# An ANCOVA puzzler

Doing effect size calculations for meta-analysis is a good way to lose your faith in humanity—or at least your faith in researchers’ abilities to do anything like sensible statistical inference. Try it, and you’re surely encounter head-scratchingly weird ways that authors have reported even simple analyses, like basic group comparisons. When you encounter this sort of thing, you have two paths: you can despair, curse, and/or throw things, or you can view the studies as curious little puzzles—brain-teasers, if you will—to keep you awake and prevent you from losing track of those notes you took during your stats courses, back when. Here’s one of those curious little puzzles, which I recently encountered in helping a colleague with a meta-analysis project.

A researcher conducts a randomized experiment, assigning participants to each of $$G$$ groups. Each participant is assessed on a variable $$Y$$ at pre-test and at post-test (we can assume there’s no attrition). In their study write-up, the researcher reports sample sizes for each group, means and standard deviations for each group at pre-test and at post-test, and adjusted means at post-test, where the adjustment is done using a basic analysis of covariance, controlling for pre-test scores only. The data layout looks like this:

Group $$N$$ Pre-test $$M$$ Pre-test $$SD$$ Post-test $$M$$ Post-test $$SD$$ Adjusted post-test $$M$$
Group A $$n_A$$ $$\bar{x}_{A}$$ $$s_{A0}$$ $$\bar{y}_{A}$$ $$s_{A1}$$ $$\tilde{y}_A$$
Group B $$n_B$$ $$\bar{x}_{B}$$ $$s_{B0}$$ $$\bar{y}_{B}$$ $$s_{B1}$$ $$\tilde{y}_B$$
$$\vdots$$ $$\vdots$$ $$\vdots$$ $$\vdots$$ $$\vdots$$ $$\vdots$$ $$\vdots$$

Note that the write-up does not provide an estimate of the correlation between the pre-test and the post-test, nor does it report a standard deviation or standard error for the mean change-score between pre-test and post-test within each group. All we have are the summary statistics, plus the adjusted post-test scores. We can assume that the adjustment was done according to the basic ANCOVA model, assuming a common slope across groups as well as homoskedasticity and so on. The model is then $y_{ig} = \alpha_g + \beta x_{ig} + e_{ig},$ for $$i = 1,...,n_g$$ and $$g = 1,...,G$$, where $$e_{ig}$$ is an independent error term that is assumed to have constant variance across groups.

### For realz?

Here’s an example with real data, drawn from Table 2 of Murawski (2006):

Group $$N$$ Pre-test $$M$$ Pre-test $$SD$$ Post-test $$M$$ Post-test $$SD$$ Adjusted post-test $$M$$
Group A 25 37.48 4.64 37.96 4.35 37.84
Group B 26 36.85 5.18 36.46 3.86 36.66
Group C 16 37.88 3.88 37.38 4.76 36.98

That study reported this information for each of several outcomes, with separate analyses for each of two sub-groups (LD and NLD). The text also reports that they used a two-level hierarchical linear model for the ANCOVA adjustment. For simplicity, let’s just ignore the hierarchical linear model aspect and assume that it’s a straight, one-level ANCOVA.

### The puzzler

Calculate an estimate of the standardized mean difference between group $$B$$ and group $$A$$, along with the sampling variance of the SMD estimate, that adjusts for pre-test differences between groups. Candidates for numerator of the SMD include the adjusted mean difference, $$\tilde{y}_B - \tilde{y}_A$$ or the difference-in-differences, $$\left(\bar{y}_B - \bar{x}_B\right) - \left(\bar{y}_A - \bar{x}_A\right)$$. In either case, the tricky bit is finding the sampling variance of this quantity, which involves the pre-post correlation. For the denominator of the SMD, you use the post-test SD, either pooled across just groups $$A$$ and $$B$$ or pooled across all $$G$$ groups, assuming a common population variance.

Have an idea for how to solve this? Post it in the comments or email it to me. Need the solution because you have a study like this in your meta-analysis? Contact me and I’ll share it with you directly. I’m being coy because I’m teaching meta-analysis next semester, and I feel like this would make a good extra credit problem…

comments powered by Disqus