Mathematics success against the odds: the case of a low socioeconomic status, rural Australian school with sustained high mathematics performance

Abstract

Mathematics education is seen as a right for all children, and important to ensure a prosperous future. However, in Australia and other nations, rural students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds both perform less well in mathematics and are less likely to pursue advanced mathematics. This paper presents a case study of a low socioeconomic status, rural government school that has high engagement and achievement in senior mathematics, despite its setting. The study uses a conceptual framework informed by Appreciative Inquiry and the theory of Practice Architectures to explore the activities and facilitatory elements that have likely contributed to the school’s mathematics success. Rather than being attributed to one or two key programmes, the school’s mathematics success seemed associated with a collection of whole-school factors. Setting high expectations while providing proactive learning support, differentiating instruction, emphasising the value of mathematics, linking mathematics to careers, and building mathematics teacher capacity were all associated with the school’s higher than expected mathematics performance. Rather than hindering the school’s mathematics programme, its small size and rural context were used to enable practices that contributed to mathematics success.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is generally completed by Victorian students across the last 2 years of secondary school (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority [VCAA] 2020). Results from the final year of the VCE are commonly used by tertiary institutions to determine student entry into further education (Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre 2016).

  2. 2.

    The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) aims to assess all Australian grade 3, 5, 7, and 9 students’ abilities in Literacy and Numeracy (ACARA, 2017). NAPLAN tests are set and assessed centrally, and all schools administer the tests over the same 3-day period.

  3. 3.

    The ICSEA is a measure of social advantage calculated for each Australian school, factoring in parental occupation and income, as well as school remoteness, proportion of Indigenous students, and proportion of students from language backgrounds other than English (ACARA, 2015). The ICSEA has a mean of 1000 and a standard deviation of 100.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge the support of the Victorian Department of Education and Training, along with his supervisors, A/Prof Lena Danaia and A/Prof Amy MacDonald, in completing this research.

Funding

This research was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship.

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The paper and the research described within are the sole work of the author. Elements of this paper have been previously published in MERGA conference proceedings:

Murphy (2019b). Practices contributing to Mathematics success in a low socioeconomic rural Victorian school. In G. Hine, S. Blackley, & A. Cooke (Eds.) Education Research: Impacting Practice, Proceedings of the 42nd annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia Mathematics [Conference Proceedings]. (pp. 516–523). MERGA.

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Correspondence to Steve Murphy.

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Murphy, S. Mathematics success against the odds: the case of a low socioeconomic status, rural Australian school with sustained high mathematics performance. Math Ed Res J (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13394-020-00361-8

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Keywords

  • Mathematics education
  • Rural education
  • Socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Strengths approach
  • Secondary school