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.
Students must earn a passing score on the MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and one of the Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests (Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, and Technology/Engineering) to meet their CD requirement (exceptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are noted below).
Because of the transition to the next-generation MCAS tests, there are currently different CD requirements depending on the student's initial graduating class, as shown in the table below. Requirements for the classes of 2021–2023 reflect an interim passing standard for ELA and Mathematics defining a level of achievement on the new tests that is similar to the standard on the legacy tests. Information on future classes will be provided at a later time. Note that some students in the classes of 2021–2023 may have scored in the "Not Meeting Expectations" level but their scaled score is high enough to earn the CD in that subject. Please see the table below for specific details.
Students may fulfill the CD requirements through the standard MCAS tests or by submitting an MCAS competency portfolio. Students who do not pass the MCAS tests in grade 10 may take retests according to these participation guidelines in grades 11 and 12 and beyond.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to adopt temporary modifications to CD requirements due to the impact of COVID-19. These modifications are shown in the tables below.
Update on Competency Requirements for ELA and Math for the Class of 2022 — April 20, 2021
Update on Competency Requirements for ELA and Math for the Class of 2021 — January 26, 2021
Update on CD Requirements for STE for the Classes of 2021-23 — May 26, 2020 (Open the ZIP file, and then open the document named "2020-0526cd-requirements-2021-23.docx.")
Earn a score between 455 and 471
Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (which will be implemented in the 2021-22 school year)
Earn a score between 469 and 485
For reference, the table below shows the options for earning a CD in ELA and Mathematics for the class of 2020. (The options available for the classes of 2019 and earlier were option 1 or 2.)
Earn a score between 220 and 238
Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan
Attached are FAQs on the modified CD , and the list of the accepted courses that fulfill the modified CD requirements.
An EPP must be developed for any student who does not meet or exceed the Proficient level (a minimum scaled score of 240) or next-generation equivalent on the grade 10 ELA and/or Mathematics tests. For ELA, the minimum equivalent score is 472, and for Mathematics, the minimum equivalent score is 486. (Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) is not part of the EPP requirement.)
Each EPP includes, at a minimum:
The EPP is not required for students in the classes of 2020–2022, who are eligible for the modified CD. It will be required in school year 2021–2022 for subsequent classes.
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.
View the CD requirements for students in active military families .
Massachusetts authorizes one regular high school diploma for all publicly funded students, including students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Under state law, all students seeking to earn a high school diploma must meet the Competency Determination (CD) standard, as well as local graduation requirements. Massachusetts state law does not, however, require that a diploma must be issued to a student who has achieved a CD and completed local graduation requirements. Rather, these two conditions are prerequisites for graduation.
Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), even if a student with an IEP has met state and local requirements for graduation, a district may not properly graduate the student if the district did not provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to that student.
For additional information on graduation requirements for students with IEPs, please see Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2: Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma.
Students with IEPs who do not meet the state's CD standard will remain eligible to receive educational services until they meet all graduation requirements or turn twenty-two years of age.
In addition to the standard MCAS tests, retests, and alternate assessment competency portfolios, students may earn a Competency Determination (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.
Students who have not earned a CD in the required subjects may be eligible to receive a Certificate of Attainment if they have met all local (but not the state's) graduation requirements.
Refer to the April 20, 2021 Commissioner's Update for an update on the requirements for the Certificate of Attainment for the class of 2021.
Two scholarships are available based in part on student performance on the high school MCAS tests in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science and Technology/Engineering:
John and Abigail Adams Scholarship
Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery with Distinction Award
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.
Last Updated: September 16, 2021
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.