Published: October 26, 2006

Stat of the Week — Oct. 25, 2006

Are Your Students Ready to Graduate With Sufficient Skills and Knowledge?

The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are exhibiting strong interest in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. ("Big Business Going to Bat for NCLB," Oct. 18, 2006.) Business groups believe that well-educated employees are essential to help the United States compete in the global marketplace. The business groups' interest is focused on reading and mathematics achievement as the essential skills that all workers need to master. This week's Stat of the Week looks at states' graduation course credit requirements in math and English/language arts (ELA), and policies about exit exams and remediation to see if state policies appear to encourage students to master and graduate with a minimum-level of skills.

Diploma Counts 2006, a report of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, found that the number of course credits in math and ELA required for the class of 2006 to earn a standard diploma varies from five to eight credits. Eight states are not included here because local districts determine their course credit requirements or because data are not available. Most states (35 states and the District of Columbia) require 4 credits in ELA, with an average of 3.9, while math course credit requirements range from two to four credits, with the average requirement being 2.7.

The EPE Research Center analysis shows some regional variation in the number of course credit requirements across the states. One of the patterns that can be observed is that states in the south, southeast and northeast regions tend to require more course credits. For example, all four of the states that require eight credits are located in the southeast region. In addition, among 23 states that require seven course credits, 21 are located in the south, southeast, and northeast regions. States in the west tend to require fewer course credits. Four out of the six states that require five-combined course credits are located in the west (Washington, Oregon, California and Utah).

Setting minimum course credit requirements does not necessarily mean that students who meet these requirements are capable and have the skills required in the workplace today. It is vital to assess how much students learn from the curriculum and make sure that they are ready to graduate with sufficient knowledge and skills to enter what has become a challenging information and technological society. The EPE Research Center identified that 23 states require exit/end-of-course exams for the class of 2006, and all but one of these states tests at least ELA and math. In addition to the exam, 16 of the 23 states require remedial education for students who fail to pass exit, end-of-course, or promotion exams to support their mastery of skills and knowledge. Half of these states are located in the south and southeast regions while three are in the west.

By integrating all of the above information, it becomes apparent that states in the south and southeast regions are more likely to set slightly higher minimum course credit requirements in math and ELA, administer exams that test learning of these standards, and provide some kind of support to assist those who fail to meet them. It would appear that states in these regions have at least some of the policies in place to meet the demands of large companies and major business groups for a better prepared workforce.

To find out more about graduation requirements in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, access the Education Counts database.