MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama State Department of Education "did not provide reasonable assurance" of correct graduation rates and "misreported data" to the U.S. Department of Education, an audit released by the Office of Inspector General has concluded.
A 35-page report submitted to the state on June 14 delves into the issues the U.S. Department of Education found in the audit, conducted on data for the 2013-14 school year.
Alabama saw a meteoric rise in graduation rates following implementation of "Plan 2020" in 2012. The goal was to improve the state's graduation rate to 90 percent by the 2019-20 school year. Under the new plan, the state's graduation rate climbed - on average - by nearly 5 percentage points annually while the national average was just over 1.
For example, in 2010 Alabama's graduation rate trailed the nation by a 7-point margin (79 to 71.8). By 2014, Alabama had cruised past the nation (82.3 to 86.3). That's a 15 percentage point improvement in just four years.
The data was not accurate and was misreported "because the former State Superintendent [Dr. Tommy Bice] decided to continue counting students who earned an alternative diploma after being advised by the Department that those students could not be included as graduates..." the audit stated.
At issue was the Alabama Occupational Diploma, or AOD, an alternative diploma option for students with disabilities which emphasizes life skills and habits such as being on time, dressing appropriately, and personal hygiene. Despite regulations that prevent the AOD from counting toward the graduation rate, Bice disagreed and continued using it, thus inflating the graduation rate, according to the audit.
ALSDE agreed with the audit's findings and recommendations in a draft report.
Read the federal audit HERE or below:
ALSDE has not yet responded to requests for a comment on the audit.
In April, ALSDE conceded it had made "a number of mistakes" in compiling graduation rates for the current year and pulled the data from its website. New superintendent Michael Sentance promised an immediate investigation and new protocols to prevent the same mistake from happening in the future.