Understanding the Split: BACB Standards & TCO Transformation
Once upon a time, there was a couple named by their shared editions. The BACB® Standards and the BACB® Task List were long-standing partners known for their synchronized updates. But in 2022, to reaffirm their separate and distinct purposes, the BACB® announced a split in the marriage of the Task List and the Standards. The split also comes with a name change. Starting in 2025 with the 6th edition, the Task List will become the Test Content Outline (TCO).
The TCO's re-birth and the Standards update mark a significant evolution in the field. The separate existence and independent functions of the TCO and Standards will continue to guide students into the field of behavior analysis.
This post will explain these newly separated functions of the TCO and Standards and how to use them going forward.
TCO: What it Is and What it Is Not
The TCO specifies content appearing on the BCBA certification examination beginning in 2025. Like the Task List in previous editions, the TCO represents the knowledge and skills identified as important for entry-level BCBA practitioners. Much like the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) is designed to test the knowledge and skills every lawyer needs to enter the field of law, the BACB exams serve the same function for certification in behavior analysis.
While the TCO outlines the most basic competencies tested for entry into the field, it isn't an exhaustive list of everything a behavior analyst should know. Nor does it dictate what should be taught in academic programs. Instead, the TCO is only an outline of minimum competencies that will be tested for entry into the field.
Decoding the TCO Naming Convention
The “edition” of the TCO refers to the tested tasks but is not tied to the coursework or fieldwork Standards. That is, students may complete the 5th-edition (AKA 2022) Coursework Standards and take a test based on the 6th-edition TCO. The 5th-edition Task List will be applicable until December 2024, while tests from January 1, 2025, will be based on the 6th-edition TCO.
For more information about the 6th- edition TCO, see the blog, From Task List to TCO: A New Name and Content Update, or the following BACB resources:
BACB Podcast Episode 26.
The Standards: Your Trusty Old Friend
The BACB Standards, while now standing apart from the TCO, remain a fundamental element of the certification process. The Standards include three components for exam eligibility: degree, coursework (may be included in the degree), and fieldwork experience. Standards change approximately every five years and are now named by their implementation date rather than the “edition.” Currently, in the 2022 Standards, the next big change will occur on January 1, 2027. Students applying on or after this date will have to meet the new Standards to qualify for the certification exam.
A Rich History and Bright Future
Though this story has come to an end, the TCO and StandardsStandards live on, both changing and functioning independently to help guide certification in our field. The future holds much for these two as it does for certification in behavior analysis and our field as a whole.
What to Expect: FAQs
How did the TL/TCO change?
With the introduction of the 6th- edition TCO, 13 additional tasks were added.
How does the 6th- edition TCO affect students who started with the 5th- edition TL?
The transition from the 5th TL to the 6th- edition TCO should not disadvantage students. The 6th- edition TCO simply specifies what will be tested but does not change the requirements for the exam. A program that identifies as a 5th-edition program is likely referring to the 5th-edition (2022) Standards. Proactive programs like Florida Tech’s ABA Online programs already include the majority of 6th-edition TCO tasks in 5th-edition coursework.
Will I need more coursework?
The transition to the 6th- edition TCO does not require additional coursework as it only changes the testable content.
When do the Standards change?
Students who apply on or after January 1, 2027, will have to meet the 2027 BACB Standards.
Does my program have to be accredited?
No. There are currently two pathways to meet eligibility Standards for certification. Pathway 1 requires a degree from an accredited program and sufficient fieldwork experience. Pathway 2 requires an acceptable degree, specific behavior- analytic coursework like that offered via a Verified Course Sequence (VCS), and fieldwork experience. Both of these pathways are available through December 31, 2031.
Is “verification” going away?
Yes. Verification of programs via the VCS system offers administrative oversight of programs, butprograms but is not required to meet BACB coursework requirements. As of Dec 31, 2025, ABAI will no longer provide administrative oversight to VCS programs. This should not cause concern for students as the BACB plans to replace this system with an “attestation” system so programs may confirm coursework eligibility of students completing their programs.
Where can I find more information about the BACB Standards and TCO changes?
Information about the 2027 standards can be found in the March 2022 BACB Newsletter and Inside the BACB podcast episode 27. For more on the TCO name change, refer to the February 2022 BACB Newsletter and Inside the BACB Podcast episode 26 or see our blog From Task List to TCO: A New Name and Content Update.