Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Competency Testing in Education: State Laws

Competency testing plays a crucial role in assessing student achievement. It helps ensure that learners meet the necessary standards for progress and graduation. These tests help schools measure how well students understand and can apply the knowledge required at their grade level. Across the United States, state laws vary regarding these tests. Testing affects students in public education from enrollment to their high school graduation. This article explores state laws on competency testing across America.

A Brief Background to Competency Testing in Education

Competency testing in education has its roots in the early 20th century. This is when educational reformers began advocating for standards-based assessments. These tests help measure student knowledge and skills. 

These tests were initially designed to ensure that students were learning essential content. They also helped identify areas where schools needed to improve their teaching methods. Over the decades, the educational landscape has evolved. With it, so did the purposes of competency testing.

By the late 20th century, these assessments became integral to educational accountability systems. They help ensure all school students receive a quality education. This is regardless of their background.

The multifaceted motivation behind competency testing aims to uphold educational standards. At the same time, it guides teacher instruction. Testing provides feedback on student learning. It also helps prepare students for further education and career readiness. This form of testing supports educational policy decisions and initiatives. Examples of these include accreditation, funding, and curriculum development.

Schools administer these tests during the school day. They cover various subjects taught throughout the school year. They help gauge student learning and performance. The goal is to prepare students for higher education or professional careers. Testing does this by ensuring students achieve learning outcomes. These outcomes then qualify students for a high school diploma.

Competency Testing in Education State Laws

Most states mandate some form of competency testing for students. Below is a state-by-state directory highlighting competency testing standards. These standards tend to change quite often because certain policies expire. These testing requirements often involve graduation requirements as well. See FindLaw's Competency Testing section for more information. Take a look at your state's competency testing laws and explore other states' laws below.

Alabama

New graduation from high school requirements were added in 2024 for the Class of 2028. Students have four years to attain at least one of the following 10 indicators:

  • A benchmark score on the ACT college entrance exam
  • A qualifying score of three or higher on an Advanced Placement exam
  • A qualifying score of four or higher on an International Baccalaureate exam
  • Earning college credit while in high school
  • Earning silver or gold status on the ACT WorkKeys exam
  • Completing an in-school youth apprenticeship program
  • Earning a career technical industry credential listed on the compendium of valuable credentials of the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways
  • Being accepted into a branch of the military before graduation
  • Attaining career and technical education completer status
  • Any additional college and career readiness indicator approved by the State Board of Education

Alaska

Alaska requires students to pass the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (HSGQE). Alaska offers standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. The state also offers certificates of attendance as exit options.

Arizona

Graduation requires both credit hour completion and an exit exam. Students can earn a standard diploma. Arizona requires Arizona's Academic Standards Assessment (AASA) for grades three through eight. The state also requires ACT Aspire testing for grade nine and ACT testing for grade 11. Passing these tests isn't required for graduation.

Arkansas

Arkansas high school students must meet the credit hour criteria for graduation. The Arkansas ACT Aspire end-of-year assessment is mandatory in grades three through 10 unless a student qualifies for an alternate assessment. Under the LEARNS Act, a sweeping education law approved for public comment in March 2024, Arkansas students must complete 75 hours of community service to graduate.

California

California has state-mandated credit hour requirements. Students must meet these requirements to qualify for graduation. Additionally, local education districts can mandate passing scores on exit examinations. The state generally offers standard and honors program diplomas. Students must pass the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).

Colorado

There are minimum state-level requirements for high school graduation. Schools can grant a standard diploma or a work/study diploma. Students can also earn an IEP diploma. The state requires the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) in certain subjects.

Connecticut

Connecticut high school students must meet the credit hour criteria for graduation. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. It also offers certificates of attendance only, honors diplomas, and GED diplomas.

Delaware

Delaware high school students must meet the credit hour criteria for graduation. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and certificates of attendance only. Delaware administers the Delaware System of Student Assessments (DeSSA). These tests are a prerequisite to graduation.

District of Columbia

High school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. The state also allows diplomas for certificates of attendance only. The state requires Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

Florida

Florida high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also have to pass an exit examination. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. Students can also earn a certificate of attendance and honors diplomas. Florida students must pass the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) to graduate.

Georgia

Georgia high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also have to pass an exit examination. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. The state also distributes diplomas for certificates of attendance only. The state uses the Georgia Milestones Assessment System for high school graduations.

Hawaii

Hawaii's students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also must pass an exit examination. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. The state also offers certificates of attendance only and honors diplomas. Hawaii Smarter Balanced Assessments are mandatory for certain grade levels.

Idaho

Idaho high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas only. The state requires the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) for students. Students in all Idaho public education programs must take them.

Illinois

Students in the Illinois jurisdiction have to meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or certificates of attendance only. The Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) is part of the graduation requirements.

Indiana

Indiana high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also must pass an exit examination. This exam is the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+). The state offers exit options of standard diplomas, honors diplomas, or GED diplomas. It awards a certificate of achievement for special education students.

Iowa

Iowa high school students must meet the credit hour criteria only. Local education boards may establish more requirements for graduation. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or IEP diplomas. Qualifying students must pass the Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED).

Kansas

Kansas high school students must meet credit hour criteria. Board members voted to approve the amendments to K.A.R. 91-31-35. Before this amendment, this state required a minimum of 21 credits to graduate from high school. The number of credits will remain the same, but the following constitutes how the 21 credits will be obtained going forward:

  • Instead of four credits of English language arts (ELA), students will now need 3.5 credits of ELA and one-half credit of communication.
  • Addition of a STEM elective.
  • Instead of one physical education credit, students will now need half a credit of P.E. and half a credit of health.
  • Instead of six electives, they will now need half a credit for financial literacy and 4.5 electives aligned with their Individual Plans of Study (IPS).

The graduation requirements also include student completion of at least two postsecondary assets (as defined by the KSBE). Board members approved the modification of an asset and the addition of another to the established list of postsecondary assets high school students can choose from to meet their graduation requirements.

One asset includes students having an attendance rate of 95%, up from 90%. Another asset includes the student serving as an officer for a career and technical student organization, or CTSO. In this state, the Kansas Assessment Program (KAP) tests are mandatory.

Kentucky

These students need to meet the credit hour criteria for graduation. The state implements assessment examinations. The state also mandates the Kentucky Summative Assessments. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas, IEP diplomas, and honors diplomas.

Louisiana

Students in Louisiana must meet the credit hour criteria. They also must pass an exit examination. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and certificates of attendance only. The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) is mandatory for graduation.

Maine

Maine high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or IEP diplomas. The state requires students to take the Maine Comprehensive Assessment System (MECAS) assessments.

Maryland

Students must meet the credit hour criteria plus pass an exit examination. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. The state also offers certificates of attendance only or GED diplomas. The state requires the Maryland High School Assessments (HSA) for graduation.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers standard diplomas only. Yet, there is an exception for IEP diplomas. Local school boards may allow these. Local education authorities make decisions on part of the credit requirements. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is mandatory for graduation.

Michigan

Michigan high school students must meet local criteria for graduation. They receive local high school diplomas with or without state endorsements. Michigan schools also offer IEP diplomas and certificates of attendance. The state requires the Michigan Merit Examination (MME) for high school students.

Minnesota

Students must pass an exit examination and show mastery of standards. In return, they can earn a state-endorsed standard diploma. Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) are mandatory for graduation.

Mississippi

Mississippi high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also have to pass an exit examination, but the kind of exam required may change. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas, or certificates of attendance only. The state requires the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) for graduation.

Missouri

Students must meet the credit hour criteria for receiving a diploma. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. The state also offers certificates of attendance only and honors diplomas. The state also mandates the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests.

Montana

Montana high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or IEP diplomas. Montana administers the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests.

Nebraska

Nebraska high school students must meet credit hour criteria prescribed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2024. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and certificates of attendance. The state also offers a locally determined modified diploma for special needs. The state of Nebraska also requires Nebraska State Accountability (NeSA) assessments.

Nevada

Students must meet the credit hour criteria plus pass an exit examination. The state offers exit options, including:

  • The Advanced Diploma requires credit units, GPA, and participation on the ACT.
  • The Standard Diploma requires credit units and participation on the ACT.
  • The Alternative Diploma requires credit units and participation on the NAA.
  • The Adjusted Diploma is adapted to student needs according to an IEP.
  • The College and Career Ready (CCR) Diploma requires credit units and GPA requirements of the Advanced Diploma plus additional advanced coursework and associated endorsement completion requirements.
  • State Seals of Biliteracy, Civics, Financial Literacy, STEM, and STEAM require demonstrations of proficiency by GPA and/or assessment.

The state requires the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) for graduation. Nevada also has the following required assessments

  • Class of 2024: ACT Plus Writing for college and career readiness
  • Class of 2025 and Beyond: To be determined
  • Civics Assessment

New Hampshire

Students must meet the credit hour criteria and what is called the Minimum Standards. The state offers the exit options of an academic/standard diploma or a core diploma. It also offers an alternate diploma, which may be awarded to students who:

  • Have significant cognitive disabilities
  • Participate in the alternate assessment 

These may be students who would have otherwise been granted a certificate of completion. New Hampshire administers the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).

New Jersey

New Jersey high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also have to pass an exit examination. The state offers standard diplomas only, but provides possible alternative ways to meet state proficiency test requirements. New Jersey administers the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

New Mexico

New Mexico high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also have to complete standardized and state assessments. The state offers one kind of diploma called a Diploma of Excellence. The state mandates the New Mexico Measures of Student Success & Achievement (NM-MSSA) assessment.

New York

Students must meet the credit hour criteria plus pass exit examinations. The state offers Regents Diplomas, Advanced Regents Diplomas, and Local Diplomas. Students with disabilities can earn a Skills and Achievement Credential, which is not proof of graduation. New York requires for high school graduation the High School Regents Examinations, which are achievement tests aligned with state reading standards.

North Carolina

Students must meet the credit hour criteria. They also must complete testing requirements. The state offers a Future Ready Course of Study program and diploma. It also offers Occupational Course of Study diplomas for students with disabilities identified for this program. North Carolina End-of-Course Tests (EOC) are mandatory.

North Dakota

In North Dakota, high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers both Traditional High School diplomas and Optional High School Diplomas in its Choice Ready program. The state requires North Dakota State Assessments (NDSA) for students.

Ohio

Students must meet the credit hour criteria plus take a pathway of Ohio State, workforce readiness, or standardized tests for graduation. The specific requirements are based on the student's year of graduation.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma high school students must earn a minimum of 23 credits, pass the U.S. Naturalization Test, complete ICAP Requirements, and take the state-provided ACT and OSTP tests in United States history and science.

Oregon

In Oregon, high school students must meet the credit hours requirements. Beginning with the class of 2027, the Oregon diploma requirements will include half a credit in personal financial education and half a credit in higher education and career path skills. The state offers Modified Diplomas, Extended Diplomas, and Alternative CertificatesOregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) is mandatory.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania high school students must meet local criteria for graduation. The state requires the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams. Demonstration of proficiency, other than by Keystone exam in combination with student artifacts and/or student performance within another program, course, or assessment, may satisfy statewide requirements under the new Pathways to Graduation.

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. Starting in 2028, the state is offering RIDE's readiness-based graduation requirements. The goal is to create flexible standards based on readiness and support for students with the graduation programs. Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) tests are mandatory.

South Carolina

Students must meet the credit hour criteria, which have been set forth beginning in the 2023-2024 School Year. Accredited public high schools may issue South Carolina High School Diplomas and South Carolina Academic Honors Awards.

The South Carolina High School Credential (SCHSC) program, formerly known as the Occupational Program, is intended for a small group of students with disabilities who need an alternative course of study that focuses on independent post-school employment and living skills.

Starting in 2014, there is no longer an exit exam required to graduate from high school. South Carolina administers the End-of-Course Examination Program for high school credit both for students in high school and before they attend high school.

South Dakota

South Dakota high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. In addition to the base requirements for the high school diploma, students may earn advanced endorsements that are in alignment with the student's personal learning plan.

Advanced endorsements outline specific coursework within the base diploma requirements to denote specific emphases. Students may earn one or more of three advanced endorsements: Advanced Endorsement, Advanced Career Endorsement, and Advanced Honors Endorsement. No exit examination is required. South Dakota administers the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

Tennessee

Students must meet the credit hour criteria plus pass an exit examination. In Tennessee, there are four different diploma options available to students graduating from a public high school. The four options include a regular high school diploma, a special education diploma, an occupational diploma, and an alternate academic diploma. The state mandates Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) tests and that the students take the ACT or SAT exam.

Texas

Students must meet the credit hour criteria plus pass an exit examination. Texas also requires a financial aid application. In Texas, there is only one diploma for all students. It is the student's academic achievement record/transcript that differentiates that student's achievements from those of other students. The state requires the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STARR) program. It is an exit examination for public high school students.

Utah

Utah high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or certificates of attendance only. Utah administers the Utah Aspire Plus for students in ninth and 10th grade.

Vermont

In Vermont, high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or certificates of attendance only. Vermont uses the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

Virginia

Virginia high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas and IEP diplomas. Virginia also allows for certificates of attendance only and honors diplomas. The state also offers GED diplomas and special diplomas. Virginia mandates the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for graduation.

Washington

In Washington, high school students must meet the credit hour criteria only. The state offers standard diplomas only. The Washington Comprehensive Assessment Program (WCAP) is mandatory.

West Virginia

West Virginia high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or IEP diplomas only. The state requires the West Virginia General Summative Assessment (WVGSA) for students in grades three through eight.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or certificates of attendance only. The state requires the Wisconsin Forward Exam for certain grades in particular subjects.

Wyoming

Wyoming high school students must meet the credit hour criteria. The state offers exit options of standard diplomas or certificates of attendance only. The state requires the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP) tests.

Note: State laws on competency testing are subject to constant change. These state laws can adopt amendments over time. It is wise to check with a local attorney in your area. These legal professionals can give valuable advice. They can provide current interpretations about the status of statewide education laws. These laws affect public schools in your local school district.

Getting Legal Help With Competency Testing Laws

Understanding the nuances of state laws on competency testing can be challenging. Parents and students often need legal advice to navigate these laws. This is especially true when schools compromise a student's right to a fair assessment.

Those in the legal profession with experience in education law can provide guidance. They can help handle disputes related to competency testing. Lawyers help ensure the educational rights of all students. This includes students with disabilities or special needs. whose rights are protected by both state and federal law.

For anyone facing issues with competency testing, consulting with an attorney can help. They understand the legal landscape and state-specific regulations, which can be invaluable. They can assist with interpreting legal education requirements. Lawyers can also assist in navigating the complexities of public education laws. These professionals can also advocate for individual student needs.

Consult with an education law attorney in your area today.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options