Earning Your Texas High School Diploma!

Jan 29, 2020

Texas Secondary Education

Because Texas is a large state, its school system is broken down into regional districts. Students typically attend high schools in the same districts in which they reside. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) identifies the different districts by their boundaries and includes enrollment and contact information (www.tea.state.tx.us). The agency also offers information on district reports and ratings.

Texas High School Graduation Requirements

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, Texas has only one high school graduation program. Students who enter the 9th grade and below during that school year must meet the requirements of Texas's Foundation High School program to graduate.

The prior course requirements for earning a Texas high school diploma were divided into three programs. They included the minimum, recommended and distinguished achievement high school programs. Students above 9th grade may elect to participate in the Foundation program or stay in their current program. All of the programs require students to take courses in the following subjects:

  • English language arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social studies
  • Economics
  • Foreign language
  • Physical education
  • Speech
  • Fine Arts

Electives are also necessary to qualify for graduation. The amount of credits per subject will vary according to the program type.

Foundation Program

Students must complete 22 credits to get a high school diploma, including four credits in English, three credits in math, science and social studies, two credits in a language other than English or computer science, and one credit in fine arts, speech and physical education.

Required courses include:

  • English I, English II, English III and an advanced English course
  • Algebra I, Geometry, and an advanced math course
  • Biology, a laboratory-based science course and an advanced science course
  • U.S. History, U.S. Government, Economics, and World History or World Geography
  • Physical Education
  • Two credits in the same language (other than English) or Computer Science I, II, and/or III
  • Fine arts
  • Demonstrated proficiency in speech
  • Five credits in electives

Students may also earn endorsements in various subjects including areas such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), business and industry, public service, multidisciplinary studies or arts and humanities by completing the course requirements for the endorsement, which adds four credits to their graduation requirement. They must advise the school in writing upon entering 9th grade of the endorsement they will be seeking. There is also a distinguished level of achievement which can be obtained by completing an endorsement curriculum and completing four credits in math, including Algebra II, and four credits in science.

Recommended Program

The Texas recommended high school program offers the typical diploma path for most students who are in grades 10-12 as of the 2014-2015 school year. It requires 26 credits to graduate, including four credits each towards English language arts, mathematics and science. One-half credit is taken in economics, while 3.5 credits are in social studies. Two credits apply towards a language other than English, and students must take one credit each in speech, fine arts and physical education. The remaining 5.5 credits are for electives.

Certain courses must be taken, and they include:

  • English I, II, III and IV
  • Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry
  • Biology, Chemistry and Physics
  • World History Studies, World Geography Studies, United States History Studies Since Reconstruction and United States Government
  • Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits
  • Communication Applications or Professional Communications
  • One credit in either art, dance, music, theater or floral design

Minimum Program

The Texas minimum high school program, which only requires 22 credits, is available for students who are struggling to complete the recommended requirements but would still like the opportunity to earn a diploma rather than a GED credential. Qualifying for this program requires being at least 16 years old, completing two credits in each core subject or failing to move on to tenth grade at least once. Students always have the option to reenroll in the recommended program.

Some credit requirements are the same as the recommended program, like economics, speech, fine arts and physical education. Other credits differ slightly; for example, the fourth English language arts course must emphasize practical or professional writing skills. The rest of the curriculum requires a different amount of credits, as distributed below:

  • Three math credits, including Algebra I, Geometry and student's choice
  • Two science credits, including Biology and Integrative Physics and Chemistry
  • Two and a half social studies credits, including United States History Since Reconstruction, United States Government and student's choice
  • One credit for an academic elective, in either World Geography Studies, World History Studies or an approved science course
  • Six and a half electives from an approved list

Advanced Program

The Texas distinguished achievement, or advanced, high school program allows students to demonstrate outstanding academic achievement. This program is ideal for strong students who hope to get into competitive colleges and universities. Like the recommend program, this curriculum involves 26 credits. All of the requirements are the same except for the following:

  • Fourth math credit must be advanced
  • Fourth science credit must be laboratory-based
  • Three foreign language credits
  • One extra elective credit

In addition to the course requirements, advanced students must complete at least four advanced measures that demonstrate their performance on college or professional levels. One option involves completing advanced technical credit courses or college academic credit courses. Another one requires the student to conduct an original research project supervised by a mentor or reviewed by a committee in the field of interest. Otherwise, students need to receive high scores on such tests as the International Baccalaureate exam, College Board advanced placement exam or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) Exam

In addition to completing the academic requirements for their respective programs, Texas high school students must take the TAKS exit exam before graduation. Successful completion of all four sections of this exam is required to earn a high school diploma. Subject areas include English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

Expert Contributor: Christiane Warren Christiane has M.Phil & PhD degrees in American Intellectual History. She's been an academic/career advisor, assistant dean and higher ed consultant.

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