School social work is a specialty within the field of social work that provides services to students to help them achieve equal access to the curriculum. These services are provided at the micro, mezzo, exo, and macro level systems of practice. School social work (SSW), depending on state requirements, often requires special training. This training consists of academic and practical experiences in social, emotional, and behavioral problems that occur in the school setting. These training experiences prepare school social workers (SSWs) to provide services to students, their families, and the school and community. SSWs help school districts meet local, state, and federal mandates: those designed to promote equal educational opportunity, social justice, and the removal of barriers to learning.
The NASW Standards for School Social Work Services address these barriers and the ever-changing needs of SSWs and the populations they serve by saying "School social workers shall meet the provisions for professional practice set by NASW and their respective state department of education and possess knowledge and understanding basic to social work profession as well as the local education system" ("National Association Social", 2012, p. 8). These provisions for professional practice often include required exams administered by state education agencies and/or state social work licensure boards. There are no current universally accepted exam standards for educational professionals, but basic skills exams, or the state equivalent, allow states to determine their own testing standards and set their own passing scores (Zimmer-Loew, 2008). A basic skills test measures skills in reading comprehension, writing, mathematics, and language arts. However, testing may or may not be a requirement to become a school social worker, as exam, course, and degree requirements can vary from state-to-state.
Altshuler and Reid-Webb (2009) have found that state requirements for school social work significantly differ throughout the nation. They examined the different approaches to school social work certification and found that 20 states require an MSW degree for certification, and 10 states only require a BSW. They also found that only 18 states require coursework as part of their degree requirements for certification, and internship and practicum requirements vary as well. Overall, school social work has and continuously will change in response to developing education policy and changing school and environmental conditions.
School social work services, as well as school psychological and school counseling services, are considered "related services" under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 300.34. Therefore, SSWs' academic, professional, and practical skills are vital in today's schools. Mental health issues among school-age children are an increasingly common occurrence with the rise of incidents including but not limited to school violence and bullying, which affects the work of SSWs (Cosner-Berzin & O'Conner, 2010). Today's schools also try to provide an education to students in a culturally competent manner, and SSWs are uniquely trained in dealing with diverse populations. Considering the needs of the school systems, SSW licensure or certification standards should at least be equivalent to those of other school support personnel (SSP) in the school environment. SSP are professionals that provide mental and physical health services within the school setting, such as school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, speech & language pathologists, and occupational therapists.
In cross comparison of state requirements for SSW, Altshuler and Reid-Webb (2009) examined school social work credentialing throughout the nation, and found a lack of legitimacy in the training of SSW (as compared to their SSP counterparts) that may stem from poorly defined role expectations and professional and educational requirements for state-level licensure or certification. Mumm and Bye (2011) conducted similar research on the SSW training requirements and the curriculum content offered in SSW training programs throughout the nation. They found that only 20 states had schools of social work that offer training in SSW. Within these 20 states there were 42 graduate social work programs that offered SSW training. This research suggests that SSW training lags behind that of other school support personnel. These findings may be the impetus behind the new and rigorous programmatic changes that we are seeing in school social work preparation programs in Illinois and other states. Furthermore, with the implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 and the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) in Illinois, there is a national and state demand for highly qualified teachers and SSP in public schools. Training qualified SSWs is the responsibility of professional education programs- namely accredited social work programs with a school social work training program. School social work preparation programs must respond to the changing context of the school environment, as well as the ever-changing policies that govern the profession. The policies that address testing as part of the training, although needed, may be obstacles in that SSW services may be reduced due to a lack of students passing the required exams for licensure.
In the state of Washington, Ellis and Bryant (1976) brought to light the importance of school social worker training. They advocate for accountability, assessment, and matching NASW requirements across all school social worker requirements while using the state's education system as a case study for their research. As a result, Ellis and Bryant composed an example of the competency education model for school social workers. The objective is to ascertain that the SSW candidate has acquired beginning level competence in (1) the scientific process, (2) intervention, human development, and social systems, and (3) professional values and ethics.
The school social work profession faces discrepancies between NASW endorsement requirements and state licensure requirements. NASW requires SSWs have a graduate degree from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education; and requires that a SSW be licensed by their state boards of social work and certified (or licensed) through their state departments of education when available ("National Association Social", 2012). NASW desires the creation of an endorsement standard across states, agencies, and institutions in order to provide accountability and the validation of the SSW profession (Sabatino, Alvarez, & Anderson-Ketchmark, 2011). Illinois, at present, has stringent requirements for school social work licensure.
Illinois SSW Licensure
To practice school social work in the state of Illinois one must take four courses (two SSW courses, one disabilities course, and one school policy/law course), complete a 600+ hour practicum in a public school, obtain a Master of Social Work, and pass basic skills and content area (Content 184) exam in order to be licensed with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). In lieu of the basic skills (or Test of Academic Proficiency - TAP test in Illinois), ISBE also accepts the ACT plus writing (with a score of 22 or above, and a minimum of 19 on the writing portion) and the SAT (with a score of 1030, and a minimum of 450 on the writing portion) ("ISBE Educator Licensure", 2016). After these requirements are met, the Professional Educator License (PEL) with an endorsement in SSW is granted by ISBE. In the past, ISBE required a Type 73 certificate with an endorsement in SSW.
Prior to July 1, 2013, all educators and paraprofessionals in the state of Illinois were required to obtain a certificate as part of their degree that would grant access to employment in the school systems ("Illinois Education...