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Design inference: Were the students cheating? Does it even matter?

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Well, the problem in Washington, DC schools was roughly this drama in three acts:

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.[ … ]

Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

[ … ]

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

– from Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello, “When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?” (USA Today , March 28, 2011)

Like most human beings, I am implicitly a non-materialist, so I would think, the important question is, who made the extra erasures and when? Could hardly be the erring students all on their own because they didn’t know the right answers, or they would have put them in first.

On the other hand, on the materialist view, maybe this is merely a series of unconnectable events, as many persons quoted in the story came close to claiming. One thing we often fail to grasp is that materialism and other no-design theories of life are ultimately fatal to the very idea of cheating detection. After all, if our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth, claiming that cheating occurred is merely another state of the neurons that may or may not contribute to individual fitness. There is nothing to know and no one to know it.

People grouse that nothing usually “gets done” about these situations. From a materialist standpoint, their neurons, coded by their genes, have deluded them into believing that there is something to do and someone to do it. Perhaps that ongoing neuronal buzz promotes their evolutionary fitness.

Materialists who claim the high moral ground (as their neurons buzz) are an interesting spectacle because, in their view, there actually is no moral ground.

Wow, O'Leary, very, VERY impressive. I've bought 'edge of evolution' 'DBB', 'signature in the cell,' and another one [co?]authored by Dembski. All very cool. But this really strikes home. After all, our knowledge is limited... maybe all of those kids JUST SO HAPPENED to have a '12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student' ratio. I guess we'll never know for sure, right? I mean, you can't say its not possible... and those bonuses? Just a coincidence. Oh, you say that you have a better chance at winning a power-ball lotto...? Well, perhaps there are an infinitude of other D.C. schools in alternate universes, each chock full of children taking standardized testing. So, you see, it really is no surprise that, in at least ONE of these universes [just-so-happens to be OUR universe] the kids will have "12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student" ratio. The beauty of it all is that, yes, maybe... but if we cannot act on this 'design inference,' then we, practically, have no practical 'cheater detection' system. This topic seems so very stimulating; Perhaps a 'study' is in order, here, whereby we attempt to catch self-proclaimed atheist in the act of using the 'design inference,' by setting them up to detect cheating in a similar fashion to the 'cheating detection' going on here. Your article really made my day! Will Prude
PPS: Pardon the near double post, odd posting difficulties. kairosfocus
PS: ID Foundations, on the design inference, the explanatory filter and its context (including the sci method). In particular, we should reflect on how specified complexity was used to detect cheating, as being utterly unlikely on chance plus mechanical necessity, but easily explicable on design. kairosfocus
PS: ID Foundations, on the design inference, the explanatory filter and its context (including the sci method). kairosfocus
Mrs O'Leary: Design inferences on signs are a commonplace in the real world. It is only when the comfortable assertions of a dominant school of thought come into question, that suddenly they are held to be dubious, ill defined, not mathematically rigorous, etc. In short, methinks I smell selective hyperskepticism. GEM of TKI kairosfocus

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