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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Graduation Requirements


I. Background

The Massachusetts Education Reform Law of 1993, state law, G.L. c. 69, § 1D, requires that all students who are seeking to earn a high school diploma, including students educated at public expense in educational collaboratives and approved and unapproved private special education schools within and outside the state, must meet the Competency Determination (CD) standard, in addition to meeting all local graduation requirements.

II. Competency Determination Graduation Requirement

Students must earn a scaled score of at least 240 on the grade 10 MCAS ELA and Mathematics tests, or earn a scaled score between 220 and 238 on these tests, or earn a score of Needs Improvement on a competency portfolio, and fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP).

Students must also earn a scaled score of at least 220 on one of the high school MCAS Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests: Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/Engineering, or a score of Needs Improvement on a competency portfolio in one of these STE disciplines..

On July 2, 2012, an exception to the graduation requirement expired for students who were originally in the class of 2009 or an earlier class and meet certain criteria.

In May 2011 the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to delay the history and social science requirement for a CD until the third consecutive year that the history and social science assessment is administered.

In October 2016, the Board voted to maintain the current CD requirement through the class of 2020.

In September 2017, the Board discussed changes to the CD beginning with the class of 2021 that would:

  • Update the CD regulations this fall to state that students in the classes of 2021 and 2022 will be held to an interim passing standard
  • Update the CD regulations to establish a similar transition plan for the next-generation high school science tests

MCAS Performance Appeals Process

In addition to the standard MCAS tests, retests, and alternate assessment competency portfolios, students may earn a CD through the MCAS Performance Appeals process. The Board established this process in 2002 for students who have been unable to demonstrate the required performance level on MCAS tests to show through their coursework that they have the knowledge and skills to meet or exceed the passing standard. When granted, a performance appeal is not a waiver of CD requirements, but an optional means of earning the CD.

If school and district officials believe that there is compelling evidence that a student has demonstrated the attainment of the state's learning standards through coursework, the superintendent may submit a performance appeal to the Commissioner on behalf of the student.

Before a performance appeal will be considered, evidence must be presented to show that the student meets performance appeal eligibility guidelines. The Commissioner has the authority to waive one or more of the eligibility requirements if there are extenuating circumstances such as serious illness or other hardship. In these cases, the superintendent must submit a written justification for a waiver of eligibility requirements.

Educational Proficiency Plan

An EPP must be developed for any student who does not meet or exceed the Proficient level (a minimum scaled score of 240) on the grade 10 ELA and/or Mathematics tests.

Each EPP includes, at a minimum:

  • a review of the student's strengths and weaknesses, based on MCAS and other assessment results, coursework, grades, and teacher input;
  • the courses the student will be required to take and successfully complete in grades 11 and 12; and
  • a description of the assessments the school will administer on a regular basis to determine whether the student is moving toward Proficiency.
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Massachusetts Competency Determination for High School Students in Military Families

With the enactment of Chapter 108 of the Acts of 2012, An Act Relative to Veterans' Access, Livelihood, Opportunity, and Resources, also known as the VALOR Act, Massachusetts joined the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. In accordance with the VALOR Act, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) is committed to facilitating the on-time graduation of high school students in military families by providing alternatives to allow these students to earn a high school Competency Determination (CD) in English language arts, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering.

III. High School Requirements and Guidelines

Massachusetts state law requires the instruction of American history and civics (G.L. c. 71, § 2) and physical education (G.L. c. 71, § 3).

The Massachusetts High School Program of Studies (MassCore) is intended to help high school graduates arrive at college or the workplace well prepared and to reduce the number of students taking remedial courses in college. The Department recommends that high school students complete the MassCore program of studies, which is a comprehensive set of subject area courses and units as well as other learning opportunities, before graduating from high school.

The MassCore program includes four years of English; four years of mathematics; three years of lab-based science; three years of history; two years of the same foreign language; one year of an arts program; and five additional "core" courses such as business education, health, and/or technology. MassCore also includes additional learning opportunities including AP classes, dual enrollment, a senior project, online courses for high school or college credit, and service or work-based learning.

Scholarships Related to MCAS

Two scholarships are available based in part on student performance on the MCAS English Language Arts and Mathematics tests:

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the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship
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Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award


Last Updated: December 15, 2017
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