Numeracy And Students ‘At Risk’: Tracing The Social From The Standpoint Of The Student

Year: 2015

Author: Talbot, Debra

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

NAPLAN scores on literacy and numeracy used separately and together, identify students ‘at risk’ of not meeting the minimal standards deemed necessary for future success in school and employment. In resisting ‘deficit’ constructions of students, the ‘anti-deficit’ approach tends to focus on the pedagogy of teachers. A great deal of past and current research in the area of mathematics education examines the effectiveness of pedagogical interventions in improving student scores on NAPLAN and other standardized international measures. This form of research, which seeks to understand lack of numeracy skills from the perspective of individual cognition, on the part of students, or individual pedagogical practices of teachers, is not only shaped by the standardized testing regime, it also effectively corrals the problem within the school context. As such, it is unable to answer questions related to other factors implicated in the lives of those who continue to ‘fail’ in schools. Nor is it able to explain how such failure is linked to the same pedagogical interventions that are claimed to improve results. A relatively small group of mathematics education researchers have begun to apply sociological theory in an attempt to understand the broader relationships that affect students’ development in mathematics.
This paper will examine the ‘social’ turn in recent mathematics education research through a review of a number of studies employing ethnographic and case study methodologies. These studies, conducted mainly in the UK and Canada, where standardized ‘reform’ measures have a longer history than in Australia, will be analysed in terms of the extent to which they critically examine the social, political and economic pressures implicated in the widening student achievement gap. Further, it will draw on data from a recent study to argue for an approach informed by institutional ethnography that begins with the ‘doings’ of individual students labelled ‘at risk’. Beginning with the student offers the potential to examine the interaction between student actions, social support and institutional structures in such a way as to illuminate educational policies and practices that support or work against equitable outcomes for these students.