Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

MA Graduation Requirements and Related Guidance

I. Graduation Requirements

A. Background Information

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.

B. Competency Determination Requirements

1. CD Requirements

Students must earn a passing score on the grade 10 MCAS tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, and one of the high school Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests (Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, and Technology/Engineering) to meet their CD requirement.

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.

Students may fulfill the CD requirements through the standard MCAS tests or by submitting an MCAS cohort appeal or MCAS competency portfolio, which is an alternative method of student assessment that uses a collection of a student's work samples to measure the educational performance of a small number of students who possess skills at or near grade level, but who cannot demonstrate those skills on the standard MCAS tests, even with accommodations, due to a significant disability.

a. Interim CD Requirements

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved interim CD requirements beginning with the class of 2021 (i.e., the first class to take the next-generation ELA and Mathematics tests in grade 10). The interim passing standard for ELA and Mathematics defines a level of achievement on the new tests that is similar to the standard on the legacy tests. For more information on the interim CD, refer to the transition plan and the October 19, 2021 edition of the Student Assessment Update.

Note that some students in the classes of 2021–2025 may score in the Not Meeting Expectations level, but their scaled score is high enough to earn the CD in that subject. Please see the tables in section c below for details.

b. Modified CD Requirements

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved modified CD requirements due to the cancellation of testing opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The modified CD is in place for the following graduating classes and subjects:

  • ELA and Mathematics — classes of 2020–2022
  • STE — classes of 2020–2023

Attached are FAQs on the modified CD , and the list of the accepted courses that fulfill the modified CD requirements.

For more information, refer to these documents:

c. CD Requirements by Graduating Class

The tables below describe the CD requirements for students in the classes of 2021–2025.

SubjectClasses of 2021 and 2022
Option 1Option 2
ELA Earn a score of 455 or higher Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the links provided above for details of the temporary modification of the CD requirements.)
Math Earn a score of 469 or higher Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the links provided above for details.)
STE Earn a score of 220 or higher (for students who took an STE test in February 2020 or earlier) Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the May 26, 2020 Update, provided above, for details.)

SubjectClass of 2023
Option 1Option 2
ELA Earn a score of 472 or higher

Earn a score between 455 and 471

and

Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan

Math Earn a score of 486 or higher

Earn a score between 469 and 485

and

Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan

STE Earn a score of 220 or higher (for students who took an STE test in February 2020 or earlier) Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the May 26, 2020 Update, provided above, for details.)

SubjectClasses of 2024 and 2025
Option 1Option 2
ELA Earn a score of 472 or higher

Earn a score between 455 and 471

and

Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan

Math Earn a score of 486 or higher

Earn a score between 469 and 485

and

Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan

STE Earn a score of 220 or higher on legacy Chemistry or Technology/Engineering, or the interim passing standard for next-generation Biology or Introductory Physics Not applicable (only one option for STE)

Information on future classes will be provided at a later time.

2. Educational Proficiency Plans (EPPs)

An EPP must be developed for any student in the class of 2023 or beyond who earned a scaled score between 455 and 471 on the grade 10 ELA test and/or a scaled score between 469 and 485 on the grade 10 Mathematics test. (STE is not part of the EPP requirement.) The EPP is not required for students in the classes of 2020–2022, who are eligible for the modified CD.

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
  • a description of the assessments the school will administer on a regular basis to determine whether the student is moving toward proficiency

C. Competency Determination Requirements for Students in Active 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.

View the CD requirements for students in active military families .

D. Graduation Requirements for Students Receiving Special Education Services

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.

E. MCAS Appeals

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.

For a student with a disability, the superintendent must file an appeal on behalf of an eligible student with a disability if the parent (or the student who is age 18 or older) requests it. The superintendent may initiate on his or her own an appeal for an eligible student with a disability with the consent of the parent (or the student who is age 18 or older).

II. Certificate of Attainment

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.

III. Scholarships Related to MCAS

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:

IV. Other 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.

Last Updated: November 17, 2021

 
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