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Graduation Guidelines FAQs

This section continues to be updated. Please check back often for additional information!


List of FAQs by Category

The frequently asked questions are grouped into categories for easier navigation. If you don't see your question, please contact Robin Russel at russel_r@cde.state.co.us and it will be added to the page.

Colorado Graduation Guidelines

  • What are the graduation guidelines?
  • Who was involved in creating the graduation guidelines?
  • How were the targets set?
  • What is the role of our local school board? And how much flexibility do districts have in establishing graduation requirements for their students?
  • Can graduation guidelines be waived?
  • Will charter and online schools need to adhere to the graduation guidelines?
  • Will students in Facility Schools adhere to graduation guidelines?
  • What research informed these Graduation Guidelines?

Implementation of Graduation Guidelines

  • What is the timeline for implementation?
  • How will implementation of the graduation guidelines be monitored?
  • Once the local school board adopts high school graduation requirements that align with Graduation Guidelines, will districts be required to submit that policy to CDE?
  • What are next steps in connecting students and families to graduation guidelines?

Graduation Guidelines and Student Success

  • How will districts keep track of the option that students have chosen to meet Graduation Guidelines?
  • What happens when students meet the requirements early?
  • What happens if a student does not meet the requirements?
  • What resources will be provided to identify 21st century skill mastery and other competency measures?
  • How do graduation guidelines align with the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) Endorsed Diploma?
  • Can a district grant multiple diplomas?

Graduation Guidelines Menu of Options

  • What is the Graduation Guidelines Menu of Options?
  • How is the Menu of Options connected to careers?
  • What are the course requirements for high school students?
  • What is the language for the legislated course in Civics?
  • In what ways can a student graduate with flexible time and place?
  • Can students demonstrate readiness in two different measures from the menu?
  • Where can we learn more about Capstone, Industry Certifications, or other menu items?
  • Does the state have an approved list of Industry Certifications?
  • Will students receive credit for work-based learning, internships, and apprenticeships?
  • What are “collaboratively-developed, standards-based performance-based assessments”? And what is the process for developing them?
  • Will the Menu of Options change?
  • How can districts add other items to the Menu?
  • Will the district be required to offer measures from the Menu of Options free of charge to students?


Colorado Graduation Guidelines

What are the Colorado Graduation Guidelines?

Colorado Graduation Guidelines provide a road map to help students and their families plan for success after high school. The graduation guidelines took effect with ninth-graders in fall 2017. Please see the graduation guidelines section of the CDE website.

As required by state statute (in section 22-2-106, C.R.S.), in September 2015, the Colorado State Board of Education adopted a comprehensive set of guidelines to be used by each school district’s board of education in establishing requirements for students to receive a high school diploma. The guidelines have two purposes. The first is to articulate Colorado’s shared beliefs about the value and meaning of a high school diploma. The second is to outline the minimum components, expectations, and responsibilities of local districts and the state to support students in attaining their high school diploma and in providing evidence to employers, military recruiters, training program and college admission teams that they are ready for the next step after high school.

In September 2015, the State Board of Education stated that the graduation guidelines set a minimum bar for student demonstrations. School districts may raise a cut score on an included assessment and may add graduation requirements in other content areas. Districts may offer some or all of the state menu options.

The Graduation Guidelines Menu of Options was updated to include SAT test scores (starting in March 2016), Next Generation ACCUPLACER Scores (January 2019), New names for the ACT WorkKeys Assessments, and a definition of Collaboratively-developed, standards-based performance assessments (July 2019).

Who was involved in creating the Graduation Guidelines?

The Graduation Guidelines Council, a representative group of educators and community members established in statute, convened in 2007 and again in June of 2012 to draft and refine requirements for high school graduation. The state board of education adopted a draft menu of college and career ready demonstrations in May 2013.

Then, in fall 2013, CDE convened seven work groups to inform the implementation of graduation guidelines. More than 330 educators, business and industry leaders, parents and students from across the state joined these work groups to identify implementation recommendations, best practices, tools and resources. The Colorado State Board of Education adopted the updated Menu of College and Career Demonstrations in September 2015.

How were the targets set?

The state’s guidelines include minimum career and college-ready determinations in English and math. Scores were benchmarked on the minimum scores accepted by 1) Colorado institutions of higher education for entry into college courses (no-need for remediation and recognition of college credit) and 2) for consideration of careers in the workforce and in the military.

What is the role of our local school board? And how much flexibility do districts have in establishing graduation requirements for their students?

Each local school district’s board of education has the authority to establish its own high school graduation requirements that meet or exceed the minimum expectations outlined in the state graduation guidelines. Find sample board policies on the CDE Website, and by the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB).

Can graduation guidelines be waived?

Individual school districts may request waivers from all or a portion of the Colorado Graduation Requirements adopted by the state board, in accordance with C.R.S. § 22-2-117, as long as the replacement plan meets or exceeds “any minimum standards or basic core competencies of skills identified in the comprehensive set of guidelines for this school graduation developed by the state board,” inclusive of the Colorado Graduation Guidelines. Please see the waiver guidance here.

Will charter and online schools need to adhere to the graduation guidelines?

Yes. Charter schools must meet the local graduation requirements of their authorizers unless they seek waivers of those requirements by their authorizers. Online schools are also held to the same Guidelines as spelled out in the legislation from 2008. If they seek a waiver of the local requirements, charter or online schools would still need to adopt graduation requirements that meet or exceed the state’s guidelines.

Will students in Facility Schools adhere to graduation guidelines?

All students in facility schools must meet the requirements and graduate through the Facilities School program at CDE. These Facility Schools graduation requirements (PDF) are aligned with the state’s graduation guidelines.

What research informed these Graduation Guidelines?

Research about other state high school graduation policies, discussions with state agencies, and competency-based approaches informed the observations and recommendations of seven workgroups and multiple stakeholder meetings.

Additionally, with the help of research associates from the Colorado Department of Higher Education, the Department of Defense, and with emerging wage data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the requirements for minimum college, military and career completion are now almost indistinguishable among sectors, which require math, literacy and critical thinking expertise.

Current admissions requirements for students to enter a Colorado public college or university, ready to take a credit bearing course, are an ACT no lower than 18 for English, 19 for math, 470 in English or 500 in math on the SAT or a C- on a college course for credit. And, for placement into college level courses (with a co-enrolled course, also called a “co-requisite Supplemental Academic Instruction” or SAI) students who take the Next Generation ACCUPLACER must score at least a 255 on Arithmetic (AR) or a 230 on Quantitative Reasoning, Algebra, and Statistics (QAS).

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Implementation of Graduation Guidelines

What is the timeline for implementation?

During the academic years 2015-2021, local boards of education are encouraged to review and adopt local graduation requirements that meet or exceed the state board approved graduation guidelines. The state’s guidelines include minimum Colorado career and college ready determinations that districts use as guideposts that students must meet or exceed by the time they graduate in 2021. Adoption of graduation requirements by each school district’s board of education must indicate the minimum academic competencies needed for students to demonstrate postsecondary workforce readiness and the types of measure the district uses to determine attainment. A Sample Board Policy is available from CASB.

Graduation guidelines timeline

Timeline Summary:

  • 2015-2021, adopt revisions to meet or exceed state guidelines. Decide on local menu of options for students to demonstrate college and career readiness.
  • 2016-2021, prepare to implement with eighth-graders.
  • 2017-2021, implement with ninth, 10th and 11th-graders.
  • In 2020-21, graduate 2020-21 first class under revised guidelines.

How will the implementation of Graduation Guidelines be monitored?

Districts are already complying through assurances. They signed an accreditation contract September 2010 and it includes this statement: “The District will substantially comply with all statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to the District…” The signed contract is on file at CDE. If districts are on Improvement or below, they must sign annually; districts that are Performance or above have just signed once.

And, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, the Graduation Guidelines student interchange file will be a required data collection.  The file is open now, so districts are encouraged to collect and report Graduation Guidelines data as soon as possible in preparation for the upcoming required collection.

Once the local school board adopts high school graduation requirements that align with the Colorado Graduation Guidelines, will districts be required to submit that policy to CDE?

No, CDE is not formally collecting board policies. However, starting this fall, districts will be asked to provide - in the CDE Directory - the name and email information for the graduation guidelines contact at the district level. Districts are encouraged to voluntarily send their policies and implementation plans to Robin Russel, Graduation Guidelines Manager at CDE at russel_r@cde.state.co.us.

If the district agrees to share these documents or links, CDE will post them on the promising practices section of the graduation guidelines website. District administrators and graduation guidelines committees - who are in the process of developing their policies and plans - can access valuable information and learn from their peers.

What are next steps in connecting students and families to graduation guidelines?

Beginning with the graduating class of 2021, districts must provide information to students and their families entering the ninth grade about the requirements for high school graduation and successful entry into college and careers. Some districts also share with students their academic readiness for graduation beginning in elementary school. The Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP process) is a foundational tool that helps students – together with their families – forge strong pathways to success after high school.

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Graduation Guidelines and Student Success

How will districts keep track of the option that students have chosen to meet graduation guidelines?

Districts are exploring ways to keep track of individual student competencies. Some examples include adding tracking capabilities to:

  1. to the student’s transcript, along with the completion of ICAP

  2. in revised student data systems

  3. in the curriculum for advisement courses

What happens when students meet the requirements early?

Districts have the flexibility to provide students with a longer or shorter time period in which a student meets or exceeds district graduation requirements.

Districts have developed policies  to determine procedures for early (May or December 2020) and/or later (5th, 6th, or 7th year) graduation dates. The general consensus is that regardless of a student’s AYG/cohort they will meet the requirements for whatever school year they are graduating.

What happens if a student does not meet the requirements?

The Menu of Options provides multiple pathways for students to demonstrate learning. Beginning in ninth grade (and earlier if possible) students and their families leverage ICAP as the foundational tool to explore, experience, engage in, and excel in a pathways to success after high school. Therefore, all students should be able to demonstrate readiness in at least one measure in English and math. In addition to traditional measures, there are myriad performance-based assessments that students can use to demonstrate readiness. Local school districts also have the authority to adapt demonstrations of competency to accommodate for the unique needs of students with disabilities and English learners.

Colorado has been resolute in keeping students in high school who fall short of graduation requirements or who are participating in their high school’s post-secondary program to earn college credit. Students can remain enrolled beyond their fourth year of high school to graduate in five, six or seven years after entering high school.  Please see Graduation Rates Press Release for 2018.

What resources will be provided to identify 21st century skill mastery and other competency measures?

In 2015, more than 100 business leaders came together and created a list of core skills - Essential Skills - needed for the workforce or education opportunities beyond high school. Those skills are outlined and reiterated each year in the Colorado Talent Pipeline Report.

These Essential Skills (also called twenty-first century skills, professional skills, or competencies) are embedded in the Colorado Academic Standards. Beginning in 2017, CDE engaged with districts and key stakeholders in a work group that developed implementation recommendations for 21st century skills. Many districts have also developed curricula and assessments specific to 21st century skills. (See promising practices.)

Entrepreneurial: Critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, inquiry and analysis, risk taking. 

Personal: Initiative and self-direction, personal responsibility and self- management, adaptability and flexibility, personal awareness, learn independently, perseverance

Civic/Interpersonal: Core academic foundation, collaboration and teamwork, communication, global and cultural awareness, ethics and integrity

Professional: Time management, career literacy, grit and resilience, work ethic; dependable and reliable, self-advocacy

How do graduation guidelines align with the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) endorsed diploma?

See the report by the PWR Endorsed Diploma work group for more information.

Can a district grant multiple diplomas?

According to the state constitution, districts are authorized to grant one diploma. Some districts have added one or more endorsements (honors, for example), but each is considered an endorsement to the single diploma, not a different diploma.

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Graduation Guidelines Menu of Options

What is the Graduation Guidelines Menu of Options?

The guidelines adopted by the state board of education in September 2015 (and updated in July 2019) include a menu of college and career-ready demonstrations, called the Menu of Options.

Local school boards establish high school graduation requirements that meet or exceed the Colorado Graduation Guidelines for the graduating class of 2021.

Local school boards and districts select from this menu to create a list of options that their students must use to show what they know or can do in order to graduate from high school, beginning with the graduating class of 2021. School districts may offer some or all of the state menu options, may raise a cut score on an included assessment, and may add graduation requirements in other content areas.

Graduation guidelines begin with the implementation of: Individual Career and Academic Plans (ICAP), Colorado Academic Standards for all content areas including Civics, and 21st Century Skills.

Students must demonstrate college or career readiness in English and math based on at least one measure.

View expanded descriptions and implementation strategies on the graduation guidelines.

Menu of Options: This menu lists the minimum scores required.

Competency Demonstration

English

Math

Classic ACCUPLACER

62 on Reading Comprehension or 
70 on Sentence Skills

61 on Elementary Algebra

Next Generation ACCUPLACER
241 on Reading or       
236 on Writing 
255 on Arithmetic (AR) or 
230 on Quantitative Reasoning, 
       Algebra, and Statistics  (QAS)

ACT

18 on ACT English

19 on ACT Math

ACT WorkKeys - National Career Readiness Certificate

Bronze or higher

Bronze or higher

Advanced Placement

2

2

ASVAB

31

31

Concurrent Enrollment

Passing grade per district and higher education policy

Passing grade per district and higher education policy

District Capstone

Individualized

Individualized

Industry Certificate

Individualized

Individualized

International Baccalaureate

4

4

SAT: Score for new SAT (2016)

470

500

Collaboratively-developed, standards-based performance assessment

State-wide scoring criteria

(In development)

State-wide scoring criteria

(In development)

What are the course requirements for high school students?

There are no specific courses, or numbers of courses, required by the state’s graduation guidelines, and there are no legislated course requirements other than one course in Civics: “History and civil government of the United States and of the state of Colorado,” pursuant section 22-1-104 (3)(a) C.R.S. Please see an excerpt from the legislation in the “Civics” section below:

Each district sets its graduation requirements based on many factors, including Graduation Guidelines, Colorado Academic Standards in 10 content areas, 21st century skills, and ICAP. Districts have also built their graduation requirements based on higher education standards, competency-based programs, and the skills that are defined by employers and industries.

What is the language for the legislated course in Civics?

Civics is the only course that is legislated for schools in Colorado, pursuant to Colorado statute 22-1-104. Teaching of history, culture, and civil government:

  1. The history and civil government of the state of Colorado shall be taught in all the public schools of this state.

  2. In addition, the history and civil government of the United States, which includes the history, culture, and contributions of minorities, including, but not limited to, the American Indians, the Hispanic Americans, and the African Americans, shall be taught in all the public schools of the state.

  3. (a) Satisfactory completion of a course on the civil government of the United States and the state of Colorado, which includes the subjects described in subsection 92) of this section, shall be a condition of high school graduation in the public schools of the state.

Local school boards determine how the requirements are met under statute. The statute focuses on content instead of a course name. Local Boards determine which course covers that content as long as the local board agrees that the course covers what is required under statute. 

In what ways can a student graduate with flexible time and place?

“Flexible time and place” has a few meanings. “Flexible time” refers to students in Competency-Based Education who learn and advance at their own pace. It also includes students who need more or less than four years to meet district graduation requirements. If students are not ready to graduate in four years, the state continues to fund them until they have met all of the district’s graduation requirements, or until they turn 21. “Flexible place” refers to work-based learning (internships, apprenticeships, community service…) and learning that takes place outside of the high school campus. Please review the October Count Guide (PDF) and consider these specific references:

  • p. 8 re: Count/Funding Eligibility and Definition of “Enrollment.”
  • p. 11 re: Scheduled Hours and Definition of “Full-time Funding” (see also, Appendix C, p. 76)
  • p. 12 re: Off-site courses: Career and Technical Education (CTE), Concurrent Enrollment (CE), work based learning, internships, online courses, etc.
  • p. 16 re:  ASCENT
  • p. 21 re: details about Concurrent Enrollment, 9th -12th grade vs 5th year and beyond
  • p. 40 re: High School Equivalency (GED, HiSET, TASC) students
  • p. 62 re: Work-based learning experiences

CDE reports the federally mandated four-year graduation rate as well as extended graduation rates that include five, six, and seven year graduation rates. Though most districts – and school communities – focus on the four-year rate, they can report graduation rates all the way out to year seven. Accordingly, each district can discuss what graduating “ready” means to the community. And CDE will count the best of the seven year rate in the district’s overall graduation rate. 

Can students demonstrate readiness in two different measures from the menu?

Yes, students can “mix and match” from the menu. For example, students can demonstrate readiness: with an 18 on ACT in English and a math ACCUPLACER score of 23- on Quantitative Reasoning, Algebra, and Stastistics; with a 2 in AP English and a math score at the bronze level for ACT WorkKeys; with a capstone project in one or both content areas; or with any other combination, as long as they can demonstrate readiness based on at least one measure in both English and math.

Where can we learn more about Capstone, Industry Certifications, or other menu items?

View recommendations and resources on the Colorado Graduation Guidelines.

View implementation recommendations by the Capstone and Industry Certification Work Groups.

To learn from districts that have been implementing Capstone projects, awarding industry certifications, and/or developing work-based learning projects for many years see the promising practices.

If your district or BOCES is interested in hosting a regional Graduation Guidelines conversation, contact Robin Russel at russel_r@cde.state.co.us. Learn more about hosting Graduation Guidelines Showcase (PDF).

Does the state have an approved list of Industry Certifications?

Each district has the authority to create the process and criteria for approving industry certifications. The Industry Certifications Work Group did not create a list because it could potentially restrict the options that individual districts would be able to offer.

Through HB16- 1289 and HB18-1266, the Colorado Workforce Development Council and the Colorado Department of Labor have published an approved list of certifications that include locally and nationally recognized credentials and are also eligible for district reimbursement (up to $1000 per student, awarded to the district) once a student has successfully completes certain career-based learning experiences, including industry certifications.  Learn more about the Career Development Incentive Program, and access the list of Qualifying Programs for the Career Development Incentive Program. 

HB16-1289 and HB18-1266 - Career Development Incentive Program 

These bills created the Career Development Incentive Program to provide financial incentives for school districts and charter schools to encourage pupils enrolled in grades 9 through 12 to enroll in and successfully complete identified industry-certificate, internship, and pre-apprenticeship programs related to top jobs or jobs in other high-demand industries and computer science advanced placement (AP) courses.

Review district promising practices for Industry Certifications, which include local criteria that has been developed for approving industry certifications.

How is the Menu of Options connected to careers?

Demonstration

English

Math

Connected to Careers

Classic ACCUPLACER

62 on Reading Comprehension or

70 on Sentence Skills

61 on Elementary Algebra

Students are eligible to take postsecondary courses in high school.

Next Generation ACCUPLACER
241 on Reading or       
236 on Writing 
255 on Arithmetic (AR) or 
230 on Quantitative Reasoning, 
       Algebra, and Statistics  (QAS)
Students are eligible to take postsecondary courses in high school.

ACT

18 on ACT English

19 on ACT Math

 

 

 

ACT WorkKeys - National Career Readiness Certificate

Bronze or higher

Bronze or higher

Students demonstrate real-world skills that are critical to job success. Employers use this tool to select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce.

Advanced Placement

2

2

 

ASVAB

31

31

Students’ employability skills are measured, and they learn about eligibility and sustainability for careers in the military and civilian life.

Concurrent Enrollment

Passing grade per district and higher education policy

Passing grade per district and higher education policy

Students simultaneously earn high school and college credit in postsecondary courses:

  • In CTE programs, and/or
  • From internships or apprenticeships, and/or
  • Through technical, community college or university courses

District Capstone

Individualized

Individualized

Students build senior capstone projects and portfolios that include work-based experiences (Internships, job shadows, apprenticeships, or paying jobs)

Industry Certificate

Individualized

Individualized

Students earn industry-recognized credentials. And they can also earn credit towards an industry certificate through:

  • Work-based experiences (Internships, job shadows, apprenticeships, or paying jobs) that count for credit in CTE programs
  • Concurrent Enrollment courses taught in partnership with postsecondary institutions

International Baccalaureate

4

4

 

SAT

470

500

 

Collaboratively-developed, standards-based performance assessment

State-wide scoring criteria (In development)

State-wide scoring criteria (In development)

By creating complex products or presentations that include work-based learning experiences, and by applying Essential Skills, students demonstrate their Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness.

How will students receive credit for work-based learning, internships, and apprenticeships?

Districts have the authority to grant credit for community service, internships, apprenticeships, and other work-based learning experiences. See more information about the Career Development Incentive Program.

What are “collaboratively-developed, standards-based performance-based assessments”? And what is the process for developing them?

Beginning in 2018, the CDE offices of Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness and Assessment engaged practitioners and leaders - from education, industry, and higher education – in the creation of a set of tools designed to support teachers, schools, and districts as they implement these performance based assessments.

Refer to the guidance on the CDE Website.  And please contact Angela Landrum or Jared Anthony, principal consultants in the Assessment unit at CDE, for more information about the process and the pilots: Angela Landrum, Landrum_A@cde.state.co.us, or Jared Anthony, Anthony_J@cde.state.co.us.

Will the Menu of Options change?

Over time, Colorado’s Graduation Guidelines will continue to evolve as new assessments and mastery criteria are identified.  Before the class of 2021 graduates, however, the menu will fundamentally stay the same.

The State Board of Education voted to approve the current Menu of Options on September 2015. It was updated - with technical changes only - in January 2018 and January 2019. 

Can districts add other items to the Menu?

Districts have the authority to add courses, assessments or other measures of college and career readiness to their local graduation requirements and they can increase cut scores or add content areas to the official Colorado Graduation Guidelines menu.

However, districts cannot add new measures to the official menu for Colorado Graduation Guidelines that was approved by the Colorado State Board of Education in September 2015, unless they go through one of two formal procedures:

  1. Complete the Waiver process: Waiver Guidance Fact Sheet 
  2. Submit suggestions to Robin Russel, Graduation Guidelines Manager at russel_r@cde.state.co.us .

Will the district be required to offer measures from the Menu of Options free of charge to students?

Districts are not be required (by legislation) to offer the Menu of Options at no charge. Each assessment or competency measure has a no-cost feature.

ACCUPLACER: Districts have made/can make arrangements with colleges for free assessments

ACT: Students who are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch can request a fee waiver one time

ACT Work Keys: free at workforce centers

ASVAB is free

Concurrent Enrollment: tuition is free to students if they pass the class. In some cases students must pay for books and fees. Districts can negotiate with postsecondary institutions about these extra costs.

District Capstone: should not include a cost to students; however, districts are considering adding expense items in their budgets to build the program (professional development for staff, for example)

Industry certificates: Many national certifications (like CNA, ASC automotive, welding, computer programming, etc.) do have a cost; the amount depends on the certification. Districts are in discussion with businesses and CTE program directors about picking up or sharing the cost. Also the state has initiated a program to reimburse/award the district up to $1000 for every high school graduate who receives a qualified certification. That list is available on the CDE website or in the Talent Pipeline Report (Appendix J). Please read more about the program:

HB16-1289 - Incentives to Complete Career Development Courses

The bill creates the career development success pilot program to provide financial incentives for school districts and charter schools to encourage pupils enrolled in grades 9 through 12 to enroll in and successfully complete identified industry-certificate, internship, and pre-apprenticeship programs related to top jobs or jobs in other high-demand industries and computer science advanced placement (AP) courses

International Baccalaureate: assessments cost money. Many IB schools provide funding to students who are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch.

SAT: the state pays for the SAT test for all 11th graders, and the PSAT test for all 10th graders

Performance assessments: CDE is still working on the process. As with Capstone, this measure should not include a cost to students.

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Where can I learn more?

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