A Statistical Literacy Concept Inventory

Been thinking lots about concept inventories. The key to a good concept inventory is that it tests intuitions, not terminology or formulas. It’s far too easy to pre-test students on a test with unfamiliar vocabulary, spend a semester on vocabulary, then act surprised that students do better at the end of the semester when they finally understand the questions. 

A concept inventory should not require (much) access to terminology. The only attempt I’ve seen at a statistical concept inventory fails at this. Here’s a question from the SCI developed at Purdue:

Which of the following could never be considered a population?

  • Four-door cars produced in a factory in Detroit 
  • Football teams in the Big 12 
  • Players on a randomly selected football team 
  • One hundred randomly selected Wal-Mart stores

There’s a concept in there, certainly, but students taking the pre-test are blocked from getting this by the term, so it is unclear if students that demonstrate gains in the post-test have a deeper conceptual understanding, or have merely mastered enough terminology to finally understand the question.

(Better attempts have been made of course. Milo Scheild’s pre/post in his statistical literacy course is mostly free of such problems. I’m sure there are others.)

To truly do a reliable pre/post you have to get past the definitions and the formulas, and into intuitions and conceptual understanding. Here’s my idea of a Concept Inventory-style question:

A recent blog post compared statistics from the “glory days” of rock-and-roll to the music of today. The point of the post was that modern day acts have eclipsed the achievements of more classic acts. However they fail to take into account that the population has grown since the classic acts released their records. Which of the following statements is the only statement that would not be affected by taking potential audience size into account? (Note: each one of these compares an artist from the past decade to artists from the 1990s or earlier):

  • Ke$ha’s Tik-Tok sold more copies than ANY Beatles single
  • Katy Perry holds the same record as Michael Jackson for most number one singles from an album
  • More people bought Celine Dion’s Falling Into You than any Queen, Nirvana, or Bruce Springsteen record
  • Flo-rida’s Low made more money than The Beatles’s Hey Jude

I know this question isn’t perfect (good questions are hard) but it gets much closer to what we want than other questions I’ve seen. Underneath this question is the mechanics of how comparing things by rank helps control for the population difference — but you don’t need terminology around rank or controlling for population to get it.

I’d love to see more of these if other people have them. And if you want to give some comments to firm up the above question, go ahead!

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