Calculus, Statistics Equal in Schools?

Article excerpt


Advanced Placement Calculus used to be the only option for top high school math students.

With the addition of AP Statistics, students suddenly had a choice. But which to take?

When AP Statistics became available in 1997, some teachers and professors viewed it as the inferior course, said Dan Hall, chairman of the math department at The Bolles School. But that has changed.

"Through the years, statistics has developed strength and recognition, and currently I think that it holds its own in comparison to AP Calculus," Hall said. "That's why we feel comfortable saying to students, to the college you're applying to AP Statistics would be readily acceptable based on your interests."

Nationwide, more high school students are taking advanced math classes, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. About 45 percent of high school students completed at least one course considered more difficult than Algebra II and Geometry I in 2000, the most recent year for which data are available. That's up from 26 percent in 1982. The percentage of students who completed the most advanced courses doubled from 6 percent to 13 percent during the same time period.

Clay High seniors Matthew Forhan and Brad Schacht both are taking AP Statistics and AP Calculus this year. The differences between the courses were evident from the start.

"This calculus is more math, step by step, problem by problem," Forhan said. "Statistics has a good bit of writing."

"Way too much writing," Schacht added.

"I think they're pretty much as far apart as math and English," Forhan said. "They're not even close."

Calculus is a pure math course. Its skills provide the foundation for high-level math, physics and engineering courses in college.

Statistics is more about interpretation of math. Students learn about hypothesis testing, polling, sampling techniques and margins of error, said Elizabeth Allen, mathematics chairwoman and AP Statistics teacher at Paxon School for Advanced Studies. Most math teachers agree that students who plan to study math and science should take calculus, while those who plan to go into the social sciences or business should take statistics.

Allen suggested students should find the course catalog at the college they want to attend and see what students in their potential major are required to take.

"Most students are not going to be engineers or scientists," she said. "They are much more likely to be faced with a statistics class in college than calculus."

But math-oriented students who opt to take statistics instead of calculus can drive college admissions offices crazy, said Judi Marino, director of admission at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. …