Contributors to "Why Numbers Count" offer many different views of quantitative literacy, as well as several variations on the term itself--including numeracy, quantitative practices, quantitative reasoning, mathematical literacy, problem solving, quantitative competencies.
Quantitative literacy involves understanding the role of numbers in the world. It provides the ability to see below the surface and to demand enough information to get at the real issues.
-- Ted Porter, historian
Beyond arithmetic and geometry, quantitative literacy also requires
data analysis, and probability.... It enables individuals to analyze
evidence, to read graphs, to understand logical arguments, to detect
logical fallacies, to understand evidence, and to evaluate risks.
Quantitative literacy means knowing how to reason and how to think.
-- Gina Kolata, journalist
Quantitative literacy can be defined as the level of mathematical
knowledge and skills required of all citizens. It includes the
ability to apply aspects of mathematics (including measurement, data
representation, number sense, variables geometric shapes, spatial
visualization, and chance) to understand, predict, and control routine
events in people's lives.
-- John Dossey, mathematics educator
Quantitative literacy requires one to understand the nature of
mathematics and its role in scientific inquiry and technological
progress; to grasp sufficient mathematics to understand important
scientific and engineering concepts; and to possess quantitative
skills sufficient for responding critically to scientific issues in
the media and public life.
-- F. James Rutherford, physics educator
The heart of quantitative literacy is real world problem
solving--the use of mathematics in everyday life, on the job, and as
an intelligent citizen. Problem solving must be both mathematically
defensible and useful in the real world.
-- Henry Pollak, applied mathematician
Numeracy is not the same as mathematics. It is an aggregation
of skills, knowledge, beliefs, dispositions, habits of mind, communication
capabilities, and problem solving skills that people need in order to
engage effectively and autonomously in quantitative situations arising in
life and work.
-- Iddo Gal, cognitive scientist
Practices are the habitual patterns of actions engaged in routinely by
people, usually without thought; they include standard patterns,
routines, procedures, processes, and habits. Quantitative practices
deal with numbers, uncertainty, errors in data, design of experiments,
creation of models, validations, inferences, making tradeoffs, etc.
-- Peter Denning, computer scientist
Quantitative reasoning as an interpretive activity that takes
place within a deductively structured framework. It involves a tapestry
of meaning provided by a warp of abstract patterns and a weft of context
and story line. In quantitative reasoning, context provides meaning.
-- George Cobb, statistician
Important quantitative competencies are those that can be used
to solve problems people would frequently encounter on the job or in
their roles as citizens or parents. Quantitative competencies require
identifying and solving problems not in algebra and geometry, but in the five
SCANS competency domains such as planning, information, and systems
-- Arnold Packer, economist
Quantitative literacy involves understanding the mathematical
concepts and skills that are necessary for everyday life. It includes
computation, interpretation, inquiry, and application of mathematical
concepts that are critical for life in the contemporary world.
-- Glenda Price, college provost
Contrasting views were expressed by mathematicians who were asked to reflect on the definitions offered by these authors. Mathematicians distinguished rather sharply between "quantitative" and "mathematical" literacy:
Quantitative literacy involves reasoning with numbers (Jim Lewis); reading, interpreting and making simple applications (Carole Lacampagne); understanding operations on rational numbers (Jack Price); constructing and recognizing a sound argument (Keith Devlin); and understanding variability and how to quantify it (Gail Burrill).
In contrast, mathematical literacy offers a big-picture view of
how to work with numbers, relationships, and patterns (Jim Lewis); higher
order thinking, including all the goals of the NCTM Standards (Jack
Price); mostly qualitative issues, not quantitative ones (Keith Devlin);
the language of algebra as well as geometric and spatial experience (Zal
-- Mathematicians and mathematics educators
Adapted with permission from "Why Numbers Count: Quantitative Literacy for Tomorrow's America," Copyright (c) College Entrance Examination Board, 1997. All rights reserved.
Last Update: July 17, 1997