In the midsts of a review from the U.S. Department of Education, state school leaders have acknowledged that an error in the calculation of Alabama’s graduation rate has been producing inaccurate results.
The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) announced those findings Thursday afternoon amid the USDE review of recent graduation rates in Alabama, California and at least one other state.
Over the past four years, Alabama has made big improvements in its statewide graduation rate, even as students moved into a new, more rigorous curriculum as part of the state’s College and Career Ready Standards.
In 2015, ALSDE reported an 89.3 percent graduation rate — continuing a steady upward climb from the 72 percent rate reported in 2012 and putting the Alabama among the top three states in the country.
However, with Thursday’s announcement, ALSDE confirmed that errors in the way those figures were calculated caused them to be “misstated to the people of Alabama – policymakers, educators, parents, students, all citizens” as well as federal education officials.“We are accountable to all people of this state and deeply regret the misstating of our graduation rate,” State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance said in a prepared statement. “We are now undergoing a meticulous review to ensure that all monitoring and data collection is performed with fidelity.”
ALSDE spokesperson Malissa Valdes-Hubert said the USDE review targeted the graduating class of 2013-14, though she couldn’t say whether other years were affected. She also said state officials do not have an accurate number for the current graduation rate and “don’t have plans to do any recalculations at this time.”
One issue with the state’s previous calculations involved students who received an Alabama Occupational Diploma — a specialized diploma that allows students to train for the workforce while still in school using its own set of work requirements, curriculum and standards.
However, the USDE review concluded that the Alabama Occupational Diploma was not anchored to the state standards that are required for graduation, adding that students who received it shouldn’t have been counted when determining a four-year cohort graduation rate.Though it’s still unclear how yearly graduation rates might be affected, the Alabama Occupational Diploma program dates back to the early 2000s. However, the state standards used today were changed more recently, when Alabama adopted portions of Common Core in 2012.
A second problem identified involved the state’s lack of oversight over the graduation numbers reported by local school districts and the class credits those districts used to award diplomas.
“In some cases, local school systems misstated student records and awarded class credit, resulting in diplomas that were not honestly earned. The ALSDE did not monitor local systems with the necessary scrutiny,” the release reads. “This was an internal, administrative oversight and the ALSDE is now in the process of addressing all related areas.”
Valdes-Hubert said because the USDE was still conducting its review, the state does not yet know which — or how many — local school systems might have “misstated” their own graduation rates. She said more information could be available once the federal review is completed and made available to the public.
In the meantime, Sentance said ALDE has already reviewed its internal protocols and will be increasing the training of its staff as well as “organizationally restructuring.”
“We will be establishing an internal audit unit to ensure protocols and procedures are followed,” he said. “We will also continue to work within the USDE.”
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