High School Graduation Project Requirements

High School Graduation Project Requirements
Learn how some states and schools are now requiring that students complete a graduation project, often either to replace or supplement an exit exam.

Currently, over 22 states require that high school students pass an exit exam before graduating. Part of this trend towards exit exams is due to legislation and mandates, such as those influenced by the educational act “No Child Left Behind.” The intent of these exams is to ensure that students are being held accountable for their own learning while in school. To extend on this accountability, however, some states and schools are now requiring that students complete a graduation project, often either to replace or supplement an exit exam.

What is a Graduation Project?


To help students learn different strategies of research and writing, many graduation projects focus on a study of inquiry, where students can research a topic, theory, or question for which they find personal interest. Some of these projects require that students write and cite an essay correctly, present their ideas and theories to a panel, prove that they can write an essay cohesively and using an organized sequence, while also showing their overall ability to speak and write convincingly. In this sense, it can be compared to a high school version of defending one’s master’s thesis.

One of the benefits of a graduation project is that students are actually engaging in work that is intended to prepare them for the “real world” after graduation. As students engage in projects of inquiry, they are able to explore different modes of support while also learning how to articulate their own thoughts and ideas.

For supporters, the graduation project helps high school students prepare for both college and professional demands. The ability to think independently and present one’s ideas fosters academic growth that goes beyond the ability to simply fill out multiple-choice answers.

State Mandated Graduation Projects

The North Carolina Graduation Project

North Carolina is one of the many states that are now requiring the mandatory completion of a graduation project in order to earn a diploma. According to the school district, The North Carolina Graduation Project is a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary performance assessment completed over time. The NC Graduation Project provides students the opportunity to connect content knowledge, acquired skills, and work habits to real world situations and issues.”

The state intended to create this project to ensure that students were able to hold themselves accountable for the knowledge and awareness of conceptual and realistic abilities. This project was designed by “a group of diverse educators from across the state that meet on a periodic basis with the Division of Middle and High School representatives to discuss issues, assist with the development of, and provide feedback on all aspects of the NC Graduation Project.”

This video explains the purpose of the portfolio for the North Carolina Graduation Project.

Essentially, as students work on their projects, North Carolina public school students are required to engage in specific modes of research, including “computer knowledge, employability skills, information-retrieval skills, language skills – reading, language skills – writing, teamwork, and thinking/problem-solving skills.”

The North Carolina Project consists of four specific components: first, students must write a research paper; second, students create some form of product; third, students produce a portfolio of their work; fourth, students present their information and research to a review panel. The engagement and completion of the four elements of the graduation project are intended to ensure that students can demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and performance abilities.

Students begin reflecting on potential research options when they enter into school their freshman year. Each of the four elements is to be completed throughout the students’ four years of high school, and therefore, the project is designed to be both cumulative and long-term. Students are also provided with teacher mentors and specific resources for support.

The Pennsylvania Graduation Project

The state of Pennsylvania is also requiring high school students to engage and complete a project prior to graduation. Across the state, each public high school is implementing its own methods and strategies for student support, as each student must pass the graduation project in order to receive a diploma.

According to William Allen High School, a local Pennsylvania public school, the graduation project is designed to meet three specific focuses: “To provide all students with a culminating activity that demonstrates their skills in writing, speaking, research, and organization […] To provide all students with an opportunity outside the classroom to integrate their various courses of study and interests […] To provide all students with an opportunity to demonstrate a sense of responsibility and a good work ethic prior to graduation.”

Students are able to choose their own topic for research, and they may engage in investigations that focus on play writing, career research, public issues research, and so forth. Also, if students fail to pass the final review, prior to their intended graduation date, students are provided with the opportunity to “correct and resubmit their work at a time set by the school and the Graduation Project Committee.”

The trend of high school graduation projects bodes well for encouraging students to develop independent learning skills. By allowing students to choose their own areas of research interest, schools further encourage students to pursue intellectual stimulation that goes above and beyond the standard public school curriculum.

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