Academic journal article American Economist

Student Quantitative Literacy: Importance, Measurement, and Correlation with Economic Literacy

Academic journal article American Economist

Student Quantitative Literacy: Importance, Measurement, and Correlation with Economic Literacy

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Economic concepts are often taught using quantitative methods, including the use of graphical and numerical examples and applications. For students lacking a basic level of quantitative literacy, interpretation of economic concepts can be lost in the translation. While many studies of economic literacy have appeared in the economic education literature, quantitative literacy has yet to receive the attention it deserves. This lack of attention to students' quantitative literacy might contribute to lower degrees of economic literacy.

The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between quantitative literacy (as measured by math aptitude), economic literacy (as measured by knowledge of economic content) and economic learning (indicated by improvements in economic knowledge over the semester). Using a sample of students taking undergraduate principles of economics courses we attempt to quantify the degree of quantitative and economic literacy and test for learning (or improvement in economic understanding). Our sample of students is typical of what you might expect at the principles level in that they are very likely to be sophomores and very unlikely to have declared an economics major. The principles classes in which they were enrolled are also typical of those at most institutions in that they are the introductory courses in the major and do not have any prerequisite. Thus, our results are applicable to the large audience of instructors of the principles of economics courses.

We address two major research questions using pre and post course survey data. The use of a survey allows us to test a student's quantitative skills (through the use of multiple choice questions) rather than rely on typically used proxies such as courses taken and grades achieved. We first examine the degree to which students who have greater math aptitude also have a better grasp of basic economics concepts prior to taking a principles of economics course. Second, we explore the degree to which this math aptitude is correlated with higher economic learning. More specifically, we measure quantitative aptitude changes over the semester to determine the extent that students learn these skills in their economics class and how this learning correlates with economic learning. An extension of the latter question determines specific areas where students are deficient in their quantitative literacy and examines how these deficiencies might impact economic knowledge. Our results suggest that students who are deficient in skills such as being able to solve a system of equations and compute a percentage, and being able to interpret increases and decreases on a graph will have less economic knowledge at the end of the semester than their more quantitatively literate peers. This work implies that instructors in the principles courses should dedicate resources to assessing the degree to which their students possess quantitative skills and nurture the development of such skills during the semester.

II. Review of Literature

Economic literacy has been investigated through a number of venues. Tests of economic literacy such as the Test of Economic Literacy (TEL) and Tests of Understanding in College Economics (TUCE) have been developed in an effort to assess literacy levels for various populations such as high school students (Soper and Walstad, 1988; Walstad and Soper, 1988 and 1991) and segments of the adult population (Gleason and Van Scvoc, 1995; Wood and Doyle, 2002). Similar tests have been used to make literacy comparisons across countries (Kim 1994; Beck and Krumm 1994; Whitehead and Halil, 1991). The general push for greater economic literacy has been regularly analyzed (Stigler, 1983; Blank, 2002; Krueger, 2002; Lucas, 2002), and programs for promoting greater literacy among high school teachers have been developed (Parkison and Sorgman, 1998). Finally, the definition of economic literacy has even garnered debate (Nelson and Sheffrin, 1991; Ferber, 1999). …

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