Links 10/8/15

Links for you. Science:

Obama just announced the first new marine sanctuaries in 15 years
Analysis of Transmission of MRSA and ESBL-E among Pigs and Farm Personnel
Nobel Prize Week
How to sequence and assemble a large eukaryote genome with long reads in 2015
All 8,400 Apollo Moon Mission Photos Just Went Online. Here Are Some of Our Faves.


The Surreal Reasons Girls Are Disappearing In El Salvador: #15Girls
Valeant’s Drug Price Strategy Enriches It, but Infuriates Patients and Lawmakers
Why Americans shouldn’t despair about gun control
Discrimination and Worker Evaluation
Already A 50% Chance Of A Government Shutdown In December
So, I Just Watched Star Wars for the First Time
Why in the hell did it take a random viral video for McGraw-Hill to fix this mistake on slavery? (the last sentence is key)
There is Something Wrong With This.
The blood of El Salvador’s massacres stains America
What It’s Like To Report on Mass Shootings Routinely
When you read a story about new SecEd John King’s “successful” charter schools, think about this graph
How Can You Call Yourself “Pro-Life” if You Do Nothing About Gun Violence?
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
The Great Evasion
You Don’t Pass a Pool Fencing Law After a Child Drowns, Says Jeb, Who Did Just That
Gun Control’s Biggest Problem: Most People Just Don’t Care Very Much
The Faith-Based Education Policies of @ArneDuncan

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

Green House

Observed on Newport Place NW, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Green House

Posted in DC | Leave a comment

Misunderstanding “Proficiency”

The NY Times describes how one of the promises of the Common Core, the ability to compare educational outcomes among states, is failing, since states are defining student proficiency is different ways (boldface mine):

Ohio seems to have taken a page from Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.

Last month, state officials releasing an early batch of test scores declared that two-thirds of students at most grade levels were proficient on reading and math tests given last spring under the new Common Core requirements.

Yet similar scores on the same tests meant something quite different in Illinois, where education officials said only about a third of students were on track. And in Massachusetts, typically one of the strongest academic performers, the state said about half of the students who took the same tests as Ohio’s children met expectations.

It all came down to the different labels each state used to describe the exact same scores on the same tests.

What the Times neglects to mention is that the Common Core models its difficulty levels after those of the NAEP, which uses very difficult cut scores. That context is critical. Massachusetts, which by all accounts, didn’t monkey about much with the definition of proficiency, only had about half of its students score ‘proficient’ or better. Yet Massachusetts is not only one best school systems year in and year out in the U.S., but also the world. Put another way, all European countries would have less than half of their students score as ‘proficient’, based on how they do relative to Massachusetts.

It’s worth noting what Common Core and the NAEP mean by proficient (boldface mine):

I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years. I understood that “proficient” was a very high standard. There are four NAEP achievement levels: Advanced (typically reached by 5-8% of students); Proficient (typically reached by about 35-40% of students); Basic (typically reached by about 75% of students); and Below Basic (very poor performance, about 20-25% of students). Thus, by aligning its “pass” mark with NAEP proficient, the PARCC and SBAC (the two testing groups) were choosing a level that most students will not reach. Only in Massachusetts have as many as 50% of students reached NAEP proficient. Nearly half have not….

So, if these consortia intend to align with the very rigorous standards of NAEP, most students will fail the tests. They will fail them every year…

It is time to ask whether NAEP proficient is the right “cut score” (passing mark). I think it is not. To me, given my knowledge of NAEP achievement levels, proficient represents solid academic performance, a high level of achievement. I think of it as an A. Advanced, to me, is A+. Anyone who expects the majority of students to score an A on their state exams is being, I think, wildly unrealistic. Please remember that NAEP proficient represents a high level of achievement, not a grade level mark or a pass-fail mark. NAEP basic would be a proper benchmark as a passing grade, not NAEP proficient.

Furthermore, the NAEP achievements levels have been controversial ever since they were first promulgated in the early 1990s when Checker Finn was chairman of the NAEP governing board. Checker was subsequently president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute, and he has long believed that American students are slackers and need rigorous standards (as a member of his board for many years, I agreed with him then, not now). He believed that the NAEP scale scores (0-500) did not show the public how American students were doing, and he was a strong proponent of the achievement levels, which were set very high.

James Harvey, a former superintendent who runs the National Superintendents’ Roundtable, wrote an article in 2011 that explains just how controversial the NAEP achievement levels are.

He wrote then:

…What about NAEP? Oddly, NAEP’s proficient standard has little to do with grade-level performance or even proficiency as most people understand the term. NAEP officials like to think of the assessment standard as “aspirational.” In 2001, long before the current contretemps around state assessments, two experts associated with the National Assessment Governing Board—Mary Lynne Bourque, staff member to the governing board, and Susan Loomis, a member of the board—made it clear that “the proficient achievement level does not refer to ‘at grade’ performance. Nor is performance at the proficient level synonymous with ‘proficiency’ in the subject. That is, students who may be considered proficient in a subject, given the common usage of the term, might not satisfy the requirements for performance at the NAEP achievement level.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that most state assessments aimed at establishing proficiency as “at grade” produce results different from a NAEP standard in which proficiency does not refer to “at grade” performance or even describe students that most would think of as proficient. Far from supporting the NAEP proficient level as an appropriate benchmark for state assessments, many analysts endorse the NAEP basic level as the more appropriate standard because NAEP’s current standard sets an unreasonably high bar.

…In 1993, the National Academy of Education argued that NAEP’s achievement-setting processes were “fundamentally flawed” and “indefensible.” That same year, the General Accounting Office concluded that “the standard-setting approach was procedurally flawed, and that the interpretations of the resulting NAEP scores were of doubtful validity.” The National Assessment Governing Board, or NAGB, which oversees NAEP, was so incensed by an unfavorable report it received from Western Michigan University in 1991 that it looked into firing the contractor before hiring other experts to take issue with the university researchers’ conclusions that counseled against releasing NAEP scores without warning about NAEP’s “conceptual and technical shortcomings.”

…Those benchmarks might be more convincing if most students outside the United States could meet them. That’s a hard case to make, judging by a 2007 analysis from Gary Phillips, a former acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. Phillips set out to map NAEP benchmarks onto international assessments in science and mathematics and found that only Taipei (or Taiwan) and Singapore have a significantly higher percentage of proficient students in 8th grade science than the United States does. In math, the average performance of 8th grade students in six jurisdictions could be classified as proficient: Singapore, South Korea, Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, and Flemish Belgium. Judging by Phillips’ results, it seems that when average results, by jurisdiction, place typical students at the NAEP proficient level, the jurisdictions involved are typically wealthy—many with “tiger mothers” or histories of excluding low-income students or those with disabilities.

…First, NAEP’s achievement levels, far from being engraved on stone tablets, are administered, as Congress has insisted, on a “trial basis.” Second, NAEP achievement levels are based on judgment and educated guesses, not science. Third, the proficiency benchmark seems reachable by most students in only a handful of wealthy or Asian jurisdictions.

It is important to know this history when looking at the results of the Common Core tests (PARCC and SBAC). The fact that they have chosen NAEP proficient as their cut score guarantees that most students will “fail” and will continue to “fail.” Exactly what is the point? It is a good thing to have high standards, but they should be reasonable and attainable. NAEP proficient is not attainable by most students. Not because they are dumb, but because it is the wrong cut score for a state examination. It is “aspirational,” like running a four-minute mile. Some runners will be able to run a four-minute mile, but most cannot and never will. Virtually every major league pitcher aspires to pitch a no-hitter, but very few will do it. The rest will not, and they are not failures.

It’s really disturbing that someone at NAEP didn’t think normalized scores were good indicators–they are a really good way to compare student populations (all hail the standard deviation). But we’ll let that slide.

It’s all the rage to adopt the “soft bigotry of low expectations” attitude: who doesn’t want to believe every student can reach high levels of achievement? That said, we also have to be aware of the cruel bigotry of unrealistic expectations. Over the short term, not all students will show tremendous gains. That doesn’t mean we–or they–are failing.

Posted in Education | 1 Comment

Links 10/7/15

Links for you. Science:

Anti-vaxxers are super unhappy with the study they funded showing no links to autism
Asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had help from volcanoes, study says
ASM NGS 2015 – Meeting Notes
Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Is a Global Crisis. Why Are We Doing So Little to Fight It?
D.C. Council ponders: What should D.C.’s official amphipod be? (“D.C. may not be a state, but it’s on the leading edge of amphipod recognition”_


Why can’t our gun policy look more like Canada’s?
McCarthy promises Sean Hannity he’ll shut down the government. Four times, apparently.
Gun advocates are right, we should compare guns to cars
Charters with Broad support show only a mixed return on investment
If you thought Arne Duncan was controversial, meet his successor
A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths
Greece’s Fascists Are Gaining (finally, someone notices)
Michael Hudson on Parasitic Financial Capitalism
Special education teacher: Why it’s ‘idiotic’ to force my students to take standardized tests
Here’s what John Tierney left out of his anti-recycling screed. (Tierney has had a hard-on for recycling for years–this is not new)
Can’t get enough of this bulldog, scaring off bears (second angle here)
Maths palace built by calculus ‘rock star’ on sale for £11.4m
Rehearsing for death: A pre-K teacher on the trouble with lockdown drills
Jurassic Pork: What Could a Jewish Time Traveler Eat?

Posted in Lotsa Links | 2 Comments


Observed on P Street, between 20th and 21st NW, Dupont Circle, D.C.:


Posted in DC | Leave a comment

Maybe This Has Something To Do With The Reproducibility Problem?

Recently, the Atlantic had an article about people who earn a living as clinical trial test subjects. Some ‘methodological notes of interest’ (boldface mine):

Intrigued by the promise of an easier way to make money, he enrolled as a guinea pig in a four-week study testing the effects of alcohol on a painkiller drug.

“It was pretty harsh,” he said. Many of the participants became violently ill; Stone vomited while having his blood drawn. The clinic staff told participants to use a bucket rather than the toilet, if possible, so that they could look through the vomit to see how much of the pill had been digested before it came back up. After the first round, Stone said, he began sneaking into the bathroom after each dose and forcing himself to throw up the pill, to stave off the side effects. The staff didn’t catch on, he told me, and he didn’t share his trick with any of the other participants. “I figured I could get away with it if I kept my mouth shut.”

…There are a few things most serious guinea pigs eventually learn. The first is: There’s such a thing as being too honest.

When Robert Helms, a former union organizer and now-retired guinea pig from Philadelphia, began doing studies in the early 1990s, other guinea pigs he knew from around the neighborhood “drilled me on what to say and what not to say,” he said. “Basically, it’s ‘Have you ever been sick a day in your life?’ ‘Has anyone you’ve related to ever been sick a day in their life?’ And the general answer is no.

…“A lot of places will ask if you’ve ever smoked a cigarette even once,” Stone said. “And if you say yes, boom, that’s the end of it. Sometimes you have to skirt around it.”

…Some studies, the well-paying ones, are competitive, and clinics will often admit more people than they need from the phone screen, expecting to cull the herd after the round of physicals. Pros know to avoid alcohol and drugs in the days leading up to the screening. Some of the more cautious ones will also abstain from exercise, out of worry that an increased creatinine level will make it appear as though they’ve been drinking.

Clinics will also ask about the so-called “washout period,” the 30-day window most clinics require in between when a person last participated in a study and when they can begin a new one. It’s a twofold purpose: protect the health of the subjects, and protect the integrity of the data.

There are some companies, like Verified Clinical Trials, that track participation across trial sites; researchers can subscribe to make sure their subjects aren’t enrolled in more than one study at the same time, or haven’t been in one too recently. Often, though, clinics rely on the participants themselves to enforce the washout….

Depending on when it happens, getting caught in a lie can either get a participant bounced from a study, or it can cause a company to scrap the whole thing. “It really jeopardizes the science and the integrity of the data you’re going to gather,” said John Lewis, the vice president of public affairs at the Association of Clinical Research Organizations. “If you go back and you find people who violated that or were not honest … then you’re potentially throwing out their data and maybe the whole study,” at a potential cost of millions of dollars.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of ways the science can go wrong long before you get to p-hacking.

Posted in Drugs, Statistics | Leave a comment

Links 10/6/15

Links for you. Science:

Chagas: An Emerging Infectious Disease Threat In U.S.
Human Genome Project: Twenty-five years of big biology
The Future Will Be Full of Mushroom Batteries
If Your iPhone Were Powered By…
In vitro evaluation of dual carbapenem combinations against carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae


Can America Afford Bernie Sanders’ Agenda? (yes)
Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem?
Most-ticketed drivers in Boston pay thousands annually: Frequent fines don’t faze some who cram onto city’s streets (I’ve suspected people do this)
Bureau of Sex Slavery
The man who gives out the most parking tickets in Boston
Great Moments In Journihilism*: David Brooks Pulls a McCarthy
Not the Smart One: On Jeb’s Garbled Support for the Washington Football Team’s Brand. Jeb Bush has unsurprisingly decided to side with bigotry in the case of Washington’s football team’s name. His incoherent reasoning should ring alarm bells for supporters and detractors alike.
Trump will lose, or I will eat this column
Angry Metro riders overjoyed at more oversight: ‘Hell yeah. Bring in the feds.’
Cops Brutally Beat Police Misconduct Investigator After Turning Off Dash Cam (thugs_to use a phrase)
They make the rules
Why We Can’t Reason Together

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment