College & Workforce Readiness

Alabama Admits Its High School Graduation Rate Was Inflated

By Catherine Gewertz — December 09, 2016 2 min read
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The Alabama department of education has admitted that its high school graduation rate is inflated, and that it’s taking steps to crack down on how credits and diplomas are awarded.

Thursday’s announcement, reported by the news site, came in the wake of an audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General. Alabama’s top education brass issued a statement of admission and regret.

The state department of education “has determined, after completing an initial audit, that the graduation rate was misstated to the people of Alabama—policymakers, educators, parents, students, all citizens—and to the [U.S. Department of Education],” the statement said.

“The [state department of education] did not monitor local systems with the necessary scrutiny. This was an internal, administrative oversight and the [department] is now in the process of addressing all related areas,” it said.

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

The state department identified two factors that inflated its graduation rate. Lax oversight in some districts resulted in credits being awarded to students who hadn’t completed the work. Alabama also included the Alabama Occupational Diploma, which is awarded to students with special needs, in its rate even though that diploma’s requirements fall short of state requirements.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the national graduation rate had reached an all-time high of 83.2 percent, Those figures showed Alabama with the third highest graduation rate in the country.

The state’s numbers caught the eye of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General, which began an investigation into its calculations (and California’s, too). The inspector general’s office wouldn’t say what raised questions about Alabama’s figures, but local media reports linked the audit to the big increase in its graduation rate: a gain of 17 percentage points since 2011.

California’s graduation has also risen significantly in recent years, according to a story about the audit in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Alabama state superintendent who was in office when the graduation rates under investigation were reported, Tommy Bice, defended the calculations, according to

“Why wouldn’t we count as graduates a group of students who have completed the coursework outlined in their IEP (Individualized Education Program) within four years? I stand by that decision,” Bice, who retired in March, told the news site.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.