In 2007, the Legislature directed that three credits of math be required for a high school diploma. This was the first substantial change in graduation requirements in decades, and it went into effect for the Class of 2013.
We examined data from the Comprehensive Education Data and Research System (CEDARS) on math credit accumulation by high school students. Plotted in orange in the figure below is the percent of students who completed three years or more of math by the end of their 12th grade year from 2012 to 2015. These data suggests that increasing the requirement from two to three credits increased the percentage of students who earned three credits of math by about nine percent, from 67 to 76 percent.
During the same time frame that more students were earning more credits of math in high school, there was a decrease in the percentage of recent high school graduates who attended a 2-year public community or technical college in Washington and enrolled in pre-college level (developmental or remedial) math courses. Data from the Washington Education Research and Data Center (High School Feedback Reports) are plotted in blue in the figure below. For high school graduates from 2009 to 2012, the percent who enrolled in pre-college math courses was 50 or 51. For high school graduates from 2013 to 2015 the percent enrolled in pre-college math courses decreased from 50 to 43 percent. The beginning of the decreasing trend appears to coincide with the Class of 2013, the first class required to take three credits of math. Increasing the requirement from two to three credits of math for high school graduation is associated with a decrease in the number of students needing remedial courses once they enter postsecondary institutions.
Note: The percentage of students who earned three credits of math does not include students who were exempted from math because of an Individualized Education Program. It also does not include students who met their math requirement through a Career and Technical Education equivalency course that was not transcribed as a math course.
Three credits in math including Algebra 2 or Integrated Math III are required for admission to a baccalaureate degree program in Washington, as part of the College Admissions Distribution Requirements (CADRs). Students who are capable of earning more math credits in high school but who don’t see themselves as college-bound until after graduation may be the students who benefit the most by increased math graduation requirements. These students are likely to take the minimum required in math. With three credits of math, they may be more ready for college level math at a two-year institution, able to meet CADRs for admission to a four-year institution, or be better prepared for an entry-level job or training program that requires math knowledge.