Knowledge and understanding of probability and statistics topics by preservice PK-8 teachers



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Texas A&M University


Given the importance placed on probability and statistics in the PK-8 curriculum by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000) and on teachers by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (1995) and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (2001), it is important to know how well preservice teachers understand topics that are vital to a thorough understanding of the probability and statistics topics emphasized by national standards. It is necessary for a teacher to thoroughly understand the subject matter in order to teach effectively, but that is not sufficient. A teacher must also be able to successfully communicate with the students about that material. Therefore, this study utilized a standards- and literature-based assessment to study 210 preservice teachers with the goal of taking the first step in determining whether current PK-8 preservice teachers are prepared to teach select probability and statistics topics specified in standards documents. The assessment contains 11 probability and statistics items with a total of 23 parts in a variety of shortanswer, multiple-choice, and extended-response formats. It is described in detail in Chapter III and reproduced in Appendix A. A confirmatory factor analysis indicated that for this sample of PK-8 preservice teachers, the assessment measured the underlying constructs on which it was based. Preservice teachers?? ability to answer these items varied greatly. For short-answer and multiple-choice items, the percentage of preservice teachers incorrectly answering an item was as high as 87% and as low as 18%. For extended-response items, incorrect answers were provided by as few as 12% of the participants on one item and by as many as 83% on another. Individual responses were analyzed to illustrate correct conceptions and misconceptions of these preservice teachers. There was not a statistically significant difference between responses based on the grade band the participants were preparing to teach, but students specializing in mathematics and science did perform better than other participants. Although effect sizes were small, the amount of time elapsed since an elementary statistics class was taken and the number of methods courses taken were positively associated with performance on this assessment.