Subject: Computers vs. Calculators in Intro Stat
         Follow-Up re AP Statistics

     To: ApStat-L Statistics Education Discussion List

   From: Donald B. Macnaughton <>
   Date: Wednesday June 17, 1998

I would like to thank the teachers who commented on my earlier 
post (1998).  Their comments have stimulated several corrections 
and clarifications to the table comparing computers and calcula-
tors in my paper.  I'll place the latest version of the paper on-
line within the next few weeks.  (I'll announce the availability 
of the paper in this list.)

In considering the issue of computers versus calculators in AP 
Statistics courses, it is helpful to consider the following quo-
tations from the latest AP Statistics "Course Description" 
(College Board 1998):

    Although the distinction between graphing calculators and 
    computers is becoming blurred as technology advances, at 
    present the fundamental tool of data analysis is the com-
    puter.  The computer does more than eliminate the drudg-
    ery of hand computation and graphing -- it is an essen-
    tial tool for structured inquiry [p. 9].

    Because the computer is central to what statisticians do, 
    it is considered essential for teaching the AP statistics 
    course [p. 9].

    A graphing calculator is a useful computational aid, par-
    ticularly in analyzing small data sets, but should not be 
    considered equivalent to a computer in the teaching of 
    statistics [p. 10].

    ... schools should make every effort to provide students 
    and teachers easy access to computers to facilitate the 
    teaching and learning of statistics [p. 10].

Despite the preceding statements, the College Board says:

    Each student will be expected to bring a graphing calcu-
    lator with statistical capabilities to the [AP Statis-
    tics] examination and to be familiar with its use [p. 

The subtitle of the "Course Description" booklet quoted above is 
"May 1999, May 2000".  Thus the description is laying out re-
quirements for the next two years.  Thus discussion of computers 
versus calculators is somewhat irrelevant for AP Statistics since 
the last quotation above implies that the College Board *re-
quires* AP Statistics students to use calculators.  I see two 
possible reasons why the College Board requires calculators de-
spite its strong endorsement of computers:

One reason for requiring calculators may be that the AP Statis-
tics committee knows that a significant proportion of schools and 
students cannot afford computers, but can afford calculators.  In 
this case, requiring calculators is mandated by the College 
Board's goal of promoting 

    equity through universal access to high standards of 
    teaching and learning and sufficient financial resources 
    so that every student has the opportunity to succeed in 
    college and work [1998, p. 42].

A second reason for requiring calculators may be a concession to 
the fact that many AP Statistics teachers and students are famil-
iar with calculators, due to their work with calculators in other 

I have deep respect for the College Board's commitment to equity, 
and I recognize the importance of taking account of the prior ex-
perience that teachers and students have with calculators.  Nev-
ertheless, like the College Board, I look forward to the day when 
all students and teachers can have the substantial benefits of 
full access to computers.

Donald B. Macnaughton   MatStat Research Consulting Inc      Toronto, Canada


College Board. 1998. _Advanced Placement Course Description: Sta-
   tistics:  May 1999, May 2000._ Available under the title of 
   "AP Statistics (PDF - 314K)" at

Macnaughton, D. D. 1998. "Computers vs. Calculators in Intro 
   Stat."  Posted to ApStat-L and on June 10, 1998.  
   Available at

Home page for Donald Macnaughton's papers about introductory statistics