My Personal Protest: The Social Work Licensing Exam



I am not a licensed social worker. In the state of Maryland, you cannot call yourself a social worker if you are not licensed.  I am not a generalist. As a master-level macro social work graduate in a state that doesn’t have a macro exam, I still refuse to take the exam although I am sure that I can pass it. I call it my personal protest.

My Social Work Philosophy as shared in the blog post “Elevating The Narrative of the Social Work Profession”:

  • I believe social work education (bachelors, master’s, or doctoral degree) from an accredited school of social work makes one a social worker.
  • I believe that social workers should be paid more for our education and expertise.
  • I believe that all clinical social work students should take a few macro courses.
  • I believe that licensing should be the same across all 50 states.
  • I believe that the BSW and LMSW licenses are gatekeeping, not title protection.
  • I believe that all clinicians/therapists should be licensed (LCSW or LCSW-C).
  • I believe that a macro and/or mezzo license could be a game-changer because it shows equal value for these practice areas.
  • I believe that it’s all social work and after 30 years I still love social work.

I know amazing social workers who have failed the exam more than once. I know social workers who have taken days off work to study for the exam. I know social workers who have joined study groups. I know social workers who have spent a lot of money on test preparation materials and courses. I know licensed social workers that suck. The calls for change have been long-standing – abolish the test, abolish ASWB, abolish NASW.

The 2022 exam pass rate analysis released by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) shows that the test is more problematic than many believed. When considering the Clinical exam performance of test-takers by race/ethnicity, first-time pass rates have historically been highest for white test-takers, averaging 83.9 percent during the 2018–2021 time period, followed by multiracial (79.9 percent), Asian (72 percent), Hispanic/Latino (65.1 percent), Native American/Indigenous peoples (62.9 percent), and Black (45 percent) test-takers. The data for non-native English speakers were also revealing.

My personal protest continues.

There are many calls to action.

Which one will I choose? Which one will you choose?



Nicki Sanders, MSW, ushers high-performing women of color in mid-level social work and human services leadership through promotion to senior leadership. As Founder and CEO of Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, her mission is simple – to eliminate toxic workplaces by developing skilled, empathetic, and goal-oriented leaders who have the vision, support, and resources to create a culture where business prospers, and employees thrive individually and collectively. Nicki has an extensive background in nonprofit management leading high-functioning, multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life and career aligned with her values and purpose. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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