New state schools chief plans overhaul of WASL

  • By Kaitlin Manry For the Enterprise
  • Tuesday, November 11, 2008 4:35pm

Randy Dorn, who won the closest state schools chief race in two decades, has plans to revise the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL.

Incumbent Terry Bergeson, 66, led Washington’s public schools for 12 years.

Throughout his campaign, Dorn criticized the WASL, a statewide exam Bergeson developed and backed during her tenure. As a legislator, Dorn supported the creation of the WASL, but he thinks Bergeson went astray and developed a test that is unfair and doesn’t accurately measure student knowledge.

He won the election by convincing voters to associate Bergeson with the test, said Cathy Allen, president and chief executive of The Connections Group consulting firm in Seattle. The company did not work on either candidate’s campaign.

Bergeson led five other candidates in the primary, but she didn’t want to speculate on what went wrong in the general election.

“There’s a whole bunch of things people think, and I have no idea,” she said. “I’m going to let people who analyze these things analyze that for me. I just know the voters have decided.”

Bergeson, a former teacher, counselor and administrator, is unsure what she’ll do next year. She said she’ll help Dorn get going in his new position over the next two and a half months, and then she hopes to stay involved in education.

Dorn, 55, is the executive director of the state union for classified school workers, including custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

A former teacher and principal, Dorn received a major boost in his campaign when the state teachers union endorsed him. Bergeson ran the union in the late ’80s, but she lost favor with many teachers over her support for the WASL.

Dorn said he plans to begin reshaping the test as soon as he takes office. He plans to shorten the high school WASL by a third to a half by spring 2010 and reduce the amount of writing required on the math portion of the test.

As schools chief, he can make some changes to the test, but in order to get rid of it, the Legislature would need to act. Passing the WASL, or another standardized test, will still be required for graduation, he said.

Though Bergeson has shortened the test in recent months, she has also defended it as a good way to prepare students for college or work. Many state business leaders support her and want to keep the test.

Bergeson acknowledges that Dorn could change the test but said much of the work she’s done over the last 12 years will live on.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the system overall, but I just accept the fact that the strong, good stuff will be sustained,” she said.

The position pays $121,618 a year.

Kaitlin Manry writes for the Herald in Everett.

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