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New York Post Online Edition: News [?Sept. 7, 1999]



The sharp rise in test scores in Tacoma, Wash., that shot Chancellor Rudy
Crew into the national spotlight was an "educational fraud" resulting from
heavy test-coaching, a new book says.
The book - "Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture
and What We Can Do to Change It," by Peter Sacks - includes a revealing
investigation into why Tacoma's test scores "miraculously" jumped while Crew
was schools superintendent, then plunged soon after he came to New York in
the fall of 1995.
It concludes that no miracle occurred - that a charismatic Crew played a
"numbers game" that fooled Tacoma and cheated its kids to advance his own
"The Tacoma story wasn't about student achievement," Sacks, a former
college instructor, economist and reporter, writes in a chapter of his book
obtained by The Post.
"This was political theater featuring an ambitious and dynamic Rudy Crew
and a school board hungry to prove that its schools weren't a mess."
Sacks dug up an unpublicized 1997 study, funded by the U.S. Department of
Education, that examined the Efficacy Institute, a controversial
teacher-training company that Crew brought to Tacoma and New York.
The book suggests that Tacoma's short-lived gains were the product of
"blatant teaching to the test," raising questions about Crew's performance in
New York, which is now under scrutiny by the Board of Ed.
In his early years here, Crew trumpeted test-score increases and won a
$50,000 raise, boosting his salary to $245,000. But those gains came on
familiar, outdated tests. Student scores have plummeted on new, tougher state
and city tests.
"It seems there might be some similarity to what happened in New York over
the last few years," said Ray Damonico, education adviser for the Metro
Industrial Areas Foundation, a civic group that works in low-income
"For a couple of years in a row, the Crew administration was touting very
modest increases in reading and math scores. Then, when a new test was
brought in this year, we found those improvements were an illusion - they
were not real," Damonico said.
New York schools, under Crew's leadership, have invested a great deal of
teaching time in test-taking skills and using practice tests to drill kids.
Crew's top aides defend "teaching to the test," saying it focuses
instruction on what kids need to learn.
Asked to respond to Sacks' allegations, Crew spokeswoman Karen Crowe said
it would be "impossible" to discuss a book that has not yet been published.
But she said: "In terms of his record in Tacoma, the chancellor is very
proud of his work there."
As outlined by Sacks, Crew, formerly chief of Sacramento schools and a
deputy superintendent in Boston, came to Tacoma, a blue-collar town
struggling with crime, poverty and unemployment, in 1993.
Crew wowed Tacoma, declaring that all kids were capable of achieving, and
sternly vowing to demand more of his staff.
He convinced the Tacoma school board to spend nearly $2 million over four
years on Efficacy, which pushes the concept that "all children can learn at
high levels." In the fall of 1994, fourth- and eighth-grade scores on the
Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills dropped - a decline Crew called
He ordered a special "re-test" for the following spring.
The results were spectacular - scores for both grades skyrocketed beyond
all expectations.
Crew became "the man of the hour," Sacks writes, and, by that September,
New York came calling.
In early October 1995, Crew snatched up New York's offer of a $195,000
salary - up from $125,000 in Tacoma - along with the use of a Brooklyn
townhouse. He left Tacoma in the lurch with three years left on his contract.
By the fall of 1996, just months after Tacoma finally found a permanent
replacement for Crew, fourth- and eighth-grade scores fell there.
"After all the attention focused on student achievement in Tacoma's schools
over the last few years - particularly by ... Rudy Crew - the district
doesn't have much to show for it," the Tacoma News-Tribune opined.
In 1997, Tacoma scores dropped even more, back to their lackluster pre-Crew
Sacks, who was probing the nation's obsession with standardized tests,
found Tacoma officials reluctant to talk.
But one educator told him how teachers created practice tests "similar to
the questions that were on the test" and drilled kids on them.
Sacks also found a 1997 report by Abt Associates, a highly regarded
consulting firm, that looked into the "Tacoma miracle."
That report documents how Tacoma schools, in the months before the spring
1995 retest, held workshops on how to drill students in test-taking skills,
devoted up to 10 hours of student instruction to test-taking strategies,
developed a test-taking handbook for principals and teachers, and formed
test-taking teams to coordinate their efforts.
"In our view, the test-score gains are most likely a result of the one-time
efforts in March 1995 to increase student test-taking skills," the Abt report
This week, Tacoma school officials denied their short-lived gains were
bogus, but said Crew's sudden departure let the air out of their program.
"I think when Rudy left, the bottom dropped out of the floor, so to speak,"
said school-board member Pat McCarthy. "We had an interim superintendent for
a year. I really think it set us back."
Efficacy founder Jeff Howard, in Lexington, Mass., defended the emphasis on
test-taking skills.
"If it's legitimate for your cousin to take a Kaplan course and gain 50
points on the SAT, why not give inner-city kids the same kind of advantage?"
he asked.
"This is a test that society uses to determine whether kids have knowledge
and skills. Preparing them for the test itself is one way to do that, and
that's what we suggested."

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