It’s time to revisit graduation requirements

Stephen Pruitt

It’s been eight years since any significant changes have been made to Kentucky’s graduation requirements. Eight years is a long time in our economy.

According to a story from CBS MoneyWatch in 2010, the hottest careers in America included jobs in fields that you might expect, like geriatric healthcare, to help take care of the country’s aging population. But there also were several high-tech positions listed that most of us hadn’t heard of even just five years before, such as data mining and designers who specialize in creating applications for cell phones.

In 2017, MoneyWatch had a new list of the country’s best jobs, many of which were unknown in 2010. These new jobs include solutions architects, who develop and document technical designs; user experience designers, who evaluate how new technology feels to consumers; and analytics managers, who take all of the data a company is collecting and figure out how to use it to be more efficient or increase business.

Like our society, careers are moving at a faster and faster rate.

That’s why the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is beginning the process of re-evaluating the Commonwealth’s graduation requirements. Are we asking enough of our students? Are we equipping them with the right skills? As the working world changes, we must ensure that that the skills of our high school graduates are keeping pace.

At the Kentucky Board of Education’s meeting in February, we started the process by giving the board members an update on our current graduation requirements. Right now, students need 22 credits to graduate, which include:

  • 4 credits in language arts (English I, II, III and IV);
  • 3 credits math (Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II);
  • 3 credits social studies;
  • 3 credits in science in classes that include lab-based, scientific investigation experiences;
  • 1/2 credit in health;
  • 1/2 credit in physical education;
  • 1 credit in visual and performing arts; and
  • 7 credits in academic and career interest standards-based learning experiences that are aligned to each student’s Individual Learning Plan.

In March, we also brought together a group of people representing business and industry, post-secondary education; and K-12 teachers and leaders to identify the knowledge and skills a Kentucky graduate should have as he or she transition out of high school. This profile will be used as a guide for the team of educators and education partners who will be developing and revising the graduation requirements.

Many states already have a profile detailing what their students should know and be able to do, but their graduation requirements don’t always reflect what they want for each graduate. Our goal is to align the requirements to the profile to help ensure a more seamless pathway between high school and postsecondary education or workforce training.

Our work will continue at the KBE meeting this month, when Jennifer Zinth from the Education Commission of the States will give the board an overview of the graduation requirements in other states.

While expert advice is a necessary and vital part of the process, I’m not just looking for input from the experts. These are Kentucky’s graduation requirements and just like we did two years ago with our new accountability system, I want to hear what you think.

I will be holding a series of town hall meetings across the state to get your input on what skills and knowledge you believe our state’s young citizens need to successfully meet life’s challenges after high school. The dates and locations for town halls include:

  • April 12 – Laurel County Schools Center for Innovation, London
  • April 16 – Atherton High School, Louisville
  • April 23 – Scott High School, Taylor Mill
  • April 26 – Graves County High School, Mayfield
  • May 1 – Raceland Stephens Cultural Arts Center, Raceland
  • May 3 – Logan County Career and Technical Center, Russellville
  • May 7 – Frederick Douglass High School, Lexington
  • May 8 – Magoffin County High School, Salyersville
  • May 10 – Henry County High School, New Castle

For more information about the town hall meetings, visit KDE’s website.

This work on graduation requirements is part of a five-point plan that I announced in February to move education in Kentucky forward. Called KIDSS, it focuses on K-3 literacy, individualized instruction and assessment, diploma requirements, student success in postsecondary, and social and emotional support.

Re-evaluating graduation requirements is important work. We all want to make sure that a Kentucky high school diploma means each student has the skills she or he needs to find success. Making sure that happens is going to take the input of a wide range of the Commonwealth’s citizens. Make sure your voice is heard. I hope to see you at one of the town hall meetings soon.


I couldn’t let April pass without saying “Congratulations!” to the Kentucky PTA, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month.

On April 27, 1918, the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers joined the National Congress, which had been formed 20 years before. The PTA has changed a lot over the years, but its goals remain the same: to promote the welfare of children and youth through close cooperation between families and schools.

A strong parent-school connection is essential to meeting KDE’s goal of cutting the achievement gap in half by 2030. Local PTAs are important partners in supporting the work to get that done. PTA members are in schools every day across the Commonwealth, working alongside educators and ensuring kids have what they need to succeed.

We owe a great debt to the volunteer leaders that make up the Kentucky PTA and every local PTA. Be sure to thank them for giving so much of their time and talent to our schools. And if you aren’t involved in the PTA, check out what the organization is doing to improve education in your child’s school and see what you can do to help.

There’s room for everybody in the PTA. By working together, we can help improve education for all of Kentucky’s children.


  1. This year, my daughter will be graduating and is both career and college ready. The pathway she chose as an 8th grade student is agriculture. She thought about being a vet tech or even going into ag sales. Through this pathway, she was exposed to the FFA program and has benefited tremendously for it. For that, we have no regrets. However, over the past two years her interests and career goals began to change. She has enrolled at Murray State University and plans to become a nurse. Prior to her senior year, we visited the guidance office to request taking some classes in the medical pathway. We were told that she could not because it was not in her career pathway. During high school, she was not given the opportunity to experience various fields of study. High Schools are almost punished if they don’t have students that complete their “career pathway”. In my opinion, students should be exposed to various fields that could open up to the new careers you mentioned in your comments about revisiting graduation requirements. Just as you stated, new opportunities are available that were not there 5 years ago. Five years ago, my 8th grade daughter had to choose her path. Did you know what you wanted to be in 8th grade? I was going to be an accountant. I took 2 years of accounting in high school and various other business classes. I even earned a secretarial certificate from the tech school at our high school. Then during my senior year, I took 1 class in child development. I am now in my 26th year as an elementary school teacher.
    As you consider new requirements for graduation, please consider the mind of a 14 year old. Allow students to be exposed to as many career pathway opportunities as possible without punishing the high school. Consider classes in employability and soft skills in addition to the core subjects as opposed to selecting a pathway that can not be changed.