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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 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 students in the classes of 2021 – 2023 may be in the "Not Meeting Expectations" level (440–469) but still earn their CD.

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. Retests in 2020-21 are reported on the legacy scale (200–280).

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to adopt temporary modifications to CD requirements due to statewide school closures in spring 2020 for COVID-19. These modifications are shown in the table below.

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Update on CD Requirements for Classes of 2021-23 — May 26, 2020
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Update on Competency Requirements for Class of 2020 — April 29, 2020

SubjectClass of 2020Classes of 2021 – 2023*
Option 1Option 2Option 3Option 1Option 2
ELA Earn a score of 240 or higher Earn a score between 220 and 238


Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan
Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the April 29 Update, provided above, for details of the temporary modification of the CD requirements.) Earn a score of 472 or higher Earn a score between 455 and 471


Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan
Math Earn a score of 240 or higher Earn a score between 220 and 238


Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan
Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the April 29 Update for details.) Earn a score of 486 or higher Earn a score between 469 and 485


Fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan

* The class of 2023 will test for the first time in grade 11 due to the temporary modification of the testing schedule.

SubjectClasses of 2020-2023Class of 2024
Option 1Option 2
STE Earn a score of 220 or higher Successful completion of a relevant high school course (Refer to the April 29 and May 26 Updates, provided above, for details.) Earn a score of 220 or higher

2. Educational Proficiency Plans (EPPs)

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.

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.

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 Download Word Document.

D. Graduation Requirements for Displaced Puerto Rico Students

View the graduation requirements for displaced Puerto Rico high school students.

E. 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.

F. 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.

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.

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:

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

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 3, 2020

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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