The Australian Educational Researcher

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 419–436 | Cite as

‘To be numerate is to be someone…’: Tracing the doings of students labelled ‘at risk’



Scores from the Australian National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) identify students ‘at risk’ of not meeting minimum standards deemed necessary for future success in school and employment. The NAPLAN tests include items related to numeracy but also mathematics content and skills. Research in the area of mathematics education examining the effectiveness of pedagogical interventions in improving student scores on NAPLAN and other international measures is not only shaped by the standardised 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 relation to numeracy outcomes. This paper critically examines the type of funded research being done in relation to numeracy and mathematics education, the ‘social’ turn and the disconnect between this research and the widening ‘gap’ in NAPLAN numeracy outcomes. It argues for a research approach informed by institutional ethnography that begins with the ‘doings’ of individual students labelled ‘at risk’.


Numeracy At risk NAPLAN Sociological theory Institutional ethnography 


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Copyright information

© The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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