Study: Secondary Math Teacher Candidates Need More Preparation in Statistics

Have you seen the JTE Insider blog managed by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team? Check out the following interview with the authors of a recent article. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles themselves in the full JTE archives online – just log in with your AACTE profile here.

This interview features insights from the article “New Standards Require Teaching More Statistics: Are Preservice Secondary Mathematics Teachers Ready?” written by Jennifer N. Lovett of Middle Tennessee State University and Hollylynne S. Lee of North Carolina State University. The article, which appears in the May/June issue of JTE, is summarized in the following abstract:

Mathematics teacher education programs often need to respond to changing expectations and standards for K-12 curriculum and accreditation. New standards for high school mathematics in the United States include a strong emphasis in statistics. This article reports results from a mixed methods cross-institutional study examining the preparedness of preservice secondary mathematics teachers to teach statistics and identifying factors and experiences that influence their preparedness. Our results suggest that the cohort of teachers entering secondary mathematics classrooms in 2015-2016 were not well prepared to teach statistics. Specific suggestions are given for how teacher education programs must rise to the challenge of preparing their graduates to teach statistics.

Q: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic, and were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

We were motivated to pursue this research after the adoption of the Common Core State Standards for mathematics increased the emphasis of statistics in the high school curriculum across the United States. Professional development projects had been developed to increase practicing teachers’ preparedness to teach statistics, and documents such as the Statistical Education of Teachers were released by the American Statistical Association in 2015 to help guide teacher education programs. However, even with standards and recommendations moving forward, the field was lacking large-scale research documenting more details about how well preservice secondary math teachers (PSMTs) were prepared to teach statistics.

Q: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

We wanted to capture the understanding of PSMTs across the country at different institutions with different teacher education programs to understand their preparation on a large scale. However, we were unable to find/collect a list of all institutions in the U.S. that prepared PSMTs. So instead of examining a random sample or a stratified random sample of PSMTs we had to examine statistical knowledge and statistics teaching efficacy of a critical case of PSMTs. Even though we originally contacted 54 institutions to participate in the research, only 18 agreed. Thus, our sample size of 236 was much smaller than originally planned. Obtaining a large enough sample across multiple institutions for the interview stage of the research was challenging due to the timing of interviews occurring in May-June. Thus, we had to extend the interview phase into the next academic year to get enough volunteers to participate in the interviews.

Q: Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

This article focused on the factors and experiences that PSMTs identified that influenced their preparation to teach statistics. The larger study also examined the effect that taking Advanced Placement Statistics and undergraduate statistics courses, as well as PSMTs’ gender, had on statistical knowledge and statistics teaching efficacy. We found that having taken AP Statistics increased PSMTs’ statistical knowledge and statistics teaching efficacy. We also performed an item analysis of the statistical knowledge assessment and identified areas of strengths and weaknesses of this case of PSMTs. Their strengths include identifying appropriate measures of center, while weaknesses involve issues with variability, sampling distributions, p-values, and confidence intervals. Other manuscripts will provide more details about these aspects of our study.

Q: What current areas of research are you pursuing?

Lovett is currently working on developing an applet to challenge and increase PSMTs’ knowledge of functions. The applet was designed using a vending machine metaphor to purposefully problematize common misconceptions related to the definition of function that occur when solely algebraic representations are used in instruction. Research of PSMTs’ understanding of function while engaging with the applet is being conducted at six universities across the U.S.

Lee is currently working on an NSF-funded project for Enhancing Statistics Teacher Education through E-Modules (ESTEEM). This project will facilitate the infusion of statistics content and pedagogy into undergraduate mathematics teacher preparation by providing faculty with technological and curricular resources, networking experiences, and ongoing support. The ESTEEM project will address recent trends in secondary education and teacher preparation, including (a) use of dynamic statistics tools to analyze data; (b) a shift to mobile technology, which has caused schools to favor online software requiring no installation; and (c) the rapid expansion of online and hybrid courses in higher education.

The ESTEEM project has three primary goals. First, the project will create online resources, including updates to the free online data analysis tool CODAP, to support preservice teachers’ learning of statistics content, pedagogy, and technology tools. Videos of teachers and students engaged in statistics and expert discussions will be created. Second, the project will design modules and approaches for the preparation of PSMTs that focus on areas that PSMTs particularly lack understanding of and confidence to teach. Newly created resources, videos, and materials will be packaged into different online modules and courses. Modules and resources will be disseminated through professional organizations, and ESTEEM will host faculty professional learning seminars prior to national professional conferences. Third, the ESTEEM project will examine how resources and modules are integrated into undergraduate curriculum, examine how well prepared PSMTs are to teach statistics content, and explore sustainable models for institutions using online resources and modules. ESTEEM evaluation and research will provide greater insights into the nature of PSMTs’ understandings of content and pedagogy of specific statistical topics and how PSMTs design CODAP-based statistics activities and lessons. You can learn more about the project at The first set of Statistical Investigation materials designed by ESTEEM is available for free (with registration) at

Q: What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?

All secondary teacher education programs are faced with the challenge to balance developing an advanced understanding of the content of their domain and increasing pedagogical knowledge. All teacher education programs have to respond to changing expectations and standards for K-12 curriculum. Mathematics teacher education programs are no different but are now faced with the challenge of increasing the preparedness to teach statistics and at the same time maintaining their strong attention to other content areas taught in secondary mathematics. This is going to require secondary teacher educators to collaborate with content faculty to strategically consider how to increase the emphasis on any particular content and instructional practices (such as statistics and teaching inference through simulations) in content and methods courses for preservice teachers.

Q: What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

Teacher education programs are structured very differently across institutions. Studies in teacher education are often situated conveniently in a single institutional context. The field of teacher education needs more studies that cut across contexts and institutions (including those that prepare teachers in online or hybrid programs) that can provide insight into issues, perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses that are more representative of teacher education as a collective. This will also assist teacher educators to be able to use findings from studies to make changes in their particular contexts.

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