The Ineffectiveness of High School Graduation Requirement Reforms: A Story of Implementation and Enforcement?

The Ineffectiveness of High School Graduation Requirement Reforms: A Story of Implementation and Enforcement?

Issue/Topic: High School--College Readiness; High School--Graduation Requirements
Published On: 8/25/2012

Graduation credit requirement reforms were expected to increase high school student achievement. Proponents of these reforms contended that they would push students to take more advanced coursework, which would increase achievement and college and workforce readiness. Research shows, however, that the expectations for increased credit requirements to result in higher student achievement have largely failed to materialize.

To determine whether the relative ineffectiveness of graduation credit requirement reforms is in part the result of lax implementation and enforcement of these policies.

Approximately 18% of students who received a diploma in 2004 did not meet all requirements in either math, science, or both subjects. Approximately 9% of diploma recipients failed to achieve their state's mathematics requirements and more than 11% failed to meet the science requirements.

For both math and science, more than 60% of diploma recipients exceeded the minimum requirements whereas about a quarter of graduates just met the minimum requirements.

Of the students graduating in 1992, about 12% failed to meet the state's minimum requirements in math and/or science. Eight percent failed to meet math requirements and 5% failed to meet science requirements.

High-achieving students are found to be substantially less likely to graduate without meeting all requirements while students exhibiting risk factors for dropping out of school are significantly more likely to receive a diploma despite failing to meet state course credit requirements in mathematics and science.

Students attending schools in states with more rigorous graduation credit requirements exhibited an increased probability of receiving a diploma without being eligible to do so.


Policy Implications/Recommendations:
The study results provide strong support for the study's hypothesis that a significant number of students are being allowed to graduate without meeting their state's graduation credit requirements in mathematics, science, or both subjects.

Lax implementation and enforcement of graduation credit requirements is not a phenomenon that arose only recently, but it may be becoming more common as states continue to increase the number of credits required for high school graduation.

For policy makers, this study provides further evidence that top-down reforms lacking accountability, oversight, or enforcement mechanisms may be implemented inconsistently, if at all.

Future research would do well to investigate the extent to which implementation and enforcement at the local level- or the lack thereof- may be responsible for the disconnect between expectations and realizations of other education policies.

Research Design:

Longitudinal studies of U.S. middle school and high school students through post-secondary and labor force.

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Uses data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, which provide nationally representative samples of students who were eighth graders in 1988 and sophomores in 2002, respectively, through the rest of their secondary careers and into post-secondary education or the labor force. Transcripts were reviewed to determine number of students granted diplomas without meeting state credit requirements.

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