K-12 statistics positively impacts the future of the college introductory course

Student and teacher sitting in front of a computer working on a program

I am honored for this opportunity to share news about my new role as the American Statistical Association’s K-12 Ambassador.

After 36 amazing years of teaching postsecondary-level introductory statistics courses, I came to realize the need to begin a new journey. I see the necessary but challenging need to integrate statistical reasoning at the school level. Everyone including school age students are surrounded with data, much of this data generated by the students. There is a pressing need for all citizens to become statistical thinkers and this must begin in the early school years, not when students (if they attend post-secondary school) take an introductory college statistics course.

The need for statistical reasoning

Even with the national efforts in the past 50+ years to integrate statistical standards at K-12, overall, students are receiving limited experiences with data analysis and statistical reasoning. This is sadly the situation even after the promotion of school level statistics in the NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000, ), the ASA Pre-K-12 GAISE Framework (2007, ), and the Common Core Standards for Mathematics (2012, ). The CCSM, our first national standards, contain rich statistics standards at grades 6-12. These standards cover a majority of topics currently being taught in the typical college introductory course and the very successful Advanced Placement Statistics course. The spirit of the CCSM is that ALL students who graduate from high school are statistically literate and have the foundations of knowing how to reason statistically.

At the school level, using technology, students should be given opportunities to explore the data they and others generate and use technology to explore, visualize, and tell a story with data. They should be given opportunities to read and critique statistical information appreciating the beauty of statistics, but also becoming healthy skeptics. Think about how the college introductory course could change if all college entry students have the statistics background promoted in the school level statistics standards? More emphasis could be placed on big data and data analytic skills, learning how to deal with messy data, advancing students sooner with the use of technology including simulation, covering advanced and cutting edge topics sooner in undergraduate courses, and focusing more on soft skills such as written and oral presentations.

Why is integration happening so slowly?

Given the rich data centric world we live in, why is this integration at the school level not happening quickly and with enthusiasm? I believe a primary reason is that the school level is not receiving the message from postsecondary of the importance of exposure to data and the ability to reason statistically. The culture in mathematics at the school level is that the summit is still calculus. Yes, calculus is wonderful, but our world has changed and for most students (regardless of whether they are STEM oriented or not), statistics is now the summit. Almost all undergraduate majors require or recommend that students enroll in one or more statistics courses. The highly respected mathematician Art Benjamin expressed this beautifully in his TED talk about calculus and statistics.

A second reason is lack of confidence among school level teachers to deliver the statistics standards in their classrooms. Although several teacher preparation programs across the nation are making efforts to include more statistics training in their curriculum, many are still challenged. Part of the reason given is that math teacher educators are struggling with what to teach statistics wise to future teachers. They too have been inadequately trained to deliver the statistics curriculum needed. And of course, what about the in-service teachers who are hungry for professional development? Fortunately, a current priority of ASA is to promote statistics at the school level and support teacher preparation in statistics. The creation of my new role is an effort to help facilitate the support school level teachers and teacher educators want and need. ASA also recently released a new policy document, The Statistical Education of Teachers (SET).

Part of what is promoted in SET as critical to teacher preparation is the standard college introductory course. For the current students nationally preparing to become school level teachers, the only statistical training they may receive is in the one college statistics course they take as an undergraduate. So the way the college introductory course is taught will become the model for future teachers to follow at the school level. Will the college course they take emphasize conceptual learning, data exploration, the statistical investigative process, simulation? These are components and recommendations from the ASA College GAISE Guidelines (2016) and also how the common core standards are intended to be delivered.

I am excited about my new role with ASA to promote statistics both at the K-12 and the undergraduate levels—they are connected. As statistics educators, we can and must strive to make this connection happen.


About the Author
Christine Franklin

Christine Franklin

Christine Franklin is senior lecturer emeritus and honoratus honors professor of statistics at the University of Georgia. She earned her undergraduate and graduates degrees in mathematics and statistics from the University of North Carolina – Greensboro. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholar focusing on statistics education in New Zealand. She has authored or co-authored two textbooks and numerous articles and book chapters related to K–16 statistics education. She is the lead author of the GAISE Pre-K–12 and SET reports, an ASA Founders Award recipient, a former AP Statistics chief reader, and the current chair of the ASA/NCTM Joint Committee on Curriculum in Statistics and Probability.