Considerations and FAQs for Leaders Managing the High School Experience During COVID-19
Resources updated as of April 2020.
REVISED resources coming May 2021.
School’s out for many high school students. But it’s not supposed to be. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students will miss out on celebrating milestones with friends, performing their last plays, walking into their classrooms one final time, and competing in their final games. For hundreds of thousands of high school seniors who were counting on the last quarter to fulfill their graduation requirements, the rapid change to remote schooling may have long-lasting and negative consequences on their life outcomes. They are the seniors who were depending on the remaining months of the school year, and the supports they receive from caring adults in their high schools and other community organizations, to submit college applications, send in financial aid forms, navigate options for post-secondary pathways, and complete the credits and requirements needed for graduation.
District and school leaders, teachers, counselors, out-of-school time providers, and young people are doing heroic work to adapt to the current crisis. America’s Promise, on behalf of the GradNation campaign, developed these considerations and answers to frequently asked questions to help education and community leaders make informed and evidence-based decisions on how to support their high school students, and particularly high school seniors, through the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
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Education leaders should take a holistic approach when making decisions about the educational progress of high school-age students
and their transition to post-secondary schooling and training options during the COVID-19 pandemic. They should consider:
- How can state and district practices and policies be modified in commonsense ways, and within current capacity limitations due to the crisis, that enable students to graduate high school prepared for college, career, and civic life and successfully transition from high school to post-secondary schooling or training?
- How can these practices and policies be implemented in ways that assist those most affected by the crisis and who need extra support to respond to it, including students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, students in low-income families, and students without access to technology?
- How can districts and schools serve youth in ways that meet their social, emotional, academic, and academic well-being?
- How can districts and schools provide continuity of learning but also plan for future supports for young people, particularly vulnerable populations, during and after this crisis?
Frequently Asked Questions
The questions and answers below are intended to support state, district, and school leaders as they consider graduation, postsecondary transition supports, instruction, and other educational equity issues being raised by the impact of COVID-19 on high school-aged youth, and in particular, this year’s senior class.
High School Diploma Requirements for High School Seniors
1. What should districts consider in determining which young people can graduate with the class of 2020?
Per the federal definition for calculating an adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR), students who complete locally or state-determined graduation requirements by the end of summer 2020 are considered graduates of the class of 2020. By March 2020, likely many students have already earned the credits and met the requirements to graduate with a regular diploma or one with certifications.
For those students who have not yet met the full requirements, districts should consider an approach that prioritizes actions that have the most positive benefits for all students and do the least harm to the most vulnerable students. In addition, they should focus on commonsense solutions that are within the capacity of districts and schools to implement under current circumstances.
Given the extraordinary circumstances brought on by COVID-19, the following points outline some evidence-based choices districts can make for different groups of students.
High school seniors who were on track to graduate when schooling became remote (by having a passing grade in all courses for which they needed credit to graduate) can be considered to have passed the courses and earned the necessary credit. The underlying rationale for this is that by March 2020, students will have completed half the classes or more and the vast majority of students who are passing a course at the mid-point end up passing the course.
Students who were not on track to graduate when schooling became remote and are one to three credits shy of earning a diploma could get back on-track to graduate by one of a few options, as determined by their district:
a. One credit grace policy. The entity that sets graduation requirements could institute a one credit grace policy and award diplomas to students who come within one credit of meeting their graduation requirements. Authority for graduation requirements vary considerably by state and district. Across the nation, students earn diplomas with anywhere from 17 to 30 or more credits. There is no strong evidence to suggest that any specific number of credits leads to better life outcomes for high school graduates; rather, the influence comes from the quality and diversity of credits. There is no clear evidence that students with 24 credits do better than students with 23 credits, or students with 19 credits do worse than those with 20, for example. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that students who graduate from high school have much better life outcomes than those who do not.
Another way to construct a grace policy that does not affect the quality or meaning of the high school diploma is to establish that under the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19, a diploma will be awarded to all students who prior to school closure were able to earn 93% or more of the required credits for graduation. If 93% earns an A in course, 93% of all credits needed can serve as “good enough” to earn a diploma during a crisis.
b. Provide multiple ways to demonstrate mastery. Districts could provide several ways for students who had not yet passed two or three courses needed for graduation at the time schooling became remote to demonstrate competency in those courses. For example, such students could take a locally designed test, complete a locally designed project or paper, or complete a high-quality online credit recovery course. The timeframe in which a student demonstrates competency to earn the needed credits could be extended into the summer.
For this strategy to succeed with students facing significant challenges, districts will need to create conditions for success such as connections with a virtual mentor or tutor, computer and wi-fi access, and in some cases, a safe place to do their schoolwork.
Students who are four or more credits shy of graduation may need the option of a fifth year of high school. However, these students should not simply be told to repeat twelfth grade. Rather, programming should be built or extended from existing dual credit and CTE programs, so that the fifth year can be spent accruing college credits and/or earning industry-recognized credits that would contribute to a certification. The College In High School Alliance recommends several best practices to ensure equity and quality in dual enrollment, which will be critical in a post-COVID educational environment. CHSA is also collecting state-specific resources for concurrent enrollment.
Since school closures may exacerbate existing opportunity gaps, districts should consider supports and responses that will benefit all students. Districts may want to explore available data related to postsecondary outcomes and college and career readiness; disaggregated data will provide a clearer picture of how specific groups of students are impacted.
2. How should districts or states consider supporting students toward achieving graduation requirements?
Given the suddenness of remote schooling and possible trauma or disengagement from navigating social distancing and isolation from peers, districts should consider educational re-engagement approaches that honor young people’s need for supportive relationships. Districts could also consider compensating retired or part-time certified teachers to fill capacity gaps during the summer months to provide young people close to graduation with the one-on-one supports that meet both their academic and social and emotional needs. Creating opportunities for peer-to-peer learning can also be effective for high school students; this may be possible initially through virtual learning systems and later in person (if schools are able to open for the summer months).
3. How should states and districts handle state-level testing that is required to graduate?
In some states, students are required to take state-specific assessments as a graduation requirement. These tests are often separate from the annual state testing that feeds into federal and state accountability systems. In 23 states, a passing score on a high school exit exam is required for a senior to graduate. Due to COVID-19, states are canceling exams altogether, which often includes the graduation exam. The states below have canceled exit exams, or all exams, as of April 7, 2020:
- California High School Proficiency Exams have been canceled
- Florida K12 assessments, including exit exams, have been canceled
- Louisiana has developed several options for seniors to graduate and has removed the requirement to complete exit exams
- New Jersey K12 assessments, including exit exams, have been canceled
- New York Regents exam has been canceled
- Texas STAAR exams, including senior STAAR exams, have been canceled
Administering statewide standardized tests in spring 2020 as they are usually administered will likely not be possible. State and district governing entitities may consider alternate methods of assessments. Possible alternative approaches include presentations through an online system, web-based testing, or written essays. In addition, the timeline for completing final graduation requirements could be extended into the early summer. Great care and planning must be taken to ensure that any alternative approach accounts for the needs of every young person, including those without shelter, internet, and space and time to work independently.
4. Which stakeholders need to be involved when considering graduation requirements for the class of 2020?
In most places, district school boards, state education agencies, or state legislation determine graduation requirements. Whatever entity governs requirements should be engaged as soon as possible to understand student data and the impact of school closures on graduation outcomes. Given the community stake in the life outcomes of this year’s seniors, these entities should seek student, parent, and community input when making these decisions.
Across all these decisions, districts should consider both how they are communicating updates to parents in ways that are understandable and meaningful, and how they are ensuring those decisions reflect parent and student needs. To that end, surveys, focus groups, and other types of qualitative data collection may be useful.
The National Association of State Boards of Education has tracked several examples of how boards of education can lead the effort to change graduation requirements during this time.
Transitioning to Postsecondary Education, Training, or Work
5. What should schools and districts consider in this period of time when many young people are considering their plans for postsecondary education or training?
As COVID-19 shifts priorities and methods of delivery of services, it is critical for districts to provide continuity of college and career counseling to support the transition to postsecondary education or training. The evidence is clear that young adults who are both out of school and out of work face a long road back to finding employment that provides a family-supporting wage. Without an organized and intentional effort, we are at risk of increasing the number of youth who are not in education, employment, or training. Even as businesses and other employers are grappling with uncertainty, there may be opportunities for virtual work-based learning that districts can consider.
Among seniors who are positioned to graduate with the class of 2020, there are two groups who will need the most support to make a successful transition to postsecondary education or training:
Youth who have submitted applications to education or training programs and still have to make a decision
Youth who had not submitted applications for postsecondary education or training programs before schools closed
The first group of high school seniors are students who submitted college or training applications prior to school closures and will soon have to decide to accept the offer or choose among several options. The evidence is clear that knowledgeable and informed adults are crucial in supporting students in meeting deadlines and evaluating the fit and match of a given option with the individual’s postsecondary goals, particularly for low-income students and students of color. Absent a supporting adult to weigh options with them, some students may conclude the best choice is to defer or turn down the offer given current uncertainties.
The second group of seniors in need of support are students who had not submitted post-secondary schooling or training applications before schools closed. This will include many students who were intending to apply to less-selective or open-access four-year institutions, colleges with rolling admissions, or community colleges. Often, the most critical time to support these students is in March, April, and May. These students will need counseling and concrete guidance to navigate modifications to traditional application deadlines and procedures, apply to these institutions, and understand how and when a given institution will re-open. Without support, some students will not meet application and financial aid deadlines and may find themselves without a post-secondary placement.
Completing the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is strongly correlated with good postsecondary student outcomes. Schools and districts must invest additional time and effort into encouraging graduating seniors to complete their FAFSA, even in times of uncertainty. Many families may face economic hardship because of COVID-19, which will affect the ability to pay for postsecondary institutions. The National College Attainment Network has resources for districts, schools, and families to complete the FAFSA with support. Districts should connect with state institutions of higher education to determine if there are changes or supplemental documents required for state-based aid applications. A recent survey from the NCAN makes clear that students need much more than financial supports during this time, including access to internet and technology, distance learning tips, and mental health counseling. You can see all the results of the survey here. NCAN also developed a guide for immediately supporting high school seniors as they transition to postsecondary pathways in this time.
School districts should support extended summer hours for school counselors to assist young people in the transition process and decision-making process if they had not yet determined their postsecondary plans. Districts will need to consider ways to create continuity of services that may not usually be available in summer months, including administrative services (such as providing final transcripts that could not be accessed during the school closure) and access to counselors.
6. How can institutions of higher education support high schools during school closures and as the 2020-2021 school year begins?
Institutions of higher education (IHEs) will need to step up for the young people in their communities and those seeking to join their institutions. IHEs will need to engage in direct outreach with the high schools that are their major feeder schools and develop strategies to provide students with the information and guidance they need to make a successful post-secondary transition given the ambiguities of COVID-19. IHEs can also consider waiving entrance exams and specific grade requirements for students applying and enrolling.
IHEs should consider sponsoring summer support sessions at high schools or community locations where high school seniors can receive one-on-one support to apply, receive financial aid, and complete all necessary health, housing, and forms needed to successfully enroll in the fall. IHEs could also partner with school districts to provide expanded dual credit summer school opportunities to enable students both to complete high school graduation requirements and prerequisites to credit-bearing courses at the college or university.
IHEs should clearly and frequently communicate to their current applicants any modifications to the May 1 commitment deadline. Institutions should consider the option to waive enrollment and housing deposits for those with difficult financial situations as a result of COVID-19. There will likely be a large increase in the number of financial aid appeals based on a change in income, so institutions should plan for that increase and clearly articulate the process to students and the public. Institutions should be mindful of the documentation they are asking students to submit and the method of submission as they may not have access to the internet, computers, printers, or scanners.
Content Mastery and Grading
7. What should schools and districts consider in terms of content mastery for students and teachers who are transitioning to virtual learning during this period of school closures
The quality of virtual instructional experiences will vary greatly during this time of school closures, particularly in communities where online instruction is not the norm. In addition, students do not have uniformly equal access to a computer or device, the internet, or a quiet space to focus on learning. All students are experiencing changes in routine; many are also navigating food insecurity and care for younger siblings. Some are learning from shelters and learning without their usual caring adults with whom they have built relationships over the course of the school year, including paraprofessionals, learning support specialists, and counselors, among others. In areas that have moved to distance learning for the first time, there will be a learning curve for both adults and young people in how to use the devices and programs, navigate online learning spaces, and manage interactivity. Finally, virtual instructional techniques will take time for some teachers to master.
Districts should allow for flexibility in instructional design that allows for multiple options and ways to submit assignments. Video conferencing can and should remain an option, but districts should consider other ways to submit papers or assignments, learn directly from a teacher, and interact with peers. Additional avenues to complete coursework include assigning written essays and discussion posts that are submitted via email or online platforms; individual “office hours” or small group instructional time on the phone with a teacher and student(s); and group assignments that allow youth to connect with their peers on the platform of their choice. High-quality instruction should still be the guiding factor, but teachers must take into account barriers to learning that the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing.
The Learning Policy Institute suggests using creative practices instead of typical end-of-year assessments as an opportunity for learning, reflection, and celebration. Schools can also consider performance assessments as a method of assessing content knowledge acquisition and application. Many of these approaches may also be appropriate in planning for the 2020-2021 school year in the event the year begins remotely.
8. How should schools and districts consider changes to grading during the period of school closures?
As a result of the factors described in question 6, districts cannot guarantee educational equity across learning settings outside of the school and should be steadfast in ensuring that students not negatively impacted by grading policies. A student’s grade as of March 2020 should be held as the baseline. For example, grades could be held steady based on a students’ mastery as of March 2020 and progress made during school closures could be considered as supplemental to the student’s grade as of March 2020 (when most school closures began).
For Students not Graduating: Transitioning to the Next Grade
9. What should states and districts consider in determining if a high school student should be retained or promoted to the next grade for the 2020-2021 school year?
Some districts and schools have clear grade promotion requirements for high school students and others do not. In either case, schools and districts need to consider, given the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19, what is in the best long-term interest of their students. Students who may be forced to stay in their same grade for the full following academic year could face negative social or emotional consequences feeling like they are held back due to circumstances out of their control; in addition, they may not actually need to repeat a full year of content. Conversely, students who begin the next year in the next grade may feel uncertain about their ability to master content and many will need additional supports to be ready for grade-level content.
Promotion and retention decisions can be fraught, so districts need to consider the needs of their students and how a decision to retain or promote will affect each individual. Districts should seek feedback from their youth and families to determine a viable path forward based on grades as of March 2020. Districts should also look to their state education agencies and boards of education for guidance on this topic.
10. What should districts and schools consider in planning for the start of the next school year?
Many districts are understandably in crisis management mode and focused on providing meals, transitioning to distance learning, and communicating about resources and next steps. As districts and communities begin to consider what they can provide young people beyond distance learning in spring 2020, district and school leaders should consider approaches to starting the 2020-2021 school year that acknowledge how the 2019-2020 school year ended.
One approach to consider for the next school year is for districts to create time and space for all students to re-acclimate to school and to address learning gaps from March onward. Given the sudden end to in-person interactions in spring 2020, it is critical to treat students as people first. Providing time to re-build student-teacher connections, re-establish productive school norms and climates, and re-activate students’ prior knowledge will enable schools to start strong. These efforts will pay off in terms of overall learning because the evidence is clear that students who feel more connected to school and are given structures to connect new learning to their prior knowledge will learn much more over the year than those who are only provided more instructional time but not these crucial social and emotional supports.
When in-school learning resumes in the fall, teachers and administrators will need to quickly understand how much students retained during this time and how much review is necessary. Helping all teachers become comfortable using data to understand each student’s performance should be a priority for districts. Districts should consider prioritizing investment in additional support and training during the summer months to help school leaders and teachers build capacity in collecting and utilizing student data once the school year begins.
GradNation partners encourage districts to explore flexibility in the start date for the 2020-2021 school year—by starting it up to a month earlier, for example, and using those weeks to re-establish school connectedness and positive school climate and catch students up on academic content that was lost in spring 2020.
Several GradNation partners have released resources, considerations, and webinars for districts to think about reopening in the fall. The Everyone Graduates Center and the Pathways to Adult Success community hosted a webinar and shared insight for using early warning systems and on-track indicators to support students in the return to school. The Learning Policy Institute put forth safety guidelines for reopening in the context of COVID-19. The Alliance for Excellent Education and other advocacy groups developed recommendations for schools, districts, and states to prioritize equity in the coming school year.
As states and districts plan for re-entry this fall, the Forum for Youth Investment urges us to honor the work and progress of students in this unprecedented year.
AASA, the School Superintendents Association, conducted a survey of district leaders across 48 states to detail how COVID-19 impacts their operating procedures and challenges. Districts are still seeking guidance on safety precautions and are grappling with capacity, budget, and physical space constraints when determining how to reopen this fall.
Social and Emotional Implications
11. How are high school-aged young people socially and emotionally impacted by extended school closures?
Adolescence represents a critical period in human development in which the brain is growing new neural connections to increase independent executive function, agency and decision-making, and identity development, among many other changes. The role of peer relationships is strong during adolescence and relationships with caring adults take on new dimensions. In a time of social distancing and school closures, it can be difficult to act on opportunities to develop agency, be in community with peers, and feel a sense of belonging. These impacts are separate and in addition to the loss of academic learning time.
Under current circumstances raised by COVID-19, these aspects of development are further affected by stress and responses to stress for young people who are taking on new responsibilities such as childcare, securing meals for their families, navigating shelters, and transitioning to distance learning. At the same time, the unstructured time may create opportunities for adolescents to practice greater agency and self-management, in addition to greater self and social awareness and new relationship-building skills. Schools and districts should note these impacts and, during the summer months, invest in teacher training for the trauma-informed practices and integrated social and emotional learning that will benefit all young people.
See the CASEL Cares webpage for additional resources on social and emotional learning for parents and caregivers, educators, and policymakers.
America’s Promise conducted a survey of over 3,000 high-school-aged young people, a nationally representative sample, about the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on their social and emotional learning. The survey was completed in April 2020 when most youth surveyed had been in distance learning for four or more weeks. The findings suggest that students are experiencing a collective trauma, and that they and their families would benefit from immediate and ongoing support. You can access the findings here.
12. How can districts modify plans when graduation ceremonies and other end-of-year events cannot occur?
One of the remarkable outcomes of the response to COVID-19 is that we are acting in unity to stay inside for the benefit and health of entire communities and groups of people. That means celebratory events that usually take place throughout the end of the school year are being canceled. Yet no matter one’s stage in life, social connection is more important now than ever before. It is important that schools and districts consider creative approaches to building connectivity and celebrating the year even when physical schools are closed. Providing opportunities to celebrate prom, field days, sports, theatre, graduation, and other springtime milestones through alternative means can lessen the impact of the sudden loss of the school community.
“SOCIAL DISTANCE” GRADUATION
Several national-level organizations and platforms are offering virtual graduation events to honor 2020 graduates. Many include celebrity appearances and guests.
Facebook: May 15 at 11 AM PT/2PM ET
XQ Institute: May 16, at 5 PM PT/ 8 PM ET
YouTube: June 6 at 12 PT/ 3 PM ET
Virtual Graduation + Prom
Students at Hunter College High, a public high school in New York City, have spent dozens of hours creating a virtual scale model of their high school in the video game Minecraft to reconnect with students and later host prom and graduation.
Some State Departments of Education, including Alaska, Rhode Island, Tennessee have released official guidelines to graduation that prohibit traditional large gatherings and offer ideas for alternative solutions.
Some examples of the innovative graduations include ceremonies at local drive-in movie theaters, such as in Idaho Falls, ID and Monroe Township, OH. Other districts, such as schools in Florida, have pledged to host both a virtual graduation and a smaller in-person ceremony after stay-at-home orders expire.
COLLEGE SIGNING DAY
Reach Higher, an initiative started by Michelle Obama, celebrated its annual National College Signing Day on May 1. Schools and communities are encouraged to honor graduating seniors making college commitments throughout May by posting on social media using #CollegeSigningDay and #BetterMakeRoom!
One of the most exciting moments for a student-athlete is receiving a verbal scholarship offer. However, it is not official for approximately 650 NCAA DI and DII schools until athletes sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI). Various schools across the nation, including in Dallas and Nebraska, have hosted virtual signing ceremonies to celebrate the occasion.
The Montana University System and Reach Higher Montana partnered to help students celebrate a virtual College Signing Day on May 6. Students were encouraged to participate, whatever their post-high school plans may be, including two-year college, four-year college a certificate program, an apprenticeship, or another path to the future.
JOB FAIRS AND COLLEGE PREP
With college campuses closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, free virtual tours have grown in popularity. The New York Times highlights how juniors and seniors can learn more about prospective colleges and the admissions process.
College & Career Fair
In many areas, the milestone of attending college and career fairs have shifted online. For example, in Virginia, Roanoke offered a “College Preview Week,” and a Georgia chapter of the Boys & Girls Club has begun offering virtual college and career fairs weekly for the general public. Finally, in Alabama, employers hosted a virtual career expo and hiring event for graduating seniors.
Boca Raton, FL –The Unicorn Children’s Foundation has announced a “virtual” Unicorn Connection – Job Club to help individuals with special needs find a career path that will lead to a successful, happy, and self-sufficient future.
Many local DJs in places like San Diego or Orlando have hosted virtual proms via Zoom for as many as 300 teens at once. Events often incorporate aspects from the traditional dance, including encouraging students to dress up, vote for prom king and queen, and dance.
Teen Vogue is hosting a nationwide virtual community experience on Zoom for high school students following weeks of prom-focused content on May 16. The event will feature celebrity appearances and will include DJ sets, curated playlists, interactive choreography, custom thematic backdrops, and more. Other examples of virtual proms include John Krasinski from “Some Good News” and Tik Tok.
High School seniors raise money to host their own prom this summer after the district had to cancel theirs due to the coronavirus pandemic. The seniors plan to donate any money left over to the local children’s hospital.
FIELD DAY & SPORTS
The Online Physical Education Network (OPEN) is hosting a National Field Day event on May 8 for K-12 students. One example of participating districts is Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, which has created a webpage to promote the event.
Regional Senior Night
Senior Nights are a highlight of a student athlete's high school sports career. Local communities, including Asheville, NC, created a virtual event for local parents, students and coaches to celebrate their student-athletes' accomplishments. Broome High School from Spartanburg, SC honored senior student-athletes with a special drive-in event.
Districts in South Carolina and Oklahoma schools recognized graduating seniors and spring season athletes, whose season ended early, in various ways, such as placing banners of senior athletes in businesses around town, posted on local billboards, etc.
End of Year Performance
Facing a canceled end-of-year performance, students at an Anchorage high school theater production will be replacing their usual end-of-year performance with a virtual production.
More than 20 high schools across Oregon starred in “Friday Night Spotlights,” a live streaming event on April 17 showcasing performances from living rooms, basements, kitchens, and bedrooms around the state.
End of Year Awards
The Tommy Tune Awards Program hosted a virtual event where Houston area High Schools produce a full-length musical to compete in 15 categories. The event featured special guests including Kristin Chenoweth and Audra McDonald. During the awards show, the organization awarded $44,350 in college scholarships to 14 graduating seniors who plan to pursue a career in the arts.
OTHER SPRINGTIME MILESTONES/BUILDING CONNECTION
Two Chicago teenagers launched a website called COVID-TV (www.covid-tv.com ) for teenagers worldwide to connect online, share stories, and take action. Currently, teenagers from six countries, twenty-six cities, and forty-two schools have posted articles.
Senior Tribute Night
Various communities have come together to organize “Senior Night” tributes for the class of 2020 – while keeping their social distance from another – through parades and turning on the lights for local football fields. Some examples include the Las Vegas community and Wisconsin’s Barron Area School District.
Twenty-five seniors at Silver Creek High School presented their yearlong capstone projects online due to school closing under orders from the Governor.
About The GradNation Campaign & This Resource
The GradNation Campaign is a national campaign that aims to increase the national graduation rate to 90 percent and put millions more young people on the path to adult success.
To propel us toward the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students, the GradNation Campaign brings national attention to the high school graduation rate challenge and what is needed to continue to meet our goal. We do this by guiding the field towards coordinated action through our GradNation Action Platform and leveraging research and data to identify youth and places to accelerate progress. The campaign is comprised of four co-conveners – America’s Promise Alliance, Civic, Everyone Graduates Center, and Alliance for Excellent Education – and a core partner group of fifteen national organizations. The campaign, together with experts across the co-conveners and core partners group, prepared this question and answer document to support states, districts, and schools as they make decisions about young people in this unprecedented time. The organizations that contributed to this resource are: America's Promise Alliance, Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, National College Attainment Network, Civic, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), and Data Quality Campaign.
If you have questions, comments, or additional resources, please email [email protected].
If you are interested in how states and the federal government are providing resources related to COVID-19, please continue to the drop-down menus below.
State by State Resources
Each state and district should issue guidance that is matched to its policy context and its student population and needs. Some states have made more public-facing decisions than others, and we offer the following as examples of how they are addressing these issues.
Schools should take this opportunity to review the status of each member of the Class of 2020 to determine the extent to which the student has met graduation requirements and help each student to plan and complete these requirements during the remainder of the school year.
The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has surveyed Local Education Agencies (LEA) superintendents, as well as researched other states’ plans of assistance to help districts complete the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. This plan includes state-specific guidance for districts in Alabama.
Most districts have graduation requirements that far exceed the state-required 21 credits (4 AAC 06.075). These additional credits are at the discretion of local school boards and can be changed by action of a local school board. Each district determines what requirements are necessary to grant a high school diploma beyond the 21 credits required under Alaska state law.
Note: Information on district requirements provided by the Public Information Officer at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
The State Board of Education unanimously adopted an emergency ruling that gives districts more flexibility when deciding how to award academic credit and high school diplomas. Districts and schools retain the authority to determine whether to issue diplomas or credit based on student performance during the entire school year, including any educational opportunities provided during closures. School districts and charter schools determine how and what remote educational opportunities that schools may offer. Finally, the Civics Exam graduation requirement is waived only for students who are unable to take the assessment due to barriers created by the public health emergency.
Whether a senior is on track to graduate and in good standing as of the third nine weeks “is a local school district decision that will be made by school administration.” The Division of Elementary & Secondary Education’s (DESE) does not assume that seniors are automatically finished since there are other considerations, such as grades, credits earned, concurrent credit courses, CTE industry certifications, ACT prep, and determinations as to whether a senior is on track.
The California Education Code establishes a minimum set of requirements for graduation from California high schools. It is expected that local education agencies (LEA) will enable students to complete state graduation requirements with needed flexibilities associated with the nature of assignments and mode of grading during any period of school closure. A school district governing board, county board of education, or authorizer on behalf of a charter school may submit a request for a waiver of the state graduation requirements to the State Board of Education for specific students.
Consider the flexibility in your local policy for graduation:
Are there local graduation requirements that students must meet to demonstrate their readiness to graduate? Are there ways for students to show these demonstrations via remote learning?
Would your local school board consider adding flexibility to locally-determined graduation requirements in light of the unanticipated situation created by COVID-19?
The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) recommends that local or regional boards of education boards of education continue their program of instruction. However, the CSDE understands that a district may be unable to provide a particular course or courses through distance learning or may need to depart from their plans. Districts have flexibility to exercise discretion in granting students credits necessary for graduation.
The Delaware Administrative Code, Title 14 Education, establishes minimum requirements to graduate from Delaware high schools. Districts and charters have the authority to adjust existing local graduation policies. Due to the school closure, it is expected that districts and charters will enable students to complete state and local graduation requirements with needed flexibility regarding the mode of delivery, type of assignments, and grading policies.
District of Colombia
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) waived the graduation requirement to complete 100 hours of community service but did not waive course requirements for graduation. Instead, OSSE provides flexibility for local education agencies (DCPS and charter organizations) in the way credits are awarded and the number of hours that students must typically spend in each course. Schools can determine whether or not students have successfully met the learning requirements for a course so they will not be penalized and prevented from graduating.
School districts should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020, to the extent feasible and necessary. Requirements for graduation and promotion, and final course grades will be evaluated as though the assessments that were cancelled did not exist.
Students should not be held back in their expected progression – graduation, advancement to the net grades, etc - as a result of the COVID-19 school closures. Waivers were provided to allow districts to establish their own guidelines including awarding credit for course completion upon mastery of course at any time during the semester; flexibility to waive, modify, or set promotion/retention criteria; and, waiving the requirement for state assessments including the Georgia Milestones End-of-Course (EOC).
The Board of Education unanimously approved the Hawaii State Department of Education’s request to waive the credit requirements pursuant to Board Policy 102-15, High School Graduation Requirements and Commencement, for School Year 2019-2020 to ensure high schools are allowed the flexibility in awarding a diploma or certificate to graduating seniors, based on approval from administration.
The State Board of Education has waived the graduation requirement for the college entrance exam for seniors who would have taken it during the 2020 administration. The Board also waived the graduation requirement requiring the completion of a senior project for students on track to graduate at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Students enrolled in a senior project course for credit will need to meet course completion requirements established by the local district.
Executive Order 2020-31 and ISBE’s corresponding Emergency Rules suspended certain statutory graduation requirement minimums to allow local districts to modify or reduce their local graduation requirements such that students scheduled to graduate in 2020 can still graduate. ISBE strongly encourages districts to provide flexibility and understanding to students in the class of 2020 to approach graduation decisions through an equity lens, and to consider the challenges and losses this class suffered as a result of the public health emergency.
A school corporation may issue an Indiana diploma to a student who has met all of the course and credit requirements for the specific diploma designation based on a combination of: (1) high school credits earned prior to and the courses in which a student was enrolled as of March 19, 2020; (2) meeting virtual or remote learning requirements; and, (3) meeting any additional graduation requirements established by the governing body of the local school corporation.
If districts and nonpublic schools have graduating seniors who are unable to complete their classes for the year due to school closure, illness, family illness, or related COVID-19 issues, the Department suggests the district use local discretion to determine whether the students have completed sufficient course content to consider the units complete. The Iowa Department of Education recommends that districts provide as much latitude for students to graduate on time as possible.
The KSDE waiver will remove the requirement for seniors to attend a minimum of 1086 hours. All students are still required to complete at least 21 credits of required and elective coursework. Any local changes must still be in agreement with the Kansas graduation requirements. End of semester final grades should be calculated, reported and transcripted in the school’s student information system.
All students are required to meet the statewide minimum of 22 credits of required and elective coursework. Local districts can amend its local graduation policy to align to that minimum. A second option local boards of education may consider is submitting a waiver application to request the seven elective credits be waived for the 2019- 2020 academic year to allow prospective graduates to focus on successful completion of the 15 core credits.
The state and federal government have allowed flexibility to ensure students can graduate and earn credits without penalty during this time.
The Maryland Board of Education voted to waive requirements for graduation including assessments, service learning, and completer requirements. However, the state requirement for 21 credits to graduate remains. Students are required to meet the 21 credit requirements. Local school systems have other options available for students to earn credit, including, but not limited to, online courses and credit through examination. The waiver for assessment graduation requirements for Algebra I, English 10, HS MISA, and Government was approved by the State Board of Education on April 14, 2020, for seniors only.
The Massachusetts Department of Education requested and received a waiver from the federal requirement for annual statewide student assessment; the grade 10 MCAS assessment is linked to the competency determination for graduation. In addition, the state legislature allowed a waiver or modification of the competency determination. Guidance is forthcoming on the requirements of the competency determination for high school graduation based on local course offerings.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) strongly urges local districts to consider adopting a credit/no-credit policy to incentivize students to engage in ongoing learning. At a minimum, high school students should be expected to accomplish three hours of work daily, which may include direct instruction, student practice, and enrichment activities. Districts should continue to work to ensure that high school seniors graduate. Seniors may continue to complete district requirements even if they are still working on mandatory course work through distance learning.
Governor Tim Walz waived the graduation requirement for school districts and charter schools to administer the civics for current senior high school students for the 2019-2020 school year.
Statewide, students are required to earn a minimum of 24 Carnegie units to graduate. Current seniors who meet all district and state requirements may graduate this school year. The requirement that students take end-of-course assessments in Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History has been suspended for seniors because these assessments cannot be administered in spring 2020. Because MDE suspended the instructional hours requirement, for each Carnegie unit school districts should determine a process for awarding a Carnegie unit credit for courses that are incomplete for school year 2019-20.
The minimum number of credits required for graduation remain at 24 credits, however, districts have flexibility in how those credits are earned. If a senior can demonstrate competency in the material through examination, projects, etc., then schools can grant credit. On April 2, 2020, Governor Parson waived several additional graduation requirements, including Personal Finance and Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) courses and the Missouri and U.S. Constitution assessments. Finally, the Missouri Department of Education provides four grading practices for schools to consider: Hold Harmless, Hold Harmless Plus Competencies, Competency-Based or Standards-Based Approach, or Pass/Fail.
In a directive issued on April 22, schools can reopen on May 7 and may continue providing distance learning, a mixed-delivery model, or declare local emergency school closures. Schools should also make every effort to maintain their established academic calendar.
Each high school student shall complete a minimum of 200 high school credit hours prior to graduation and at least 80 percent shall be from the core curriculum prescribed by the State Board of Education. Local school boards may modify district policy to grant a high school diploma and determine that coursework currently completed is sufficient to award credits. Course grades and promotion for the Class of 2020 are determined by local school board policies and not by state requirements. it Finally, the American Civics requirement is not waived, but a district may use alternative learning options to meet the requirement.
Whether a senior is on the path toward graduation is a local education agency decision. The Nevada Department of Education’s (NDE) does not assume that seniors are automatically finished with schooling as of March 2020, since there are other considerations, such as concurrent credit courses, CTE industry certifications, and other determinations as to whether a senior is on the path toward graduation. Graduation determinations should be made based on a review of student data including, but not limited to, grades and credits earned. It is important to note, instructional minute requirements for course credit have been waived with the approval of an LEA’s Request for Emergency Distance Education Program. The Department is currently researching available options to have the civics assessment waived.
Governor Murphy's Executive Order No. 117, waives the graduation assessment requirement for any twelfth-grade student who is expected to graduate in the class of 2020. In addition, The NJDOE continues to process portfolio appeals for the small percentage of current seniors who have not yet met their graduation assessment requirement.
High school seniors will earn credits and achieve eligibility for graduation by completing a locally designed demonstration of competency, which may include passing a locally designed test; completing a locally designed series of assignments; achieving a set cut score on a college entrance exam; or demonstrating applied work.
Students granted an exemption from any examination are not required to pass such specific examinations to meet the assessment requirements for any diploma type (local, Regents, or Regents with advanced designation). For example, a student that was enrolled in ELA 11 and was scheduled to take the examination in June 2020, does not need to meet the ELA assessment requirement for a local, Regents, or Advanced Regents diploma.
The goal of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) for the Senior Class of 2020 is to graduate l seniors who have earned 22 credits on the originally scheduled graduation date. Students will receive a pass or withdrawal based on their learning as of March 13 for spring courses. If the student has an F as of March 13 for graduation requirements, districts/schools shall provide remote learning opportunities (remote learning, credit recovery aligned to instructional topics, pass a final assessment) for the student to improve to a passing grade.
The Governor and the Ohio General Assembly enacted House Bill 197 to address issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic. This legislation states that Ohio students who were on track to graduate at the time of the ordered school-building closure will be permitted to graduate on time in the Spring of 2020.
All students are still required to complete at least 23 credits of required and elective coursework. A local board of education can take action to amend a local graduation policy. Any change must still be in agreement with Oklahoma graduation requirements. End of semester final grades should be calculated, reported and transcripted in the school’s student information system.
Seniors must still meet the 24-credit requirement for the Oregon Diploma, honoring high standards for learning and achievement. This guidance allows seniors to receive credit for any course in which they were passing at the time of the extended school closure. If a senior was on-track for a passing grade (A-D or equivalent) at the date of closure, then the senior shall be awarded a “Pass” status. If not on-track with a passing grade (F or equivalent) at the date of closure, then the senior shall be awarded an “incomplete” or “withdrawal” status, with opportunities to earn a “Pass” preferably by the end of the school year, which can extend until August 31, 2020.
Local Education Agencies (LEA) are responsible to ensure that the students anticipated to graduate in Spring 2020 can graduate on time. Establishing and calculating credits for coursework is the responsibility of each local education agency. If graduating seniors have not completed their classes for the year due to the closure, illness, family illness, or related COVID-19 issues, the Department suggests the LEA use discretion to determine whether the students have completed sufficient course content to complete the course and that LEAs provide all reasonable latitude for students to graduate on time. .
Distance Learning should not impact a student’s ability to meet the requirements to graduate on time. All efforts should be made to allow students to continue their current coursework with rigor to earn credits required for graduation. All performance-based diploma assessments shall be evaluated utilizing a scoring criteria defined by the LEA and aligned with state-adopted content standards and applied learning standards, and/or other relevant nationally-recognized content standards.
Every effort is being made to ensure that high school seniors have the opportunity and adequate period of time to earn the necessary credits for on-time graduation. The period of time for course completion, demonstration of mastery, and course remediation must be finalized by May 15. During the second semester, students should have the opportunity to complete the courses in which they are currently or would have enrolled in during the fourth quarter through special enrollment program on VirtualSC.
Students are still required to earn a minimum of 20 credit hours. No senior in the 2019-2020 school year shall receive as their spring semester grade a grade lower than the grade they earned in the course as of March 20, 2020; however, LEAs and public charter schools may provide remote learning opportunities to students as an opportunity to improve the student’s grade. Required End-of-Course, Civics and ACT/SAT exams have been waived.
High school course credit requirements cannot be waived. Credit for courses for high school graduation should be awarded based on a student's demonstrated proficiency in the essential knowledge and skills for the course. If a district is closed for the remainder of the year, plans should be made to provide students with remote opportunities to receive instruction and demonstrate proficiency in the remaining content for a course. Students may earn credit for the second semester by taking a credit by examination.
Utah State Board of Education (USBE) has not enacted any new policies for graduating seniors. Seniors are still required to meet minimum graduation requirement of 24 credits. USBE recommends that LEAs move quickly to determine which students are eligible for graduation and which students will need targeted support to meet graduation requirements. The guidance also gives guidelines to help LEAs decide on potential options for credit awarding and grading to determine eligibility for graduation. If students are not able to continue their classes, USBE allows competency-based credits and credits earned without requisite time in a classroom.
Graduation requirements across Vermont are locally determined by LEAs, and school districts have the flexibility to determine critical proficiencies and adjust their local graduation requirements. Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) offers guiding considerations to support local decision-makers as they prepare for graduation.
Some of the most critical issues for school divisions in Virginia are the instructional and logistical barriers to meeting graduation requirements, awarding of credits, and continuity of learning. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has put forward this guidance on those three issue areas and it concludes with a table indicating specific changes for easy tracking.
Districts can explore a host of options to accept credit equivalency for students expecting to graduate in 2020. There are multiple graduation pathways that are still accessible during this time, and the state of Washington has compiled guidance to give districts comprehensive information as they lead their students.
It is recommended that the grade a student had on March 13, 2020 should be the lowest grade the student would receive in the fourth nine weeks. Once fourth nine weeks grades are awarded to students, credit should be awarded to students who have passing grades. Based on grades as of March 13, students in danger of not receiving a high school diploma with their May cohort could “rescue” the failing grade or retake a course they failed by taking credit recovery classes.
The state graduation requirement of 15 credits and a civics exam remain unchanged. The state superintendent encourages school boards to require an additional 8.5 credits. Given school closures, school boards may modify district policy to grant a high school diploma to seniors who have completed the state minimum or by determining that coursework completed to-date is sufficient to award credit and/or provide additional learning opportunities to complete coursework. School boards may request a waiver from the state superintendent for students who have not met the 15-credit requirement but were on track to meet it prior to school closures. Finally, students who have not met the state minimum requirements may utilize targeted online resources or attend virtual summer school.
America’s Promise Alliance will continue to monitor for official guidance from the following states:
- The Department of Education has compiled resources related to public health and school closures. Some of these resources include FAQs about specific waivers or privacy concerns during the closures.