The Rhode Island Department of Education began the process of changing the state graduation requirements as a result of the analysis of the Rhode Island high school student experience provided by the XQ Institute. The analysis found that while eight out of ten high school seniors wanted to attend a two- or four-year college, only six out of ten were enrolled in the high school courses they needed to be eligible.
This misalignment between high school graduation requirements and the state’s postsecondary admission requirements resulted in a systemic breakdown for students. This breakdown led the department to reimagine the high school experience with the leadership of Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner of education.
In 2021, the department established an Office of Reimagining High School and embarked on an 18-month process to eliminate the mismatch between what students wanted after graduation versus what high school required. The department leadership knew that they would need the support and input of the community across the state to implement the kind of possibilities the new graduation requirements could provide.
To engage all the stakeholders — teachers, parents, students, labor unions, business and nonprofit leaders — the department hosted a series of Reimagining High School meetings that were open to the public. Guided by the notion that department leadership did not want to be right, instead they wanted to get it right, they remained flexible, devised solutions and committed to addressing community concerns.
The result of the community input provided the basis for the new proposed graduation requirements presented to the public in February 2021. After an extended public-comment period, the department received over 400 comments on the proposed graduation requirements. This is the most public comments ever received on K-12 education regulations in the state. The new graduation requirements developed from this effort were presented to the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, which passed unanimously on Nov. 15, 2022.
Highlights of the new graduation requirements include:
- Alignment between high school graduation requirements and the state’s public postsecondary institutions. For example, two credits of the same world language requirement were added to align with the state’s public postsecondary admissions requirement of two units in the same international language.
- Encouragement for districts to use flex credits to meet requirements. This is an acknowledgement that one in three high school students is also a family caregiver for part of the day.
- Elimination of seat time requirements so that districts can focus on student mastery and student proficiency of subjects rather than time to award academic credit — providing greater district flexibility.
- Direction to use college and career-ready graduation requirements as the default for all students. Students who wish to enroll in a department-approved readiness pathway instead must participate in a review that includes the student’s college and career goals and receive the informed consent of a guardian.
Other notable graduation requirements include:
- Proficiency-based demonstration of real-world, relevant skills will include civics, computer science and financial literacy by the graduating class of 2028.
- College and career-ready requirements that include completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and a resume.
- Completion of at least one performance-based diploma assessment, which may include work-based learning, community service, project-based learning or other strategies that support applied learning.
The new statewide requirements ensure that all high school students who graduate have the necessary building blocks to apply to postsecondary education or pursue a career. The meaningful community engagement that fueled the process allows the Rhode Island Department of Education to continue the conversation with stakeholders to realize the implementation of the complete five-year action plan.