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[email protected], [email protected] While many schools are increasing their emphasis on statistics, few are taking the necessary steps to help teachers master the statistics they are expected to teach. Furthermore, U.S. teachers have little experience with data analysis and inferential statistics, yet in an era of accountability, are required to make instructional decisions based on large quantities of data about their students’ performance. Texas, where the study took place, has a high-stakes accountability system. Students are tested annually with the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), and high school graduation depends on passing this test. In addition, schools and teachers are held accountable for their students’ performances. In this climate of high stakes accountability, urban schools that serve less academically advantaged children are under constant scrutiny to ensure they do not receive unacceptable ratings. As a result, much of the schools’ professional development time is spent focusing on their TAAS results. Teachers feel that the accountability system creates a situation over which they feel very little power. This context seemed ripe to invite teachers to examine the statistical data as investigators. A research team at The Systemic Research Collaborative for Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology (SYRCE) in the College of Education at the University of Texas – Austin designed the NSF-funded research. Our focus group in the project was the mathematics department at our partner school, an urban middle school that feeds into a low-performing high school in the district. The professional development workshops followed an immersion model, allowing teachers to do statistics by investigating their own questions, and was conceived as a mathematical parallel of the Writers Workshop from the National Writing Project, where teachers learn to write rather than how to teach writing. The research project had a set of four related objectives to: (1) Strengthen teacher content knowledge in statistics by giving them the opportunity to learn statistics well beyond their curriculum; (2) Immerse teachers in focused investigation and chains of reasoning about student data in a high-stakes accountability environment; (3) Build teacher confidence and facility in using dynamic software ( Fathom ); (4) Orient teachers with a healthy mindset about data and inquiry : the acceptance of uncertainty when searching for solutions, the limitations and misuses of statistics and inferential reasoning. The project took place in Spring and Summer 2001. During the spring, teachers learned the basics of the
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39 software Fathom TM , unique in its application as a teaching and inquiry tool. Also during the early stages of our interactions with teachers, we examined introductory descriptive statistics and became acquainted with their student data. Throughout the latter phase of the project, a two-week intensive summer institute, teachers built a
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