How Many Kentucky Students Have Been Under-Prepared in Mathematics Since KERA Was Enacted?

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Did you ever wonder about the total number of Kentucky students that have been under-prepared in mathematics since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was enacted in 1990? The Bluegrass Institute did and decided to take a look.

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Why use grade eight results?

The resulting analysis focuses on the eighth grade for several reasons.

First, this is the last grade prior to significant dropout activity. Any analysis looking at later grades will overlook the large number of high school dropouts in Kentucky. Eighth grade based information provides a useful estimate of the overall math preparation of all students that passed through the state’s public education system, including those who drop out.

Secondly, the eighth grade is the highest grade level that gets state-level testing from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Why use NAEP?

The Bluegrass Institute wanted to use results from a credible assessment for our analysis. That meant results from Kentucky’s now discredited CATS assessment were unacceptable. In sharp contrast, the NAEP is a highly regarded federal program which has been generating eighth grade math results for Kentucky since 1990.


The Bluegrass Institute used the NAEP Data Explorer Tool to determine the percentages of Kentucky eighth grade students who scored "Proficient or Above" on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the period from 1990 to 2009.

Then, the 100's complements of those proficiency rates were applied to fall student enrollment figures from the Kentucky Department of Education.

The Institute used two sources for those enrollment figures. For years from 1990 to 1996, the Institute relied on its old paper records files of the annually issued SD-125R Membership Reports. These were obtained in hard copy from the Kentucky Department of Education by Institute Education Analyst Richard Innes a number of years ago.

For later years, the membership (often referred to as enrollment) data came from the annually issued “Growth Factor Report, Ethnic Membership by District and Grade” Excel spreadsheets, which are available on line here.

Analysis Example

The 1990 NAEP Grade 8 Math Assessment reported that only 10% of all Kentucky students scored "Proficient or Above." Thus, 100 minus 10, or 90 percent of Kentucky's eighth graders were not proficient in math according to this NAEP assessment. Taking 90 percent of the 46,242 eight grade students enrolled in Kentucky in the corresponding school year indicates that 41,618 of them probably were not proficient in math according to this highly regarded federal testing program.

Analysis in non-NAEP test years

NAEP does not administer an eighth grade math assessment every year. In those years where no NAEP state math assessment was given, the percentages that would have scored proficient were imputed from the next following NAEP testing year’s actual data.

This is a conservative approach that leads to slight under-reporting of the true number of students who were not proficient in math. Since, as the following table shows, the proficiency rates changed very slowly over time, the error involved is small.

It should also be mentioned that the NAEP is also a sampled assessment, so there is also a plus or minus error in the reported proficiency rates. Again, the sampling error impact on the large numbers we see on the far right of the table should be small, and they should tend to cancel out over time, as well.


This table shows the source data and some intermediate calculations of the total of blacks and whites. The resulting findings are found in the last three columns on the right.

NAEP Implication of KY Students Failing G8 Math by Year.jpg

Based upon what the NAEP tells us, since the beginning of KERA an astonishingly high number of Kentucky students – 786,100 of them – over three quarters of a million of them – passed through the eighth grade in Kentucky without receiving an adequate mathematics education.

Since 1997, when racial breakouts of student enrollment became available, 418,373 whites and 58,585 blacks in this state didn't receive an adequate mathematics education based on the eighth grade testing implications from the NAEP.

Even worse, the latest NAEP results for the state’s black students show a decline in proficiency from the testing results in 2007. In 2007, 11 percent of the state’s black eighth grade students tested proficient on NAEP. In 2009, only eight percent did.

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