The Washington Assessment of Student Learning was given for the final time last spring, and the results from that exam will be announced today. But even though there will no longer be a test called the WASL, much of what's on the new tests will be a shorter, streamlined WASL with a new name.

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Many today will celebrate the demise of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), with the announcement of results from last spring — the final time the exam was given.

Next year, the WASL will be replaced by what Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn called two new, better exams.

But it’s premature to bid the 12-year-old WASL goodbye all together. There may no longer be a test called the WASL, but much of what’s on the new tests will be a shorter, streamlined WASL with a new name.

For example:

• Many of the test questions on the new exams will be drawn from the same bank of items used to create the WASL.

• The reading and science sections will be similar enough to the WASL that Dorn’s office says that results could be compared.

• The writing section will be identical to the WASL.

Despite those similarities, Dorn’s office said enough changes will be made that the new tests deserve new names.

“If I were in the software world, I’d say this is clearly a new version of the test,” said Joe Willhoft, assistant superintendent for assessment and student information. “This is not just an upgrade.”

Perhaps most significantly, he said, the testing time will roughly be cut in half — from two to three weeks of testing each spring to 1-<133>½ at most.

But others say such changes, although important, amount to a refinement rather than a replacement.

“Regardless of what the name is, it still will be the same kind of assessment,” said state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, who chaired a task force that also recommended many of the changes Dorn is pursuing. Teachers, McAuliffe said, “won’t have to change their method of instruction.”

In addition to shortening the tests, other changes under way for 2010 are:

• Essay questions will be eliminated, except in the subject of writing. No longer will students face questions worth four points that require up to a full page of answer. Seventy-five percent of the points will come from multiple-choice questions, up from 45 percent to 60 percent on the WASL.

• Students soon will take the tests online. Voluntary online tests will be available for middle schools this spring and phased in over the next few years. This change will allow students, teachers and parents to get results sooner.

• The math section will be different. That’s because the state recently approved new standards for what students should learn in math, a change under way before Dorn took office. For high-school students, the Legislature also has mandated a move to end-of-course exams, which will be given starting in 2011.

• The tests for students in grades three to eight will be given later in the year — in May rather than April. That’s to give students more time to learn the material.

The move to online testing is causing the biggest concern for school districts, mainly because some don’t have enough computers to pull it off.

And Bob Silverman, president-elect of the Washington Educational Research Association, says he personally wonders whether some kinds of questions just can’t be asked via computer.

“There won’t be the emphasis on show-what-you-think kind of items,” he said.

But Willhoft said the computer tests may also have advantages over paper-and-pencil exams. For example, he said some states have students do simulated science experiments as part of their tests.

However the test is given, many stress that the expectations for students will be the same.

“It’s not like ‘the WASL is gone, phew,’ ” said Edie Harding, executive director of the state Board of Education. “We still need to measure students’ progress.”

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com