Statistical Literacy, Reasoning, and Learning

Robert C. delMas
University of Minnesota

Journal of Statistics Education Volume 10, Number 3 (2002)

Copyright © 2002 by Robert C. delMas, all rights reserved. This text may be freely shared among individuals, but it may not be republished in any medium without express written consent from the author and advance notification of the editor.

Over the past few years much attention has been paid to statistical literacy, reasoning, and thinking. These terms are often used interchangeably and used differently by different people (see, for example, Cobb 1992; Pfannkuch and Wild 1998; Garfield and Gal 1999). Leaders in statistics education such as David Moore (1992, 1998) have addressed the need to develop statistical reasoning or thinking without explicitly defining or distinguishing between these types of understanding or cognitive outcomes. While these areas represent important learning goals for statistics instruction, the lack of clarity in definition can result in a lack of connection between what we teach, what students learn, and what we assess.

Wrestling with the similarities and differences among these three areas of instruction can help to clarify instructional goals and objectives in statistics instruction. Seeing the need to address this situation, Joan Garfield, Beth Chance, and Deb Rumsey presented an interactive symposium at the 2000 Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in New Orleans. The first goal of the symposium was to explore working definitions and distinctions between the three areas. A second goal was to initiate discussions on how statistical literacy, reasoning, and thinking should be explicitly addressed in terms of learning outcomes for educational statistics courses. Finally, the three authors wanted to identify implications for student assessment based on the definitions and distinctions that can be made between the three areas of instruction. The audience was encouraged to ask questions and offer perspectives throughout the symposium. I acted as discussant and moderated the discussion between the presenters and the audience.

This issue of the Journal of Statistics Education presents articles based on the AERA symposium. The articles have been expanded and refocused as a result of the symposium discussion and informative comments and suggestions made by reviewers. Rumsey, Garfield, and Chance each address one of the cognitive goals by presenting a review of the literature that explores alternative conceptions of each area. Each author also provides examples of instructional methods for achieving each cognitive goal and assessment methods for documenting studentsí understanding. I offer a commentary that summarizes similarities and differences among the three articles and offers a perspective on how to incorporate the three authorsí recommendations into practice. While these articles do not end the discussion and debate, they extend our understanding of what is meant by statistical literacy, reasoning, and thinking. I believe readers will find the discussions informative and that they make a positive contribution to our understanding and practice of statistics education.


Cobb, G. (1992), "Teaching Statistics," in Heeding the Call for Change: Suggestions for Curricular Action, ed. L. A. Steen, Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America, 3-43.

Garfield, J., and Gal, I. (1999), "Teaching and Assessing Statistical Reasoning," in Developing Mathematical Reasoning in Grades K-12, ed. L. Stiff, Reston, VA: National Council Teachers of Mathematics, 207-219.

Moore, D. S. (1992), "Teaching Statistics as a Respectable Subject," in Statistics for the Twenty-First Century, eds. F. Gordon and S. Gordon, Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America, 14-25.

----- (1998), "Statistics Among the Liberal Arts," Journal of the American Statistical Association, 93, 1253-1259.

Pfannkuch, M., and Wild, C. (1998), "Investigating the Nature of Statistical Thinking," in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Teaching of Statistics, Vol. I, eds. L. Pereira-Mendoza, L. S. Kea, T. W. Kee and W. K. Wong, Voorburg, The Netherlands: International Statistical Institute, 459-465.

Robert C. delMas
General College
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455

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