THE NEW ADVANCED PLACEMENT STATISTICS COURSE

Rosemary A. Roberts
Chair, AP Statistics Test Development Committee

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 1, Number 2 (Summer 1995)


The College Board recently approved an AP course and examination in statistics. The first AP statistics examination will be given in May 1997. This article gives some background information about the course and discusses the nature of the course and examination.

In 1987 the AP Calculus Development Committee conducted a study of possible new offerings in the mathematical sciences. A survey of high schools and colleges indicated that there was strong support for a course in statistics. It is noteworthy that this occurred at a time when there was a great interest in changing the way in which introductory statistics is taught at the college level. It was also a time when a knowledge of statistics was becoming recognized as being important for people in all walks of life. The Committee recommended to the College Board that a Task Force be established to study the feasibility of offering an AP course in statistics.

The Task Force began its work in 1992. To determine the feasibility of offering an AP statistics course, the Task Force sent a preliminary course outline to various high schools and colleges. The goal was to determine whether the high school teachers thought it would be feasible to offer the course and whether the colleges would give placement and/or credit to students who had successfully completed the course. Responses from the high schools indicated strong support for the course although concern was expressed about the use of technology and teacher training needs. The proposed course outline was also well received by college and university statistics and mathematics departments. The client disciplines were not as supportive. Their departments wanted additional statistical techniques included before they would award either placement or credit. Given the variety and specificity of the client disciplines' needs, a course that could satisfy all or even most of the client disciplines seemed much less feasible than a course emphasizing a common core of concepts and techniques. The Task Force thus recommended that a concept-oriented AP statistics course and examination be created and this was approved by the College Board in late 1993.

In 1994 the AP Statistics Test Development Committee was formed and started its work to make AP statistics a reality. The committee has written a Preliminary Course Description, developed test questions for the first exam in May 1997, and planned workshops for teacher training. The Preliminary Course Description, published in April, 1995, includes a course outline, a discussion of the AP statistics examination including sample questions, and statements on the use of technology and instructional emphasis.

The topics for the AP statistics course are divided into four major themes: exploratory analysis, planning a study, probability, and statistical inference. Within each theme the topics emphasize statistical thinking and minimize computational procedures. The instructional emphasis is toward a mode of teaching that engages students in constructing their own knowledge. Important components of the course should include the use of technology, projects and laboratories, cooperative group problem solving, and writing as a part of concept-oriented instruction and assessment.

The AP Statistics examination consists of a 90 minute section of multiple choice questions and a 90 minute section of free response questions. The two sections are equally weighted. The free response section asks the student to answer open-ended questions and to complete an investigative task involving more extended reasoning.

While it would be ideal for students to have access to the computer during the exam, this is currently unrealistic. Thus, graphing calculators will be required and computer output will be provided as necessary. Students will be expected to be familiar with standard computer output and every school offering the AP Statistics course is encouraged to make available a computer with an appropriate software package for use both in and outside the classroom.

Teacher training is a major concern of the Committee. Last summer members of the Committee led a teacher workshop at Clemson University. This summer the College Board will launch a more far-reaching teacher training effort by hosting a workshop in San Antonio. This will be attended by selected high school teachers and statisticians and will again be led by members of the Committee. It is anticipated that teams of these teachers and statisticians will subsequently conduct workshops across the country.

A Preliminary Course Description (IN-201619) is available from:

Advanced Placement Program
P.O. Box 6670
Princeton, NJ 08541-6670
Phone: (609) 771-7243


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