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Rethinking the District's High School Graduation Requirements


In 2017, while District of Columbia high school graduation rates were increasing, those increases came under scrutiny, and several data points indicated that DC public school students were not ready for the next steps in college or careers when they graduate from high school. To analyze and update the requirements, Laura Wilson Phelan (former Ward 1 Representative) and Markus Batchelor (former Ward 8 Representative) convened a task force in June 2017 comprised of District education stakeholders.

Current District High School Graduation Requirements

Current graduation requirements in the District were established 10 years ago, and they require students to earn 24 course credits and complete 100 hours of community service. 

Subject Credits (Carnegie Units)
English 4.0 Credits
Mathematics (including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II) 4.0 Credits
Science (must include three lab sciences) 4.0 Credits
Social Studies (must include World History 1 and 2, United States History; United States Government, and District of Columbia History) 4.0 Credits
World Language 2.0 Credits
Art 0.5 Credits
Music 0.5 Credits
Health and Physical Education 1.5 Credits
Electives 3.5 Credits
Total 24.0 credits

Additional Details:

  • One (1) of the three (3) lab science units shall be a course in Biology.
  • At least two (2) of the twenty four (24) Carnegie Units for graduation must include a College Level or Career Preparatory (CLCP) course approved by the student's local education agency (LEA) and successfully completed by the student. The course may fulfill subject matter or elective unit requirements as deemed appropriate by the LEA. CLCP courses approved by the LEA may include courses at other institutions. 
  • All students must enroll in Algebra no later than 10th grade. 
  • Students qualifying for the evening program high school diploma are not required to take the 1.5 credits in Health and Physical Education.
  • All students must complete 100 hours of community service.

High School Graduation Requirements Task Force

The High School Graduation Requirements Task Force sought to address the dissonance between improving graduation rates and evidence that not all District graduates are college- and career ready. The task force began its work by considering three key questions:

  • How do DC’s graduation requirements affect student preparedness for college and careers?

  • How do DC’s requirements and approach for awarding a high school diploma compare with those of other states?

  • How do the graduation requirements measure and recognize student mastery of DC’s learning standards?

Click here to learn more about the Task Force selection criteria, process, and more

To ensure a balance of perspectives, the State Board chose task force members who represented a broad constituency and will contribute meaningfully to the policy-level recommendations related to high school graduation requirements. Task force members include parents, community leaders, education agency leaders, students, teachers, school leaders and nonprofit personnel who work in relevant fields. The selection committee strived to ensure membership was proportionately representative to the backgrounds of the students in Washington DC. Each task force member is a DC residents. Applications were due by 12:00 PM on June 23, 2017. To view a list of task force applicants, click here.

Members were selected based on the following criteria:

Commitment: Committed to attend 80% of task force meetings in-person or on the phone, Able and willing to do readings and thoughtful reflection to support task progress and outcomes.

Representative: Demonstrates that he/she represents a broad constituency that currently is or will be most impacted by changes to the high school graduation requirements / Identifies ways that he/she will provide information to and solicit feedback from the constituency he/she represents and demonstrates a commitment to put in the time to do so.

Experience: Able to contribute meaningfully to discussions related to education policy of DC either due to first-hand experience as a high school, workforce development or college educator, counselor, parent or student; or as a representative of an entity that serves these groups.

We urge you to continue making your voice heard by emailing [email protected] or by filling out our online form here. We also encourage you to join our Facebook discussion group here to share your voice with the community.


Grants: NASBE

In 2017, SBOE was one of only two state boards of education across the country to receive a grant from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) to embed “deeper learning” into its work. NASBE defines deeper learning as a set of competencies and learning environments where students learn rich content, think deeply about that content in specific contexts, and apply the learning to authentic situations. Increasing deeper learning is a strategy to drive equity, because students who have access to these experiences are better prepared for their postsecondary plans. The funds are tied to the High School Graduation Requirements Task Force, and SBOE plans to use them to increase its outreach efforts. Funding will help the Board reach more families to gather feedback on draft high school graduation requirements, and it will also help disseminate the task force’s findings to ensure all families are informed about changes that might affect them. SBOE staff will also conduct a scan of all of the District’s policies related to education, looking for gaps or inequities that exist. This effort will help SBOE and NASBE understand where District policies are inconsistent or are not reflective of best practices, and the end result will allow Board members to more effectively advocate on behalf of District children.

Task Force Members

On June 5, 2017, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) proudly announced the formation of a new High School Graduation Requirements Task Force under the leadership of former Ward 1 representative Laura Wilson Phelan and former Ward 8 representative Markus Batchelor. The State Board received 110 applications from parents, community leaders, and education stakeholders across the District. This task force represents DC’s students, with over 50% of selected members residing or working in Wards 7 and 8. The application period closed at 12:00 noon on Friday, June 23, 2017. Each application was subsequently anonymized to ensure objectivity in selection. The SBOE Educational Excellence & Equity Committee reviewed each application and selected members to serve on the task force. All applications for the task force are open to public review.



Laura Wilson Phelan (co-chair)

Ward 1 Representative, SBOE; Chair, SBOE Educational Excellence & Equity Committee

Markus Batchelor (co-chair) Ward 8 Representative, SBOE; Chair, SBOE Public Engagement & Outreach Committee
Dr. Erin Bibo Deputy Chief, College & Career Programs, DC Public Schools (DCPS)
Tom Brown Executive Director, Training Grounds Inc.; DCPS and Public Charter School Parent; Ward 7 Resident
Julie Camerata Executive Director, DC Special Education Cooperative; Public Charter Middle School Parent; Ward 1 Resident
Latisha Chisholm Special Education Teacher, Anacostia High School; Ward 8 Resident
Naomi Rubin DeVeaux Deputy Director, DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB)
Celine Fejeran Deputy Director, Raise DC; Public Charter School Parent; Ward 5 Resident
Jerome Foster II Member of 2017-2018 Student Advisory Committee, SBOE; Student, Washington Leadership Academy; Ward 7 Resident
Cara Fuller Principal, DCPS Ballou Stay High School; 5 years experience as Principal; Ward 8 Resident
Larry Greenhill, Sr. Vice President, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 26; 20 years experience with District apprenticeship programs; Ward 8 Resident
Cosby Hunt Senior Officer of Teaching & Learning, Center for Inspired Teaching; Current Teacher of Real World History for DCPS and PCSB students; Public Charter School Parent; Ward 5 Resident
Dwan Jordon Senior Advisor for High School Research, Friendship PCS; Former Principal, Sousa MS (DCPS); Friendship Collegiate PCHS (Ward 7); Ward 4 Resident
Dr. Sandra Jowers-Barber Director, Division of Humanities, University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDCCC); Former History Professor; Ward 4 Resident
Kimberly Martin Principal, DCPS Wilson High School; 15 years experience as High School Principal; DCPS Parent; Ward 3 Resident
Sanjay K. Mitchell Director of College & Alumni Programs, Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS; Former Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions; Ward 7 Resident
Carol Randolph Chief Operating Officer, DC Students Construction Trades Foundation (Ward 7); 16 years working to expand trade skills in District schools; Ward 4 Resident
Shenita Ray Director of Online Operations, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies; 10 years experience in higher education; Ward 5 Resident
Karla Reid-Witt Family Dynamics Specialist, Jump Start; DCPS High School Parent; Ward 7 Resident
Cathy Reilly Executive Director, Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (S.H.A.P.P.E.); Ward 4 Education Alliance, C4DC; Ward 4 Resident
Jimell Sanders Director of Engagement, DC Language Immersion Project; DCPS Parent; Ward 7 Resident
David Tansey Math Teacher, DCPS McKinley Tech High School (Ward 5); Math for America, Washington Teacher's Union (WTU); Ward 5 Resident
Justin Tooley Special Assistant for Legislation & Policy, Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)

Click here to view all Task Force meeting links

Final Report and Recommendations

The State Board unanimously passed the recommendations of its High School Graduation Requirements Task Force at the May 16, 2018 public meeting. The recommendations moved forward to OSSE for consideration. OSSE reviewed the recommendations expressed in the report and will continue to work with the Board on policy changes that may stem from those recommendations.

Task force members reached consensus on the following recommendations for the consideration of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to put forward into regulatory policy:

  • Provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate they have mastered course content for world language and mathematics in lieu of taking the course.
  • Reduce the number of required community service hours from 100 to 50.
  • Create a personalized learning plan for each public school student in the District, and revisit this plan in elementary, middle, and high school to ensure the student is on track to graduate.

Beyond the Task Force

State Board members heard from two panels on July 18, 2018 related to the work of its High School Graduation Requirements Task Force, which made recommendations to modify the District’s requirements, which were adopted by the State Board in May 2018. The first panel featured Dwan Jordon, Head of Schools, KIPP DC; Karla Reid-Witt, High School Parent, Banneker High School; Cara Fuller, Principal, Ballou Stay High School; and Cosby Hunt, Senior Officer of Teaching & Learning, Center for Inspired Teaching. The second panel featured Sally Schwartz, Executive Director, Globalize DC; Jennifer Zinth, Director of High School and STEM, Education Commission of the States; and Dr. Linda Eno, Assistant Commissioner, Division of Teaching and Learning, New Jersey Department of Education.

Panelists provided the State Board with additional information about systems for awarding competency-based credit in the District and in other states across the country. The SBOE’s High School Graduation Requirements Task Force final report that, among other recommendations, asked OSSE to consider implementing “[opportunities] for students to demonstrate they have mastered course content for world language and mathematics in lieu of taking the course.”

The task force’s intent on making this recommendation is that students who have mastered course material in world language and mathematics would have a consistent path to receiving credit for these courses that counts toward their requirements. A statewide standardized test and/or Universal Design for Learning assessment that is available to all students will mean that every student at every school has an opportunity to demonstrate ability in world language and mathematics. This would allow all students (non school-dependent) to pursue coursework in areas of interest to them in math and world language and receive credit for demonstrating related mastery. The SBOE will continue to work with OSSE to turn the recommendations into regulatory language that will be published for public comment in the coming months.