Pennsylvania High School Diploma Program Requirements

Pennsylvania has revised its high school diploma requirements, and the state is in the process of implementing a new set of benchmarks for graduates that begins in 2017. Read on to see what it now takes to become a high school graduate in Pennsylvania, and how those requirements will change.

High School Graduation Requirements in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has updated its high school graduation requirements and aligned secondary school curriculum to the Common Core Standards that have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. The new requirements are meant to guarantee that all students who have earned a Pennsylvania high school diploma have the knowledge and skills they need to enroll in college or begin pursuing a career.

Courses and Credits

Pennsylvania requires all high school graduates to have a minimum of 21 credits including 4 credits in English, 3 credits in math, 3 credits in science and 3 credits in social studies. State law also requires students to earn 2 credits in arts and humanities 1 credit in health and physical education and 5 additional credits by taking elective courses such as computer science, business, vocational education or music.

However, those are minimum requirements and many school district have set a higher bar for graduates. In addition to the core requirements mandated by the state, the Ferndale Area School District requires students to have 2 credits in a foreign language and a combination of 7 credits in math and science. The Erie and Harrisburg school district require students to take four years of math, and at Richland High School in Johnstown, graduates need 4 credits in social studies and will soon need 5 credits in math.

Keystone Exams

Beginning in 2017, students will need to pass Keystone Exams, which are state assessment tests, in algebra I, biology and literature in order to graduate. In 2019, the Keystone Exam requirement will include an exam in composition and in 2020, a civics and government exam will be added as a graduation requirement. The exams will be scored on a scale of 1-4, and students must earn a 3 to pass.

Those who fail will have the opportunity to retake an exam twice. Those who fail the second retake will be able to seek alternative options, such as taking AP exams or completing a project that meets the approval of district officials. Some students with disabilities are exempt from taking keystone examinations.

Culminating Project

Since 2001, all Pennsylvania students have been required to complete a culminating or senior project by the end of their final year. Students have typically started working on this major research project during their sophomore year and usually collaborate with a mentor from the project's initial development to its completion. The project has served as an opportunity for students to showcase their talents and interests, and demonstrate their abilities go beyond what is taught in a conventional high school curriculum.

However, beginning in 2017, with the start of the Keystone Exam requirements, state law will no longer require a senior project in order for students to earn a Pennsylvania high school diploma.

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