Diagnostic Statistics Assessment (DSA) Project

The DSA Project seeks to develop a formative, cognitive, diagnostic assessment system that middle school teachers can use to identify and address misconception reasoning related to statistics.


Participation in an evolving world and workforce requires sophisticated abilities to interpret and analyze data. These complex ways of reasoning about data are grounded in fundamental understandings, including strong conceptual foundations about data. Unfortunately, students from elementary school to college have difficulties with a variety of statistical conceptions. Further, students often have a negative affect towards statistics. This affect, combined with an inability to think critically about data and weak foundational understandings of basic statistical concepts, has prevented students from pursuing higher levels of statistics education and careers involving data analysis. The DSA Project aims to address this reality by developing resources to assess and develop students’ understandings, knowledge, and affect related to statistics. It is imperative to develop students’ statistical understandings at a young age to prepare and inspire them for future education and career opportunities.


The DSA Project is developing resources for middle grade students and their teachers. The resources include diagnostic assessments, teacher feedback reports, teacher tutorials, and activities for teachers and students. Diagnostic assessments are designed to identify students reasoning with three targeted misconceptions. Teacher tutorials are designed to improve teachers’ understanding of statistical concepts and the targeted misconceptions. Classroom activities are real-world applications of statistics and data analysis designed to improve understanding and affect related to statistics for all students. In addition, Supplemental Activities are provided to support students in reorganizing their understandings related to the targeted misconceptions.


The DSA focuses on three misconceptions, each grounded in cognitive science research. We use the term misconception broadly to reflect the idea that misconceptions often represent knowledge that is productive in some contexts but is underdeveloped or overgeneralized.


  • Data Distributions as Entities: Students do not perceive a dataset as a single, unified entity with its own characteristics, unique from those of its individual data points.
  • Comparing Data Distributions: Students do not compare datasets based on representative or summary measures, but rather based on single data points, cutoff points, or slices.
  • Overreliance on the Mean Procedure: Students rotely apply a procedure to calculate a measure without the corresponding statistical and mathematical conceptual understanding of that measure.


The diagnostic items on the DSA will undergo several rounds of revision, each designed to collect evidence of the validity of inferences made based on the items. This evidence will be collected through expert review, in-person cognitive labs with students, and larger-scale field testing. The tutorials and activities will undergo expert and teacher review. The complete system will be used in a cluster randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of the DSA on student understanding and affect.


We will be conducting a field test of the full DSA system in fall, 2015. We are currently looking for middle school teachers to participate. Click here for more information or to register.


For a complete list of reports and publications related to the DSA project, click here.


The DSA is a collaboration between Research Matters and the Education Development Center, Inc. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1312133. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Diagnostic item, with correct and misconception scoring


Diagnostic feedback report


Supplemental activity, designed to address misconception reasoning