Alabama provided false graduation rates to federal government, school systems, parents & students

A parchment diploma scroll, rolled up with red ribbon on wooden background (Getty Images)

A parchment diploma scroll, rolled up with red ribbon on wooden background (Getty Images)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama State Department of Education said it is involved in a review of recent graduation rate reports by the Office of Inspector General, in connection with the U.S. Department of Education.  The state has determined, through an internal audit, that the graduation rate was reported incorrectly.

It was reported incorrectly to everyone — the federal government, policymakers, educators, parents, students and citizens.

This was possibly for more than one year, according to an ALSDE spokesperson.  The department is looking at data from multiple years, including 2013-14 and 2014-15.

“This misstating — we’re not selecting a particular year, because the U.S. Department of Education review may encompass multiple years,” said Malissa Valdes-Hubert.  “We know the USDE looked at 2013-14.  We just don’t know if that’s the year they’ll use in their final report.

In 2013-14, Alabama reported an 86% graduation rate.  In 2014-15, that improved to an 89.3% graduation rate, catapulting us to third in the nation, according to a report by AL.com.

The ALSDE says these two components were factors in the misstated rate:

  1. The counting of the Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD) – This diploma was not anchored to the standards required for graduation and students who received the AOD could not be counted by the USDE as a graduate in the USDE Four-Year Cohort graduation rate.
  2. Low oversight of local school systems’ awarding of credits – The ALSDE did not increase oversight as needed of local school systems’ awarding of earned class credits. In some cases, local school systems misstated student records and awarded class credit, resulting in diplomas that were not honestly earned.

Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance, who is new to the position, learned of the inaccuracies two days after he came on, Valdes-Hubert said.  She added, he is keenly focused on getting the problem fixed.

Michael Sentance, Alabama's new Superintendent of Education

Michael Sentance, Alabama’s new Superintendent of Education

“We are accountable to all people of this state and deeply regret the misstating of our graduation rate,” said Sentance.  “We are now undergoing a meticulous review to ensure that all monitoring and data collection is performed with fidelity.”

The ALSDE said in a news release it did not monitor local systems with the necessary scrutiny. The department faulted its internal, administrative oversight and said it is now trying to address the related problems. The ALSDE has reviewed related protocols, increased training of staff, and is organizationally restructuring.

This will include more in-person field training to make sure data is being collected and entered correctly.

“We will be establishing an internal audit unit to ensure protocols and procedures are followed. We will also continue to work within the USDE,” Sentance continued.

Dr. Dee Fowler served as Superintendent of Madison City Schools from 2007-2016. He recently joined the Alabama State Department of Education.

Dr. Dee Fowler served as Superintendent of Madison City Schools from 2007-2016. He recently joined the Alabama State Department of Education.

Valdes-Hubert said Dr. Dee Fowler, Madison’s former superintendent, will play a vital role in that field training.  He began working with the state earlier this month.

“It makes you angry. We’ve been deceived either through lies or through neglect and negligence, and the result is the same. A broad brush has been painted across Alabama public education,” said Mary Scott Hunter.

Hunter is on the the State Board of Education. She said no matter the outcome of the investigation, it’s a big problem.

“A little deceit, a big deceit, it doesn’t matter. The effect is the same. Deceit makes people not trust,” explained Hunter.

Trust is something she is adamant about restoring.

“I will not rest until this is resolved. I think I’m joined by my fellow board members in this, and we are going to see this through,” said Hunter.