Numbers and their contexts: how quantified actors narrate numbers and decontextualization

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The proliferation of standardized testing and administrative statistics in compulsory education is embedded in the rise to prominence of quantified accountability as a mechanism of education governance. Numbers work by stripping away the contexts of their production and the granular and ambiguous detail of the phenomena they claim to represent. The article re-examines qualitative interviews collected during a completed international project that studied policies and practices of accountability reforms and quality evaluation in Russian school education to understand how actors involved in quantified accountability—from producers to users of large-scale assessments of learning outcomes and administrative statistical data—articulate measuring or being measured in a decontextualized manner. The article offers two theoretical contributions on the enactment of accountability policies. First, it shows the importance of analytical attention to the materiality of accountability policies, that is, their specifically numerical nature. Second, it proposes that the study of accountability enactment should address the question of how actors deal with the decontextualizing propensities of quantified accountability. I conclude that enactment of accountability is fuelled by quantified decontextualization and the diverse ways in which actors experience, make sense of and act upon it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-533
Number of pages23
JournalEducational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Accountability
  • Education policy Materiality of policy
  • Quantification
  • Russia
  • School education

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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