Statistics professors Kelly Findley and Vimal Rao were recently named recipients for a grant through the Provost's Initiative on Teaching Advancement (PITA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  PITA grants are awarded to project proposals designed with a high likelihood to enhance the educational goals at Illinois through instructional and pedagogical innovation. Projects supported by PITA grants aim to improve teaching and learning on campus with potential to be adopted more widely.

Findley and Rao's proposal, Building a Modern Assessment for Statistical Literacy, aims to evaluate the content and context in which students encounter statistics and data in real-world scenarios. The primary goal of the project is to assess students in introductory statistics courses and equip them with the skills to interpret and contextualize data encountered outside the classroom. "STAT 100 has traditionally been taught more as a math course that focuses on how to complete procedures, but we think the landscape of what students need in statistics to be statistically literate citizens is quite different from that original introductory model," Findley said of the proposal. "A lot of items are going to be complex data visualizations from something you might see in the news and ask students to make sense of it," Findley added.

For example, COVID-19 data visualizations were used throughout the pandemic to highlight key points made in the media. Though the data used may be accurate, how a visualization is presented and contextualized can alter its overall meaning and purpose. The assessment will evaluate how students perceive data outside of the classroom to better understand how to address and improve their statistical literacy.

As a quantitative reasoning course option for undergraduate students at Illinois, STAT 100 serves an estimated 3,000 students per year. Within the scope of this proposal, an academic team of instructors with backgrounds in statistics education research, educational psychology, and curriculum and instruction is redesigning STAT 100 to engage students with real-world, contemporary issues through a statistical literacy framework. The new assessment will evaluate the effectiveness of developing statistical literacy in students through the revamped STAT 100 course, and potentially for other introductory-level courses such as STAT 107, STAT 200, STAT 207, and STAT 212.

The assessment will offer valuable insights to the broader statistics education community as researchers can leverage the assessment to understand how best to develop students' statistical literacy throughout a curriculum. "In terms of impact, we need a way to evaluate and assess the quality of instruction and by doing this assessment, we will be able to collect evidence that will help us continue to improve our curricula," Rao added. "This will help us make an argument that we are actually preparing students for the types of information that they are going to face once they leave our course, because that is the goal."

The development process prioritizes creating a statistically sound assessment with solid validity and discriminatory power. "Validity theory is baked into our approach," Rao explained, "and in all of our phases, we will collect data and revisit things. This rigorous approach aligns with educational and psychological assessment standards, ensuring that the assessment measures what we intend and discriminates effectively between different levels of understanding." With the developed assessment tool, the team looks to share the instrument and allow others to use it in their courses and research.

In terms of the overall timeline, the team aims to be done by the summer of 2025, with PITA funding providing tremendous support to meet that goal. "The funding allows us to do this in a really rigorous way," Rao said. The PITA grant will allow the team to include research assistants and provide support for participating students, field experts to provide content validity, and external instructors to test the assessments in their classes.