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What It Takes to Complete High School: The Shifting Terrain of Course and Diploma Requirements

Nancy Hoffman

In recent months, several states have altered their high school course requirements in various ways, from creating endorsements within a single diploma to creating new diplomas. These states appear to be making changes for a variety of reasons: to elevate career and technical education; to emphasize STEM fields; to improve the alignment with nonremedial college entrance requirements; to provide options for students who are not heading to college right after high school.

Whatever the reasons, and they do not seem to be in anticipation of Common Core State Standards, the new legislation and accompanying rules and regulations require scrutiny and a careful consideration of implications, both for themselves and for their relation to other categories of graduation requirements such as test scores, Carnegie Units, and new interest in competency- or proficiency-based assessments. Of particular interest is whether changes augment or undercut the ongoing effort to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in postsecondary education—whether headed toward a certificate, an Associate’s degree, or a four-year degree. Right now, with systems in flux across the nation, it is critical to track and pay attention to the trends. In that spirit, What It Takes to Complete High School focuses on one category of graduation requirement: courses required by states for students to attain a high school diploma.