New Graduating Ready Website Shows Wide Variation in Rigor, Structure of State High School Graduation Options

Thursday, August 23, 2018Printer-friendly version

Washington, D.C. - August 23, 2018 - Achieve today released Graduating Ready, a new website exploring the varied landscape of state high school graduation requirements and options, as well as a new brief - State Graduation Requirements Matter - and Differ - More Than You Think - examining the equity implications of the structure of state graduation options. The website, which offers an interactive data explorer detailing the components of graduation options in every state as well as analysis of key graduation-related issues, shows that states differ widely in the number of options they offer to students, the rigor of those options, and how student choices are structured. States are increasingly offering choices and flexibility to students, which is good news. However, as the new brief finds, the differences in the structure of student choices often result in large differences in the number of students earning a college- and career-ready high school diploma - differences that are more pronounced among students of color and low-income students.

Data suggest that many American high school graduates are unable to perform tasks needed in entry-level jobs and to enter credit-bearing college courses. These readiness gaps, which are larger among students of color, low-income students, and English learners, mean that employers must spend time and money to "upskill" entry-level employees and first-year college students must spend time and money on remedial courses covering content they should have learned in high school. Rigorous high school graduation requirements are a powerful lever that states can use to address these readiness gaps, which plague both students and the larger economy.

The way that states structure student graduation choices - as the new brief shows - has a significant impact on the number and diversity of students who complete a college- and career-ready (CCR) option. Some states automatically expect students to complete a CCR graduation option, giving them the ability to opt out into less rigorous classes and still graduate. In other states the burden falls squarely on students and their families to opt in to the more rigorous CCR diploma. The difference in where students begin has a large impact. For instance, in Indiana, where all students automatically start out in the CCR graduation option, 89 percent of all graduates, 86 percent of Black graduates, and 88 percent of Hispanic graduates finish the more rigorous option; in a state like California, where the burden is on students to proactively opt into the CCR option, just 47 percent of all graduates, 36 percent of Black graduates, and 39 percent of Hispanic graduates go on to complete that more rigorous option.

"Differences this large should not be ignored; we rarely see policies that appear to have effects this pronounced," said Michael Cohen, President of Achieve. "States should structure the options they offer so that every student starts out on a pathway that will prepare them for a valued postsecondary destination. States can offer students more choices and still make sure that the diploma they earn opens doors to meaningful opportunities."

The structure of students' graduation choices is not the only important element in graduates' college and career readiness. In addition to presenting the detailed components of every state's graduation options, the Graduating Ready website also explores key topics in high school graduation across the country. Deeper dives into the nuances of states' graduation requirements in science and mathematics reveal that the landscape is particularly varied in the number and kinds of courses states require in these critical subject areas. Given that sustaining much of the job growth in the United States will require a well-prepared Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, there is an economic imperative to ensure states set high expectations for all students in science and mathematics. 

"Without prepared graduates, we will struggle to meet the economic demands of the future - including growing and diversifying the STEM workforce," continued Cohen. "All students need to be college and career ready when they leave high school, and the large equity gaps we see in rigorous diploma completion do a disservice not only to students, but to our country as a whole."

The Graduating Ready website can be viewed here, and the State Expectations for Graduation Matter - and Differ - More Than You Think brief is available here.


MEDIA CONTACT: Kelly Van Beveren (202) 745-2306,