers interested in licensure now receive a candidate handbook produced solely by the association, and phone the national office not only to register, but to receive help with examination accommodations for persons with disabilities, among other services.

With ASWB taking on greater direct responsibility for examination registration, the association began looking at ways to strengthen other areas of its examination program. The ASWB Examination Committee used much of the year to focus on improving the size and quality of the association's examination item banks, while the Board of Directors continued to look at ways to enhance the overall security of the examinations. Specifically, the board focused on how ASWB could ensure that only qualified social workers could take the association examinations.

Although the Board was in agreement about the importance of all member states "preapproving" licensure candidates, members also came to recognize that implementing these changes would not be an easy task in every state. As a way to assist members in making this transition, the board agreed to offer a pilot program to any interested social work boards in which ASWB staff would perform initial review of licensure applications to verify candidate qualifications to take the ASWB examinations. In late 1998, the Colorado Board of Social Work agreed to participate in the pilot program, which was set to begin in 1999.

The ASWB examination program passed another milestone in 1998 when the association began administering examinations based on new content outlines. The revised content was the result of a nationwide job analysis of social work practice begun in 1995. After nearly three years of work, the new tests debuted in July of 1998, complete with new nationwide passing scores and greater emphasis on social work ethics as well as cultural diversity issues.

As it strengthened the examination program, ASWB also worked to build stronger ties to its member boards. To help the association stay responsive to the needs of its members, ASWB created a new full time staff position-Director of State Services-and hired Janice Fristad, a social worker and former National Association of Social Workers staff member, to fill the job.

The addition of a staff member allowed ASWB to begin not only the preapproval pilot mentioned above, but a continuing education provider approval system. Called ACE-Approved Continuing Education-the new program grants ASWB approval to qualified providers of continuing social work education, easing some of this burden from participating state boards, and allowing providers to receive approval in several states through a single application. The program is voluntary for member boards, and overseen by a panel of volunteer content reviewers. By the end of 1998, the ASWB ACE approval was honored in 13 states, and granted to four CE providers.

By the time members of ASWB gathered for the association's Annual Meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, delegates faced a full agenda-the result of a very full year of activity within the association. Among the actions taken by delegates was the approval of a new ASWB member dues structure, and the addition of language to the ASWB Model State Social Work Practice Act addressing interstate practice.

Delegates were also presented with information on the results of a study of the overall readability of the ASWB examinations. This study, undertaken by ACT, was conducted in response to concerns by some member boards about examination performance by candidates for whom English is a second language (ESL). The results of the study showed that the readability of the ASWB examinations was well below the readability of standard social work texts, and on a par with other professional examinations.

ACT also provided the assembly with a report on the status of the ASWB item banks. The news was good: the number of good, usable items in the banks had increased by an average of nearly 50 percent, thanks in large measure to the association's item writing program and the hard work of the all-volunteer ASWB Examination Committee.

The 1998 Annual Meeting was also the first for the association's newest member, Alberta. Approved for membership earlier in the year the Alberta Association of Registered Social Workers arrived at the 1998 Annual Meeting as a voting member, and a valuable addition to the association.

The meeting also played a crucial role in shaping ASWB leadership, as a majority of Board of Directors seats were up for election. Elections at the Annual Meeting resulted in the addition of three newcomers to the Board: Iowa Delegate Bruce Buchanan was elected Secretary, Ammon Jenkins of Oklahoma was chosen for one Director at Large seat, and New Mexico board member Delfino Trujillo was elected to the second open position. In the race for President-Elect, outgoing ASWB Secretary Janice James was chosen to lead ASWB beginning in late 1999.

Looking back over the year, ASWB President Mae Gunnare viewed the growth of ASWB as a product of broad participation from volunteers, and a sense of ownership from member boards. Using her own background to make her point, she likened the maintenance of ASWB to the ongoing and unavoidable fence fixing that takes place on her South Dakota farm.

"In the ASWB fence, our delegates are our solid fence posts," said Gunnare. "They are the first and most important part of the job we have to do." She reminded attendees that the association's meetings ask delegates to "think past state boundaries and keep the best interests of the entire association in mind."

Gunnare also emphasized the importance of "tending the gates" of the association, reminding attendees that any real advances made by the association will require the participation of all member boards in the decision-making process.

"Diversity and respect for differing opinions has been our great strength, and it must continue to be our great strength," Gunnare said. "And just as some gates-gates like exam security-have to remain well-guarded and tightly shut, others should be open always. The gates that allow our members to say what they think, to listen to others and to find common ground, must never close."


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