Mathematics Requirements

Our Take

  • Available data, like mathematics remediation in postsecondary education, show that many students are graduating high school unprepared.
  • States must have high school mathematics graduation requirements that adequately prepare students for college and careers, and better align policies and expectations.
  • Graduation requirements in mathematics differ by number of units, content, and how much advanced coursework is required. Not all states have high expectations and this can lead to a gap in expectations between high school graduation requirements and what students need for postsecondary admissions.

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College and career readiness indicators point to gaps in mathematics that are higher than other subject areas. Many factors contribute to this, including the types of mathematics courses required for students.


Unfortunately, state graduation options and courses of study vary widely in the number and kinds of mathematics courses they require. This can disadvantage students depending on where they live and their default or chosen course of study.

Innovations in technology and shifting workforce needs will have an impact on the kind of mathematics content students need to smoothly transition into postsecondary programs and careers. 

Achieve’s review of state academic standards shows that nearly every state has adopted strong college- and career-ready standards in mathematics, which include Algebra II or equivalent standards. But standards are not self-executing. The standards need to be translated into courses and learning experiences for students; fewer than half of states expect students to learn the content of these standards to earn a diploma. This means many students are not prepared for their next steps.

Students require remediation and are placed into postsecondary developmental courses in mathematics at much higher levels than they are for English. And students of color and low-income students are more likely to be placed into developmental courses than their peers. Among recent high school graduates, 34 percent of those in college say they left high school with gaps in preparation in math, while 41 percent of non-students—those who have chosen to enter the workforce after high school—also say they have gaps in mathematics preparation.

Keeping student expectations low in mathematics by requiring that they only need to take lower-level courses to graduate high school, such as Algebra I, does them a disservice. While 45 states plus the District of Columbia require students take at least 3 years of mathematics for graduation, just 24 of these states and the District of Columbia require at least three courses including and building from Algebra I to graduate.


States must work with districts and schools to do more to ensure that all students graduate with the mathematics skills needed to succeed in college and careers. Requiring students to take challenging and high-level courses should be part of any state’s strategy to solve this problem.

Data Explorer