Texas High School Graduation Requirements, Explained

graduationLater this month and early next month, the class of 2015 will be graduating from high schools all over Texas. They will be one of the last classes to graduate under the existing graduation requirements. Students entering high school in 2014 and following years will graduate under the requirements of House Bill 5, which lays out new guidelines in the form of the Foundation High School Program.

Students graduating in 2015, 2016, and 2017 will have the option to graduate under either system. To help families during this transitional period understand their choices, and to help parents of future high schoolers understand the requirements, we’ve composed this helpful guide.

The Old Requirements

The system which the High School Foundation Program is replacing actually consists of three tracks with different sets of requirements. The Recommended High School Program, which a significant majority of students follow, mandates 26 credit hours in the following breakdown:

  • four credits in English
  • four credits in math
  • four credits in science
  • four credits in social studies
  • two credits in a second language
  • one credit in PE
  • one credit in fine arts
  • one half credit in speech
  • five and one half credits in electives

In addition to taking the requisite classes, students must pass STAAR tests in several required subjects: algebra I, biology, US history, English I, and English II.

The Distinguished Achievement Program, designed for academically gifted students, differs only slightly from the Recommended High School Program in terms of required coursework. The DAP substitutes a third language credits for one of the RHSP’s required language credits. However, the Distinguished Achievement Program also has requirements that go beyond coursework. In order to qualify for a Distinguished Achievement Diploma, a student must meet four of the following criteria or “measures”:

  • an original research project judged by and presented for an audience of professionals
  • a PSAT score which qualifies for the “Commended Scholar” rank
  • a grade of 3.0 or higher in a dual enrollment class
  • a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam
  • a score of 4 or higher on an IB exam

Each separate exam score counts as a distinct measure, so a student who takes several AP or IB exams has good chances of qualifying. A Distinguished Achievement Diploma serves as a tangible certification of a student’s excellence, and being on-track to graduate in this program would be looked upon favorably in the college admissions process.

For students who have significant difficulties with academics or who want to finish high school early, there is the Minimum High School Program, which requires 22 credits. In order to qualify for this program, a student must meet one of the following criteria:

  • they must be 16 or older
  • OR they must have taken at least two credits in each of the four core subjects
  • OR they must have failed ninth grade at least once

The student and their guardians must opt in to the Minimum High School Program in order for a student to graduate under it. The MHSP is dispreferred for students who could meet the requirements of the other two programs, since it is less effective at promoting college readiness and does not confer eligibility for the Texas Scholars Program.

The New Requirements: Overview of the Foundation High School Program

The High School Foundation Program consists of a single academic track which can be customized with one or more of five “endorsements.” The basic academic track requires 22 credit hours, as compared to the 26 of the RHSP and DAP. However, if a student takes an endorsement – as a significant majority of students are expected to do – the additional curricular requirements bring the total back up to 26 credit hours.

The differences in specific subject-area requirements, without accounting for endorsement guidelines, are outlined in the table below.

Table 1: Side by Side Graduation Programs. Source: TEA.

Subject Area Foundation HSP MHSP RHSP DAP
English Language Arts 4 credits 4 credits 4 credits 4 credits
Mathematics 3 credits 3 credits 4 credits 4 credits
Science 3 credits 2 credits 4 credits 4 credits
Social Studies 3 credits 3 credits 4 credits 4 credits
Physical Education 1 credit 1 credit 1 credit 1 credit
Languages Other than English 2 credits 0 credits 2 credits 3 credits
Speech Demonstrated Proficiency 0.5 credits 0.5 credits 0.5 credits
Electives 5 credits 7.5 credits 5.5 credits 4.5 credits
Total 22 credits 22 credits 26 credits 26 credits



What really sets the Foundation High School program apart is the endorsements. These are essentially the high school version of college majors; by taking “a coherent sequence or series of courses” in one of five areas, students can earn a diploma with an endorsement in that area.

The five endorsements available to students are STEM, Business and Industry, Public Services, Arts and Humanities, and Multidisciplinary Studies. The requirements for each are laid out in the table below. Each high school must offer courses leading to at least one endorsement, but not every school will offer every endorsement. (See the breakdown of endorsements offered by HISD’s high schools, for example.) The precise “coherent sequence of courses” which can be used for an endorsement is determined on the district level.

Table 2: Curricular Requirements for Endorsements. Source: TEA.

STEM A coherent sequence or series of courses selected from one of the following:
-CTE courses with a final course from the STEM career cluster
-Computer science
-Any combination of two of the above
Business & Industry A coherent sequence or series of courses selected from one of the following:
-CTE courses with a final course from the Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources; Architecture & Construction; Arts, Audio/Video, Technology, & Communications; Business Management & Administration; Finance; Hospitality & Tourism; Information Technology; Manufacturing; Marketing; Transportation; or Distribution & Logistics CTE career cluster
-The following English electives: public speaking, debate, advanced broadcast journalism including newspaper and yearbook
-Technology applications
-A combination of credits from the categories listed above
Public Services A coherent sequence or series of courses selected from one of the following:
-CTE courses with a final course from the Education & Training; Government & Public Administration; Health Science; Human Services; or Law, Public Safety, Corrections, & Security career cluster
Arts & Humanities A coherent sequence or series of courses selected from one of the following:
-Social studies
-The same language in languages other than English
-Two levels in each of two languages in languages other than English
-American Sign Language (ASL)
-Courses from one or two categories (art, dance, music, and theater) in fine arts
-English electives that are not part of Business & Industry
Multidisciplinary Studies A coherent sequence or series of courses selected from one of the following:
-Four advanced courses that prepare a student to enter the workforce or postsecondary education without remediation from within one endorsement area or among endorsement areas that are not in a coherent sequence
-Four credits in each of the four foundation subject areas to include English IV and chemistry and/or physics
-Four credits in AP, IB, or dual credit selected from English, mathematics, science, social studies, economics, languages other than English, or fine arts


The endorsement system also accommodates students with multiple interests – it is possible to earn more than one endorsement. So long as a student completes four credits each of math and science and two additional elective credits – those being the foundational requirements for all endorsements – the student can earn any endorsements for which they fulfill the curriculum requirements.The Foundation requirements depart from the prior systems in that they allow students to take relatively fewer courses in some areas and make up the difference in other areas which are more interesting or relevant to them. For instance, a student who wants to be an engineer could opt to take only three years of social studies and focus on computer science classes instead. However, this does not apply equally for all endorsement subject areas, because every endorsement requires four credit hours of both math and science. So for instance, a student pursuing the Arts and Humanities endorsement could not choose to skip out on the fourth year of math or science.

The ability to earn multiple endorsements is made possible in part by the fact that a single course can be used to satisfy both the core requirements and the requirements for an endorsement, or the requirements for two distinct endorsements. This potential for overlap allows students greater flexibility in their courses of study.

At first glance, the endorsement system seems a bit odd – concrete specializations have traditionally been the preserve of higher education, while grade school has been seen as more geared towards providing a general foundation. However, while high school undeniably plays a role in foundation-building, electives have always offered room for more specialized study. And the creation of concrete groupings of courses for specialized endorsements has definite benefits.

The endorsement system allows students to pursue a more structured and thorough investigation of their area(s) of interest, but more importantly, it provides official documentation of students’ dedication to those areas. An endorsement on a student’s diploma denotes that they have deliberately set out to develop their knowledge more deeply in that subject, and confirms that they have achieved proficiency in that subject according to the state’s criteria. In-state colleges and universities will understand the significance of endorsements, and even out-of-state schools will recognize that an endorsement marks deliberate study relevant to a student’s prospective major. Additionally, pursuing multiple endorsements and/or earning a DAP endorsement or Performance Acknowledgement (see below) provides students with an additional means of demonstrating excellence to college admissions officials.


Provisions for Academically Gifted Students

The Foundation High School Program also differs somewhat from the prior system in the way it handles students at the edges of the bell curve. There are still provisions for high achievers and struggling students, but the form of these provisions has changed.

Under the former program as outlined above, students who excelled academically could earn a Distinguished Achievement Diploma by fulfilling minimal additional curricular requirements and demonstrating excellence in key metrics beyond simple coursework. Under the new program, this has been replaced by two endorsements which supplement the main five – the Distinguished Level of Achievement endorsement and the Performance Acknowledgements endorsement.

The DLA endorsement can be earned by any student who completes the requirements for one or more endorsements: it requires four credits of math and four credits of science (both prerequisites for any endorsement) plus the completion of curricular requirements for at least one of the primary five endorsements. This renders it more attainable to more students, though it correspondingly lowers the award’s value as a mark of achievement. However, the DLA endorsement does have one key benefit for in-state college admissions – under the new rules, a student must earn the DLA endorsement to be eligible for top 10% automatic admission.

The Performance Acknowledgements make up for the DLA’s more general nature by highlighting student achievement in specific areas. Performance Acknowledgements may recognize any of the following:

  • 12 or more hours of dual enrollment coursework with a B average or better
  • completion of an associate’s degree or a nationally or internationally recognized business certificate
  • bilingualism (as measured by TEKS English proficiency and AP, IB, or other testing in another language)
  • a score of 3 or more on an AP exam
  • a score of 4 or more on an IB exam
  • a Commended Scholar qualifying score on the PSAT
  • a score of 1250 or more on the SAT
  • a score of 28 or more on the ACT

Students can earn multiple Performance Acknowledgements. This is an advantage over the old system, under which students would only be recognized for the one-size-fits-all “Distinguished Achievement” if they earned the equivalent of four Performance Acknowledgements. With the Foundation High School Program, students who attain one of the above will still be recognized for it, and students who go beyond four will be recognized duly for each one.

Provisions for Academically Challenged Students

Under the former system, the Minimum High School Program was provided for students who, for whatever reason, could not complete 26 credits. Under the MHSP, only 22 credits were required, with no language credits required and fewer credits required in subjects other than English.

Under House Bill 5, there is no program explicitly outlined for academically challenged students or those who need to graduate more quickly. However, a track for them is built into the program by default. The Foundation High School Program assumes that a student will take at least one endorsement, and thus complete 2 credits. If a student chooses not to take an endorsement, however, only 22 credits are required; the only significant difference between these basic requirements and the MHSP is that two language credits are now required of all students.

Formerly, students had to opt in to the MHSP; now, in order to graduate without an endorsement, a student must opt out of the endorsement offerings. The old and new parent agreements even use much of the same language. The basic track sans endorsements fulfills the same function now as the MHSP did under the old guidelines.

Summary of Changes

The former graduation requirements offered three distinct tracks – one for academic high achievers, one for the majority of students, and one for academically challenged students or those who wished to graduate early. The new Foundation High School Program offers a single unified track, but one which is customizable with many options. Most students will choose to take at least one endorsement; this will help them to develop their interest in a specific area in a way which will help to prepare them for a relevant college major. By taking an endorsement, students will earn the same number of credits as they would have under the RHSP or DAP under the old system, and they will also be eligible for the Distinguished Level of Achievement supplementary endorsement. Students who are high achievers may also earn one or more Performance Acknowledgements to set themselves apart, while students who are academically challenged can choose to graduate with only 22 credits.

In short, the Foundation High School Program has the same foundational requirements as the programs which it is replacing, and it meets the needs of diverse students in similar ways. It goes beyond the old programs, however, by providing students with more choices and greater flexibility in course selection.


The TEA page on House Bill 5 is a great place to learn more. It includes links to FAQs on the general requirements and the endorsements program, as well as documents which give further details on all aspects of the Foundation High School Program discussed above.


  1. A.I. Marvin says:

    Many teenagers just skip all or the majority of high school and after 8th or 9th grade enroll in community college, starting with one class, then two, then …. They end up with an A.A. or bachelor degree by the time they are 18 (A.A.) or 20 (bachelor). Not everyone wants to be bored to death in school.

  2. From what I have read and been told, you MUST take physics to graduate with a STEM endorsement – something we were never told until it was too late. We opted for biology for no real reason, only to find out for STEM it MUST BE physics. I’ve read description after description – including this one – that does not state that. It’s just a single line in a mountain of text buried on the TEA website. Pretty ridiculous.

  3. nopenotdoingthis says:

    yes!! lets give our information away on the internet!

  4. Ashli Gafford says:

    I am a sophomore in a high school and a AVID student. I am very worried that I will not graduate because I have only done 15 hours in community service hours, Will this effect ne from graduating high school. Please help. I do not want to find out the hard way. Thanks

  5. im a freshman in high school and im doing edmentum which is a online program that gives me credits i have 8.50 credits if i do more of these and end up getting the full 24.50 credits as a freshman could i graduate early the credits needed to graduate are 24.??

  6. I was a sophomore in 2001-2002 class and now looking at the new requirements is very similar to seeing how our achievement tests (TAAS) was dumbed down just enough for us to be the last class taking it to pass it as well. Looking at these comments is very similar to seeing the kids from this generation; the mere stupidity is grounds enough to justify TEAs methods in helping the illiterate and the behaviorally challenged kids to have access to an easy out. Granted the Core Concepts of the 90’s wasn’t the best academic choice in America’s history of evidenced based academic curriculum, however as the rote memorization tactics were sufficient enough for us to be a good bit smarter than these morons, I can honestly say that this was probably their best bet for this generation to show any level of success beyond his high school years. As the “March of the Idiots” continues, we will certainly continue to see our nation decline in academic standards, quality of the educational system, as well as the ongoing breeding process that ensures the continuity and the severity of inbred cycles and genetic failures in the years to come. As long as the states are bending over, the movement towards a national minimally invasive people will become more substantial than they ever could have planned for. This is just another way to guarantee graduates of this generation will have a fractional chance for college to accept them, and probably less so for them to accomplish anything more than the absolute bare minimum requirements for completing their first semester of their freshman year. Mark my statement now; this is the beginning to the end of the national campaign that began long before our time, but that we are quite certain to make it a success while simultaneously damning our nation, our offspring and theirs to be mindless drones to promote the monolithic national agenda.

    • While your argument is clearly well thought-out, it fails to recognize one major flaw: rote memorization tactics in the educational system =/ the new era’s emphasis on critical thinking. I also noticed your frequent use of exceptionally large words to create an impression that you are superior to the current era’s high school graduates, and I wholeheartedly disagree. Just this comment and the narrative it pushes is enough to tell me that you are biased against this generation’s graduates, which immediately invalidates your point. Next time, try to be a bit more objective in your comment. I agree in that in some areas the United States’ educational system could be vastly improved, but definitely not in the academics department. There are nearly 40 Advanced Placement courses and an increasing number of graduates who take them. If anything, the U.S. is getting smarter as a whole.

  7. A Concerned Student says:

    What classes can be taken for the speech credit? Also fine arts is missing so all columns add up to 1 credit short of the listed total.

  8. Tyler Blevins says:

    Hey fortniter’s John Wick needs you help all he needs is your moms credit card numbers expiration date and three numbers on the back

  9. epicgamer55 says:

    Gamers rise up!

  10. ligma balls kid

  11. u look like my peni5

  12. Fundamental learning is the key to success and becoming you?

  13. Una graduación es un requisito que brinda cuando terminas una etapa conjunta y así comienzas una nueva donde puedes mejorar tu capacidad de estudios y ser el mejor de tu escuela próxima soñada.

  14. So ,coming from Bakersfield, CA around this time and registering in school what would I need to complete? Honestly it seems Texas has it easy ,but from the comments I read it seems bad. Here we have to earn 220 credits to graduate and I’ve earned close to it. Would that mean I’d be done with school once I get out there or does it work differently ?

  15. So ,coming from Bakersfield, CA around this time and registering in school what would I need to complete? Honestly it seems Texas has it easy ,but from the comments I read it seems bad. Here we have to earn 220 credits to graduate and I’ve earned close to it. Would that mean I’d be done with school once I get out there or does it work differently ?

  16. Maniza Aaqeb says:

    We moved from Pakistan in 2016 September, my son will be graduated in 2018. His age will be 21.And he is advices by the councillor that he can grafuate with 22 credits. Hope it will work and he will not find difficulty in College admission ?

  17. fuck this shit and fuck texas y’all really don’t want kids to graduate

  18. So unfair bruh fuxing change dis shiz

  19. I am an Angry Individual says:

    What the FUCK is this?

  20. its absolutely ridiculous they require kids to get 2 credits in a foreign language

    • That’s not ridiculous to get 2 credits I got 4 credits it’s just that if you play or talk too much then you will get a low grade most of all Texas schools for foreign language usually grade upon participation I failed half my test but still got 4 credits cause I always participated.

  21. Drew Stewart says:

    This is ridicious. Any principal that does not make their students take World Geography and World History is a messed up Redneck

  22. Tywanna Glapion says:

    The credit in Table 1 are not adding up correctly. I don’t see Fine Arts, 1 credit.

  23. My daughter is in UIL. She is doing LD, Extemp, and Congress for her school in TX. Can she be exempt from taking speech class since she does have to give speeches and debate with other students?

  24. Tommie Linares says:

    I am homeschooling my daughter in her sophomore / jr year of high school. What are the classes she needs to have so I can graduate her

    • If you homeschool, you do not need to follow the Texas credit graduation requirements unless you want to follow them. Texas has little to no homeschooling requirements, and parent teachers are free to choose credit courses that follow their children’s interest. If you enroll your daughter in an accredited school they will have their own graduation requirements you will need to follow. HSLDA website for Texas HS Laws. https://hslda.org/content/laws She will need basic courses like Math, Grammar, Reading, Spelling, and Good Citizenship. Although if she’s going to college you will want to follow their required courses. Good luck, and I personally think you are making the right choice.

  25. I would like to know can my son graduate in 2018.Because he will have 24 credits at the end of spring 2018. He go to wisdom high school his a sophmore

    • From what I understand they have to have what’s required in each subjust. My daughter will have 28 credits by the end of her junior year but can’t because she still needs her 4th history, English and her school requires a bible class as well.
      So if he has all 4 history, 4 English 4 sciences and his arts and language it’s something to look into.

  26. BARBARA PARIS says:

    May we use this? We are the non profit agency that accredits non public schools in Texas and would like to provide guidelines in a newsletter and document. Your blog would be cited as the source.

  27. Pingback: Types of Texas High School Diplomas – Distinguished vs. Recommended

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