Why you should be interested in statistical significance

Filling the pail

To many readers, it probably seems arcane to argue about statistical tests. And yet such tests, through their role in research, have a material impact on the work of teachers.

A p-value is a probability. In fact it’s a special kind of probability known as a ‘conditional probability’ that depends on certain assumptions. Imagine, for instance, that we run a study where we randomly allocate students to one of two groups. The first group is taught maths in the standard way and the second group is given an abacus to use, while everything else about the teaching is kept the same. After the teaching section of the study, we test the students and find that the ones using the abacus get a higher average score. It is possible that the abacus has not actually made any difference (this is known as the ‘null hypothesis’) and we just happened to allocate…

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