Statistics – Levels of Data?

August 17, 2011 at 5:47 am 1 comment

In the last couple of years I have shifted to a technology-based approach in the Intro Statistics classes I teach. I am now in the process of trimming out topics that I don’t feel are necessary. First topic to consider: Levels of Data.

Students need to understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative data, as that skill will help them to determine which hypothesis test is appropriate in a given situation. But do we need to cover the different levels of data – nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio? I don’t think so.

Later in the course there is no advantage gained by determining whether data are interval level or ratio level. There is one situation with qualitative data where knowing whether data are nominal level or ordinal level, and that is when it comes to finding the median of a data set. Since we cannot find the median if we cannot sort the data in ascending order, we cannot find the median of nominal level data. I feel I can cover this idea in about 10 seconds when I introduce the concept of the median, so why spend time in the first class session on these levels of data? I figure by cutting this topic out I can spend another 10-15 minutes talking about the “big picture” of statistics, and that is more valuable to my students.

OK, this may not seem like a big deal, but I know by trimming unnecessary topics from this course that I will be able to incorporate more inferential topics at the end of the course. I’d love to have more time to devote to regression. I want to be able to cover some nonparametric tests.

So, how do you feel about covering levels of data? What are the topics that you think can be removed from the traditional intro stats course? As the semester progresses I’ll be sharing my thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours.

– George

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Andy Hynds  |  August 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I am going through the same struggles. I would agree that there are a lot of unnecessary topics in a statistics class. Another side issue is the fact that technology makes many calculations unnecessary, in my opinion. I will be curious to see how this semester goes for you, as I have put a revamp of my statistics course in my future plans (possibly Fall 2012).


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