The much-debated standardized test in Washington state may be headed for a major overhaul now that Randy Dorn, a union official who has served as a teacher and principal, is replacing a three-term incumbent to become the superintendent of public instruction.
After narrowly edging out current chief Terry Bergeson in a nonpartisan race that wasn’t decided until two days after the Nov. 4 election, Mr. Dorn said one of his top priorities would be revamping the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL.
In fact, the WASL became the centerpiece of his campaign; he declared it a “deeply flawed test the public has lost faith in.”
“We’ve gone way too far. The WASL is too long—let’s make it simpler, shorter, and diagnostic,” Mr. Dorn said in an interview this week. He noted that students spend two weeks on the test, which is administered in grades 3-8 and grade 10 to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
“That really resonates with parents,” Mr. Dorn said.
Revamping the WASL, which would require legislative approval for signficant changes, is the most prominent of his priorities as he prepares to take office. Mr. Dorn also said he wants to change the school funding system, improve the dropout rate, and increase access to early education.
In addition, he intends to push policies such as career and technical education. And he is willing to say that although math is a crucial subject, not every student should take Algebra 2—a requirement that has become an emerging trend in many states. Washington State requires it as part of math credits, although there is an opt-out provision.
Mr. Dorn is a former state legislator who in 1993 helped draft and pass a crucial piece of education reform legislation that ultimately led to state standards and a state test. He also has been an elementary and middle school teacher and elementary school principal.
He is leaving a job as the executive director of Public School Employees of Washington, a union that represents classroom aides, transportation workers, and other nonteacher school employees.
In his election victory, Mr. Dorn won 52 percent of the vote to Ms. Bergeson’s nearly 48 percent—a difference of about 120,000 votes. Mr. Dorn also got help and campaign donations from the 60,000-member Washington Education Association.
After she conceded the election, Ms. Bergeson told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “I told [Mr. Dorn] I’d do whatever I could to help him in this transition. I’m happy people gave me the opportunity to do this [job] for 12 years.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 19, 2008 edition of Education Week as Washington State Victor Expected to Tackle Test