Education Week - April 19, 2017 - 7
Statistics Lessons Get New Life
Early-grades teachers taking different approach
By Sarah D. Sparks
Statistics lessons aren't just for
math class anymore, and early-education experts are finding new reasons and ways to incorporate these
topics in the early grades.
"All students should be taught
at least basic statistics," said Ginger Rae Lynn Wilson, a 3rd grade
teacher in Griffin, Ga. "You hear so
much talk about STEM [science,
technology, engineering and mathematics] and making sure our children are competitive globally; well,
I don't know how they would be
competitive in a global sense if they
don't know how to interpret information and compute data."
From understanding economic
changes to deciding whether or not
to believe a political poll, statistics
have gained a higher profile lately-
but it's not certain most American
students understand them.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, asks
4th graders to determine the chart
that best fits certain data or to explain how an outlier will affect an
analysis of data. It also may ask 8th
graders to determine probabilities or
use a chart to identify an incorrect
statement. According to NAEP data,
4th graders' average scale score in
statistics and data topics fell significantly, from 241 in 2005 to 238 in
2015, on a scale of 500. Performance
by 12th graders in statistics was flat
during the same time.
That's a problem, because in the
world beyond school, statistics is
booming. Statistical jobs are among
the top-10 fastest-growing occupations and are expected to continue
to be through 2024, according to the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And
fields from health and science to journalism and psychology increasingly
require understanding of statistics.
The Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted
by a majority of states, change the
typical approach to teaching statistics, which traditionally has been in
a "data and measurement" unit in
most elementary school grades. The
common core moves formal introduction to probability up to middle
school, narrowing the elementary
focus for statistics considerably.
Denise Spangler, a professor in
early-childhood math education at
the University of Georgia, approves
of the change. "It used to be taught
in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and in high
school, and you still got kids in college who didn't understand it. ...
But what underlies probability is
randomness, and that's a very difficult concept to understand-even
for adults," Spangler said. Students
need to build a solid foundation of
how data can be collected and categorized before looking at formal
probability, she said.
While revised common-core math
standards also move the introduction of formal statistical concepts
like finding a mode or median to
middle school, instruction in collecting, organizing, and describing data
is in some ways more frequent in
the lower grades now, as nonfiction
reading and science studies also ask
students to make sense of graphs
and data at younger ages. Similarly,
the Next Generation Science Standards call for deeper "quantitative
literacy," involving data analysis
and statistics in the course of learning other concepts.
Wilson, who has previously
taught kindergarten and 2nd grade,
said she has found it helpful to give
students exposure to graphs and
data collection across a broader variety of subjects.
"That was something that was a
mistake early on in my teaching,
that I had a separate unit on data
and graphing, and then we never
touched it again," Wilson said.
"Instead, now it's sprinkled into
each unit, so it's relevant for whatever else you are doing. I've found
more success in the topic when it's
purpose-driven. If you teach it in
connection to other mathematics
or science, you have better understanding and better achievement.
They are really investigating data
to recognize trends."
Tightening the focus on statistics in the early grades should give
teachers room to help their students
think more critically about the subject, rather than relegating it to
"the last two weeks of the year-if
I have time," said Beth Chance, a
statistics professor at California
Polytechnic State University in San
Statistics can confuse students by
inverting their concept of how math
works, Chance said: "Traditionally,
a lot of math is taught as, 'Follow
the rules, get a number you can
check at the back of the book.' Sta-
Projected percent change in
tistics are all about context, about
getting students to think, 'Is this a
reasonable answer?' and then justify it. It's getting students to think
of how the answer would change in
Spangler points to one common
1st grade activity, asking students
to make a chart of their classmates'
shoes. Counting and charting the
various sneakers and loafers and
identifying the most common type
is a good start, but "making a bar
graph in class is a really time-consuming process, so we are trying to
get teachers to get more out of it
once we have it," Spangler said.
"Often what happens is the
teacher has already decided what
the question is going to be, and one
of the most important things is to
understand there are a lot of concepts taught by letting the students
formulate their own questions,"
she said. "What do we want to ask?
How do we define this to minimize
Chance and Spangler both recommended that teachers ask their students to spend more time analyzing
data once they have it. With regard
Note: "All occupations"
includes all occupations in
the U.S. economy
U.S. Bureau of Labor
to the shoe survey, for example,
Spangler said, "Often, teachers stop
with 'what is the most popular kind
of shoe in the class.' But teachers
can engage kids to ask more questions about the data: 'Do you think
we would get the same results if we
took this survey in the second week
of January or just before summer?
Would students in Japan have the
same results? How could we find
out?' Getting kids to think about
why the data looks this way gets at
the idea of variability."
Data collection and graphing can
help students understand concepts
like grouping and the importance of
defining scales, which also are helpful in later algebra and geometry.
"The statistical ideas can give the
mathematical ideas the context for
understanding," Chance said. "Not
everybody needs calculus; they need
Coverage of early-math education
is supported in part by a grant from
the CME Group Foundation, at
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
Calif. Shooting Redoubles Attention to School Security Protocols
By Evie Blad
In the aftermath of the shooting
at a San Bernardino, Calif., elementary school that left a student and a
teacher dead and another student
wounded, education leaders are falling into a familiar pattern that follows
most school attacks.
They're asking what they could
have done differently and how they
can change their policies to reassure
the public about the safety of their
The suspect, Cedric Anderson, who
allegedly shot two students and his
estranged wife in a special education
classroom April 10 before killing himself, entered San Bernardino's North
Park Elementary School through a
common process with approval from
office staff, police said.
Anderson, who was known to school
staff members, said he was at the
school to drop something off for his
wife, teacher Karen Smith, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan
said at a media briefing last week.
It wasn't until he got to her classroom that he revealed his gun, silently
shooting and killing her, before turn-
ing the gun on himself, police said. The
bullets from the revolver also struck
two students near the teacher. They
were transported to local hospitals.
One of those children, 8-year-old Jonathan Martinez, later died. The other
student, 9-year-old Nolan Brandy,
was recovering in stable condition last
week, the school district said.
San Bernardino city schools Superintendent Dale Marsden told reporters the school had controlled access
and careful safety procedures. The
district will review its policies and
practices to look for lessons, he said.
North Park's security measures
look like those that are common at
elementary schools. But after officials
revealed that Anderson allegedly had
concealed his gun and entered the
school through routine means, members of the public wondered what
could have helped school staff determine that he had a weapon.
North Park does not have metal
detectors, police said-most elementary schools don't. Only about 1.4 percent of elementary schools reported
random metal-detector checks in the
2013-14 school year, according to the
most recent federal data on school
safety. That compares with 7.6 percent of middle schools and 8.7 percent
of high schools.
Civil rights groups say high-visibility security measures, like metal
detectors, can have negative effects
on the school environment. And for
schools with a relatively low incidence
of crime, the cost of buying, maintaining, and staffing the devices may not
be a priority compared to needs such
as curricular materials.
No Security Officer
None of San Bernardino's elementary schools has armed security officers, district spokeswoman
Maria Garcia told the Los Angeles
Times. She also described security
on North Park's campus as "very,
Nationally, elementary schools
are the least likely to have on-site
police officers. In 2013-14, just 10.4
percent of elementary schools reported the presence of a full-time
security guard or law-enforcement
officer. That's compared with about
37 percent of middle schools and
about 48 percent of high schools.
As Education Week detailed in a
recent special report, the presence
of police and armed security in
schools has stirred concerns from
some about heavy-handed discipline and possible violations of students' civil rights.
It's not clear if or how a schoolbased officer could have intervened in
the San Bernardino shooting, which
occurred very quickly. And local law
enforcement responded to the scene
within minutes, officials said.
School safety experts say controlling access to the building is
one of the most important security
measures a school can take. That
measure and clear and consistently
practiced safety procedures are
more effective than such measures
as expensive equipment, they say.
San Bernardino officials said
North Park had limited building
access, which the alleged gunman
was only able to bypass because he
was known to school staff.
In 2013-14, 94.5 percent of elementary schools reported controlled
access, compared with 94.9 percent
of middle schools and 88.8 percent
of high schools.
in the fatal San
as an approved
EDUCATION WEEK | April 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 7