Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Statistical Questions

What makes a question a statistical question? Furthermore, what makes a good statistical question?

The Common Core State Standards (6.SP.A.1) describes it like this:
... one that anticipates variability in the data related to the question and accounts for it in the answers. For example, “How old am I?” is not a statistical question, but “How old are the students in my school?” is a statistical question because one anticipates variability in students’ ages.
This statistics standard is slated for 6th grade students1, but I recently heard a more effective explanation of what a statistical question is that will be relevant for middle school, high school, and college statistics. It also defines what makes a statistical question a good one, which the Common Core definition does not.

This definition is inspired by one presented by Rob Gould, statistics professor at UCLA. To me, it clearly outlines the components that one would need to think about in order to write statistical questions as well as to assess them.

A good statistical question:
  1. clearly states the variable(s) of interest
  2. clearly states the population(s) of interest
  3. requires consideration of all variable values
  4. can be answered with the data at hand
  5. is worthwhile.
1. Illustrative Mathematics has some great tasks related to this middle school statistics standard: The U.S. Census Bureau's Statistics in Schools project has one too:

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