All's Fair in the WASL War

Juanita Doyon


The other day, I asked my dentist how much it would cost to have a certain procedure done. With all seriousness, he said, “Seven thousand.” When I gasped, he said, “Four thousand with a discount.” Since the work I was considering is optional, I was not prepared to pay four thousand dollars for it, but before I could say that my dentist said, with a smile, “It’s two hundred and fifty; don’t believe everything I say.”


This was a joke, and I doubt that my dentist had an ulterior motive. However, after hearing the larger figures, the $250 seemed very reasonable.


Something is happening in Washington State education that is not a joke. A high price has been quoted for our children’s success in school and for their high school diplomas. That price is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, and we are already paying for it---in millions! Many parents and students are gasping and waiting for the price to go down, and many are getting ready to say, “No way!” The Washington Education Association has called for big changes in how the test is graded and used. Teachers know that this test is harmful to children and schools.


I spoke with a state school board member over a year ago. He assured me that WASL would never be used to deny a diploma, if a student has fulfilled all other requirements or there are special circumstances. I asked him how he could say that, when school reform law says that WASL will become a graduation requirement for the class of 2008. What kind of bait and switch games are education officials in our state playing? If they tell us that WASL is a graduation requirement and then do us the favor of somehow removing that part of the law, will the rest of the plan seem reasonable?


Using WASL as an exit test is a bad idea, and it may be the most obvious wrong that is WASL. Who wants to read headlines about thousands of students being denied diplomas based on one set of test scores? Certainly not the state superintendent.


Since the federal “No Child Left Behind” law does not require a high school exit exam, and the state is aware that lawsuits are imminent, particularly if children with special needs are denied diplomas, I predict the graduation requirement will be the first concession made in the WASL war. And it may be a very strategically timed concession, made just about the time our elected officials need endorsements from education entities such as the WEA.


When the state superintendent and others decide our high schools just aren’t ready to implement an exit exam, I hope citizens will not be fooled by this small step toward educational sanity. It will not get us to a reasonable two hundred and fifty dollars, and those who care about students will not be sighing in very much relief. Even if the Certificate of Mastery, with its required WASL passage, becomes optional, we will still be left with an expensive, inappropriate monster of a test that has taken over our communities, our classrooms and the lives of our children.


Juanita Doyon is the organizer of Mothers Against WASL, a candidate for Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the author of Not With Our Kids You Don't! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools, Heinemann, 2003. email: