Graduation Requirements

Changes to High School Graduation Requirements

There have been significant changes to state and federal laws that have left many confused about high school graduation and testing requirements. For example, the federal law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been replaced by the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and some people incorrectly believe that the new law eliminates all testing requirements for graduation. The information provided below is intended to clarify some of the most important points. 

In 2014, Pennsylvania’s State Board of Education implemented a set of regulations that required students to pass Keystone exams in Algebra I, Biology, and Literature in order to earn a diploma. Based on these regulations in Chapter 4 of the Pennsylvania Code, even if a student passed all her courses and satisfied a school district’s graduation requirements, the student would not receive a high school diploma if she failed just one of the exams.

On February 3, 2016, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 880 into law. This law delayed the requirement that students must pass the Keystone examinations in order to graduate until the 2018 – 2019 school year. Unless the Pennsylvania legislature changes current legal requirements, the Keystone exam requirements remain in place.

November 2017 Update: House Bill 178 includes a change to the school code that makes proficiency on the Keystone Exams a graduation requirement for the class of 2020. (The requirement was previously applicable to the graduating class of 2019.)

Is participation in the Keystone Exams still required?

The federal requirements regarding state assessments have not changed. While students graduating prior to 2020 are no longer required to demonstrate proficiency on the Keystone Exams in order to meet the state graduation requirements, participation in the state assessments remains a federal requirement. In other words, students have to take the exams but are not required to pass them. 

Based on current regulations, students graduating in 2020 and all those who follow must take and pass all three Keystone exams. Students who have not achieved proficiency on a Keystone Exam may retake the test, and the school will offer supplemental instruction prior to retesting. 

What will happen in the future?

We don’t know with any certainty. Any changes to current graduation requirements would require legislative action. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) submitted its recommendations to the General Assembly this past August. (They are pasted below). If these recommendations are adopted through legislative action, they would represent a significant change from the current requirements. In the meantime, as we continue to make plans for the future, we will operate based on the current requirements. 

PDE’s Recommendations:

1. Adopt and implement four options for students to demonstrate postsecondary readiness as follows:

a. Option 1: Achieve an identified composite score, based on performance across all three
Keystone exams (Algebra I, Biology and Literature);

b. Option 2: Achieve equivalent score(s) in standards-based subject matter content area(s) on one of the alternate assessments approved by PDE;

c. Option 3: Demonstrate competency in standards-based subject matter content through course grades or assessments plus, for students who are identified as Career and Technical Education (CTE) Concentrators, demonstrate evidence of readiness for postsecondary success through National Occupancy Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI)/National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) Skills assessments or Competency Certificates; and 

d. Option 4: Demonstrate competency in standards-based subject matter content through course grades or assessments plus evidence related to postsecondary plans that demonstrate readiness to meaningfully engage in those plans.

2. Discontinue the use of Project Based Assessments as an option for meeting state graduation

3. Allow local education agencies (LEA) to determine whether or not to include Keystone exam scores on student transcripts. 
The full document from PDE is available here: