professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Numbers Don't Lie, People Do

I know when I first started my stat classes as part of my doctorate, I made a pact with myself: these could be the classes where I would settle for a "B" or a "C". The language seemed foreign at the outset. So many terms to learn, so much to accomplish in our assignments from week to week. Luckily I found a lovely group of fellow students in the classes (including my friend and colleague Kylene Beers), and we proceeded to work our way slowly through this new topic. Little did I know back then that the ability not only to DO research but to READ and UNDERSTAND research (to a degree) was going to be more than helpful as I continued in my role as a middle school teacher and then as a university professor. Sentences like, "Correlation does not imply causation." and "We must examine both the practical and statistical significance of the study," made sense. Suddenly, I could read articles with statistics and determine for myself what the numbers were saying.

Deborah Meier posted this article recently: Lying with Statistics (found here: which discusses data and its interpretation by the media who accept the numbers as though they could be trusted in and of themselves. There have been lots of etas thrown around in the name of CCSS as well. According to some of the studies, 3/4 of teachers are on board and satisfied with CCSS. I have already looked at those numbers more closely and blogged about how those numbers were used to lie. If no one ever questions them, then they stand and folks begin to repeat them as fact.

NCTQ used this same approach recently in their "analysis" of education courses gleaned from syllabi. The PISA scores resulted in more than a handful of articles about how we stack up against other nations. Over and over again, we use statistics to paint a picture. Reformers use it to create broad strokes that "support" their actions. Across the country, teachers are now data miners, collecting all manner of statistics (and, as I posted once, displaying them on charts on the classroom walls). Companies are also collecting stats. I can only imagine how this data will be used (most likely misused) down the road.

What IS missing from the statistics being bandied about? We have been calling for the research that supports the CCSS. It is, sadly, still largely absent. And what about the research from those who have been implementing CCSS and evaluating students via new tests? I have yet to see that research summary other than the note that scores have predictably plummeted. It makes me fear for this generation of kids who have been "predicted" to fail. Somewhere in all this throwing around of stats we have forgotten that these stats come from real, live, important beings: our children. I have seen so much about cognition lately and very little about the affective domain. When I do see affective matters commented upon, I am chagrined at best. Take Arne Duncan's comments about suburban moms. Take the incredible argument that if we do not agree to the new standards it is because we have low expectations of some students. Spiro Agnew is alive and well in these comments (younger readers, go search "effete snobs").

You want to know about me by the numbers? Blood pressure, A1C levels, cholesterol, weight, height, hair color, age, occupation, phone number, address? What conclusions can you draw from that? What is still missing? Add in SAT, GRE, MAT, IDEA scores. Still missing something? I cannot be identified or defined by numbers. Neither can or should our kids.
Tags: ccss, idiocy, lies, research stats
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