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When Statistics Education and State Policy Meet

1 May 2012 2,209 views One Comment
Through the passionate efforts of Christine Franklin, Georgia now includes statistics throughout its K–12 performance standards. For this month’s science policy column, Franklin responds to the following questions, sharing her experiences, challenges, lessons, and observations. She also shares her advice with those seeking to have more statistics in their state’s education curriculum.
~ Steve Pierson, ASA Director of Science Policy

Contributing Editor Christine Franklin is the Lothar Tresp Honoratus Honors Professor in Statistics at the University of Georgia. She was the lead writer for the ASA Pre-K–12 GAISE Framework that served as the basis for the statistics strand in the Common Core State Standards. She is also a past AP Statistics chief reader and was honored in 2006 with the Mu Sigma Rho National Statistical Education Award.

    We understand you were instrumental to the Georgia Department of Education including statistics in their K–12 curriculum standards. How did you get the ear of the GA DoEd people and convince them?

    In the early 2000s, Georgia began the process of reviewing and rewriting the state mathematics standards. When the GA Department of Education released the draft K–12 mathematics standards (called the Georgia Performance Standards [GPS]) for review, I read the standards and was surprised at what were being called the statistics and probability standards, especially at the high-school level. I was seeing mathematics topics such as Venn diagrams, sequences, and series placed under the statistics standard. There was no indication of the statistical investigative process and how to carry out this process.

    Fortunately, one of my mathematics education colleagues during that time at UGA, Brad Findell, was a member of the writing team for 6–12. He understood the need for improvement in the statistics strand and advocated to the 6th–12th advisory committee that I be invited to speak. I was asked to travel to Atlanta and give a two-hour presentation.

    Also fortunate at that time, the ASA Pre-K–12 Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) Framework Strategic Initiative was approved by the ASA Board and made public on the ASA website. I was able to use this document as the basis for my presentation in explaining what is meant by statistical thinking and the importance of all high-school graduates being able to use sound statistical reasoning. I advocated that the statistics standards be rewritten for 6th–12th.

    The advisory committee of dedicated teachers and leaders in mathematics embraced this challenge and asked that I join a subgroup of writers to rewrite the statistics standards. The ASA Pre-K–12 GAISE Framework was the basis for the resulting statistics standards that appeared in the new GPS for mathematics. The statistics strand was considered one of the major strands of the GPS. Georgia became a leading state for the inclusion of statistics and probability at K–12. The implementation for the new GPS began in the 2005–2006 school year.

    What were the main hurdles you faced in urging the state to include statistics?

    The main hurdle was convincing the committee that the curriculum needed more statistical topics while maintaining a balance of the necessary mathematical topics. Part of the justification for this balance was to let data motivate the teaching of many mathematical topics. Statistics is a natural way to teach integrated mathematics supporting and complementing good mathematical reasoning. The GA high-school curriculum was built around integrated mathematics.

    A second hurdle was educating the writers that statistics was NOT the mathematical probability traditionally seen in K–12 mathematics textbooks.

    Once statistics was included in the state curriculum standards, what challenges did you encounter?

    I discovered that most teachers had received training in only the very basics of statistics (or no statistics at all). It became a personal campaign to help teachers teach at a level that was higher than simply computational skills. It was also important to help our teachers understand the statistical investigative process and the learning progression of statistical concepts (such as the mean interpretation and variation from the mean at different grade levels). These are big ideas promoted by the GAISE Framework.

    There was also the issue of teachers searching for ready-made resources in teaching the statistics standards. Helping teachers find these resources in an efficient way and to use these resources also became a personal campaign.

    Finally, there were simply not enough statisticians involved with assisting in the rollout of the new GPS and the statistics standards.

    How did the increased statistical content in the standards affect state assessments and professional development of Georgia teachers? How were you involved in these efforts?

    The statistics frameworks (tasks) written for teachers to use in their classrooms have not always been of the ideal quality with respect to statistical reasoning. The state department was challenged with finding individuals familiar with the philosophy of the GAISE Framework to write these frameworks. The tasks have tended to focus more on probability than data analysis. The statistics items on the state assessment tests have some of the typical skills-based questions, but an effort has been made to ask more conceptual statistical questions.

    Professional development has been huge. For the past six years, I have traveled all over the state of Georgia and taught many professional development workshops (some week-long in the summers and several one-day workshops during the school year). My colleague, Gary Kader at Appalachian State University, assisted me with the summer workshops. I have also provided support to the math specialists at the Regional Educational School Agencies (RESA) in Georgia. I have been fortunate to work with fabulous math specialists who then carry on the professional development of statistics within their RESA’s and local schools. The University of Georgia also has a mathematics curriculum team consisting of two mathematicians, three mathematics educators, two statisticians, two master teachers, one high-school math specialist, and one educational psychology assessment expert who meet once a month to work toward the improved preparation of the pre-service teachers and the professional development of the in-service teachers. I have learned much from my colleagues being on this committee and working in a collaborative effort.

    What are you experiencing as a result of statistics being part of the GA state curriculum standards?

    An exhilarating exhaustion! It has been rewarding to see where our committed teachers have progressed in the past few years, growing in confidence over teaching the statistics curriculum. It is fulfilling to hear the consistent comment that the students are most attentive when statistics is being taught, and the teachers now understand the importance of the students becoming statistically literate. The teaching of statistics is becoming part of the teachers’ belief system.

    What is the impact, if any, of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) including substantial statistics content in grades 6–12?

    A big impact, since most states currently include very little in the way of statistics content. There is going to be a tremendous need for professional development nationwide in statistics. For Georgia, CCSS seems to have less statistics than the GPS. But, hopefully, GA will use part of the 15% flexibility to keep all of our current statistics standards—most especially what we have at K–5. The writers of CCSS elected not to include statistics at K–5.

    What advice would you have for others interested in urging their state to include more statistics in their state education standards, improve the statistics questions on the state assessments, or get involved with professional development efforts? (How does CCSS fit in?)

    If you are in an academic setting, make connections with colleagues who have interaction with the state department of education. Be willing to volunteer to serve on test-writing committees, advisory committees, or as the writer of statistics resources for teachers. Although this work on top of the regular job commitments can be a time challenge, my work with the teachers, RESAs, and state department in GA has been some of the most rewarding in my professional career. It is the leaders and teachers at K–12 that will make the difference in spreading statistical literacy to our children. There is no better reward.

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    One Comment »

    • Steve Pierson said:

      Amstat News Editor Megan Murphy found a blog by Chris Franklin from about 10 years ago. It is titled, “Are Our Teachers Prepared to Provide Instruction in Statistics at the K–12 Levels?” and can be accessed at http://www.nctm.org/resources/content.aspx?id=1776. With the number of students taking the AP Statistics Exam reaching 142,910 in 2011 and statistics in the Common Core State Standards, Chris’s points about the preparation of statistics teachers remain as pertinent as when first written.