Science Requirements

Our Take

  • Both the number of credits and specific courses states require for graduation in science vary widely. All states should require that students take at least three years of science instruction to graduate.
  • States should ensure that science standards, assessments, and graduation requirements are aligned to provide useful information about student readiness and the percentages of students graduating with the science knowledge and skills needed.
  • Graduation requirements in science should establish the floor, not the ceiling, for helping students succeed. Additional instructional supports such as the adoption and implementation of high-quality and standards-aligned instructional materials and professional development for educators are essential.

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Many of the high-growth industries today need employees with knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the increasingly complex issues our world is facing require leaders, decisionmakers, and consumers well-versed in science and technology. More than ever before, states need to provide pathways to a diploma where students graduate having taken both science and mathematics courses that will prepare them for tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.

Twenty percent of jobs in the U.S. require high levels of knowledge in a STEM field, half of which require less than a bachelor’s degree. Sustaining this growth requires a well-prepared STEM workforce⎯an economic imperative to ensure states set high expectations for all students in science.

Forty states plus the District of Columbia have committed to high-quality and rigorous science education for all students and adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), or standards based on the National Resources Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education. These standards support all students in gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare them for the job or postsecondary focus of their choice. But standards are not self-executing. The standards need to be translated into courses, learning experiences, and graduation requirements for students. 

Science graduation requirements are a very different story. Ten states require students take two courses in science, while the majority (34 states) require three. Three states and the District of Columbia require four courses in science to graduate. About half provide little to no specificity about the kinds of courses (e.g., biology, chemistry, earth science, etc.) that students need to take.

Some states have decided to shift from an end-of-course science exam to a comprehensive high school test administered towards the end of 11th grade. However, most students who are taking these tests will not have had instruction in all the scientific domains that the test questions are drawn from. Other states are planning to continue current practice and administer a single-domain end-of-course assessment (e.g., high school biology), but are facing pushback from stakeholders because the assessment does not reflect the breadth of state standards (e.g. chemistry, earth science, physics).

Based on the widespread adoption of the NGSS, or standards based on the National Resources Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education, there is considerable agreement about the content that all students need to learn. However, more work remains to be done to ensure that high schools provide students the opportunity to learn and demonstrate mastery of this content.


States must work with districts and schools to do more to ensure that all students graduate with the science 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.

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