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ALSDE investigation: No one to blame for bad grad rate release


By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

No single person was to blame for the premature release by the Alabama State Department of Education of error-filled graduation rates last April, an internal investigation found.

Former Jefferson County superintendent Phil Hammonds presented the findings of that investigation to the State Board of Education on Tuesday. Hammonds called the release of material “a perfect storm” of mistakes and miscommunication.

Those graduation rates, which miscalculated the rates in several districts, were released to the media on a Friday in April, just prior to a Monday State holiday. By the time ALSDE officials got back to work, county superintendents had bombarded the office with calls and complaints, and the head of the superintendents association was publicly criticizing the department and superintendent Michael Sentance.

At the time, Sentance said a number of mistakes had been made and that protocols hadn’t been followed properly.

Hammonds’ report on Tuesday confirmed those issues, but it also found that the problems were widespread, accidental, and mostly the result of ALSDE employees trying to do the right thing but misunderstanding what that was.

“There was no indication that an (ALSDE) employee acted with anything but the best intentions,” Hammonds said, as he read from his report.

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At its core, the problem appeared to be an unusual request made by the state board to have an ALSDE employee tell them the overall graduation rate for the state, and then the board holding a subsequent conversation about the rates. That led to employees believing the information was finalized and public, despite the fact it had not been verified by local superintendents.

Sentance said after the meeting that he was satisfied with the report, calling it “very thorough,” and wanted to move forward with better checks in place.

In addition, ALSDE provided the new, properly calculated grad rate for the state – 87.1 percent. Sentance noted that the rate is above the national average and properly excludes the special degree program students whose inclusion in previous grad rate calculations the US Department of Education took exception.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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