MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The U.S. Department of Education says improper class credits, misstated records and improperly counting diplomas have inflated the state's graduation rate for years.
Just over a year ago, Alabama had the second highest increase in high school graduation rates, showing another year of growth. Thursday's report though shows at least some of those gains may have been a lie.
"I feel I have been duped to the absolute end," said state school board member Ella Bell.
Bell said she was blindsided on Thursday after learning graduation rates over the last few years, may have been inflated.
"What this has done is undermined the integrity of that process," said state superintendent Mike Sentance.
According to Sentance, the rates were inflated in two ways.
First, the state counted occupational diplomas it was told not to count.
Second, a lack of oversight from the state level helped lead to some school systems awarding class credit and diplomas.
However, this does not mean grades were necessarily faked.
"This is far more fundamental. Did they, in fact, earn the credits they were given to allow them to graduate?" Mike Sentance said.
Bell said she used to celebrate when former state superintendent Tommy Bice reported growing graduation rates, only to learn not all of those gains were real.
"My trust is absolutely betrayed. Absolutely betrayed," Bell said.
Now, state education leaders will have to focus on repairing a system. Not just by making sure graduation rates are real, but by restoring the trust the state school system has lost.
"This department needs to go through a process where they regain the faith and the trust of the people of this state," Sentance said.