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Graduation Programs:
What is the best graduation plan for your child?

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Every public high school student in the state of Texas must follow one of three State Graduation Programs in order to receive a diploma. The graduation program the student chooses will determine the courses he or she must take and how many credits he or she will need to graduate. State credit requirements for each program are:
  • Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP) – 26 ½ credits in the state-approved curriculum (plus any additional district requirements).
  • Recommended High School Program (RHSP) – 26 credits in the state-approved curriculum (plus any additional district requirements).
  • Minimum High School Program (MHSP) – at least 22 credits in the state-approved curriculum (plus any additional district requirements).

State graduation requirements have changed many times over the past decades, so be sure you know what the requirements are for the year your child enters the ninth grade. The State Board of Education’s most recent amendments (HB 3) became effective with the 2010-11 school year. For a side-by-side comparison of the three graduation programs, see TEA’s 2010-11 Side by Side Graduation Programs.

Be aware that in addition to credit requirements, the state also requires students to pass the appropriate assessment in order to graduate with a diploma. Students graduating under the Recommended or Distinguished programs must also pass the TAKS or End-of-Course exams. There are other assessment options for students with disabilities graduating under the Minimum plan with an IEP. (See Graduation Options).

It’s all about planning for the future

For most students, planning for high school begins in the 7th or 8th grade. We recommend that parents get a copy of their child’s high school course catalog (available from the counselor’s office) and refer to it often. Make sure you understand the state’s minimum requirements for each graduation program as well as any district requirements. (For example, the state no longer requires health and technology under the Recommended program, but these courses may be included in your district’s graduation requirements.)

This is also a good time to begin talking with your child about their post-graduation goals. If post-secondary education is in your child’s future, take a look at the websites of the universities, community colleges, trade schools or certificate programs that he or she is interested in to see what the admission requirements are. This will give you an idea of which courses will best prepare your child for the day when he or she fills out those college (or other) applications.

The student’s graduation plan and all coursework will be recorded in his or her Academic Achievement Record (AAR), or official high school transcript. Most colleges and universities review transcripts as part of the admissions process. For this reason, college-bound students need to make sure that their transcript will reflect at least the minimum entrance requirements of the school to which they will be applying. While many universities in Texas require the Recommended graduation plan course work for admission, colleges outside the state may not require as many credits or similar courses. It is important to investigate all options. The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities has created a Resource Guide on Higher Education and they also have links to a variety of colleges & universities.

Benefits of the Recommended and Distinguished Programs

The state recommends that students enroll in the Recommended or Distinguished programs if at all possible. That’s because there are potential benefits and opportunities that are available only under the more rigorous programs. For this reason, the state requires schools to provide parents with a letter outlining these benefits before their child is allowed to take courses under the Minimum plan.

As stated in the Parent/Guardian Notification of Benefits of the Recommended High School Program for Graduation, benefits of graduating under the RHSP or DAP include:
  • College readiness. Many colleges and universities minimally require the RHSP for admission. In addition, students ranked in the top 10 percent of their graduating class from an accredited Texas public high school are eligible for automatic admission to most Texas public universities if they have completed the RHSP or the DAP.
  • Recognition. The Recommended High School Program seal will be affixed to the Academic Achievement Record (AAR), or transcript, of students graduating under the RHSP.
  • Test results. Research suggests that students who take additional English, math, social studies, and science courses make higher scores on the SAT® or ACT® college entrance exams. The RHSP requires four credits in each of these core courses.
  • Program participation. The Early High School Graduation Scholarship Program provides tuition and fee assistance to students completing grades 9–12 early or with a significant number of college hours. The Texas Scholars program allows students who participate and graduate to be eligible for Graduation Honors and to compete for certain scholarships. (Students graduating under the minimum plan are not eligible for these scholarship programs.)

Don’t assume that just because your child has a 504 Plan or an IEP, he or she should automatically follow the minimum plan. Consider the scenario of a student who is athletically or artistically gifted but who struggles academically: Although the more challenging programs may require the student to spend extra time studying or in tutoring to make passing grades, the payoff may come in the form of an athletic or talent scholarship to a four-year college or university. On the other hand, most colleges and universities do not admit students or extend scholarships to students who graduate under the Minimum plan, regardless of how talented the student is.

How do accommodations and modifications factor into the graduation plan?

A high school student may receive instructional accommodations and still graduate under the Distinguished and Recommended programs. Substituting courses for either the Recommended or Distinguished graduation plans, or receiving modifications, will result in a student graduating under the Minimum graduation plan.

The exception to this rule would be when a student has a physical limitation certified by a licensed medical practitioner. In this case, the student may take a modified P.E. course and still earn an RHSP diploma. However, only the part of the course requiring physical activity may be modified. The student must still demonstrate proficiency in the relevant knowledge and skills that do not require physical activity as part of a modified P.E. course.

When is it appropriate to choose the Minimum High School Graduation program?

The State Board of Education has made some major changes to the Minimum High School Program, effective with the class of 2011. These provisions were designed to ensure that students are given a reasonable opportunity to succeed under the Recommended program before they are allowed to enroll in the Minimum program:
    1. Before a student is permitted to take courses under the Minimum plan, the student, the student’s parent/guardian and a school counselor or school administrator must agree in writing. This written agreement must be signed by each party.
    2. The student must satisfy one of three criteria in order to opt into the Minimum plan:
      • Be at least 16 years of age,
      • Have completed two credits required for graduation in each subject of the foundation curriculum, or
      • Have failed to be promoted to Grade 10 one or more times.
    3. If the parent/guardian and the school determine that the Minimum plan is the most appropriate choice for the child, the school is required to give the parent a letter explaining the benefits of the Recommended High School Program for graduation (see above).

A student can opt into the Minimum program if the parent and school administrator agree that any one of these three criteria has been met. A student may re-enroll in the Recommended program at a later date upon request.

The Minimum High School Program should be considered only when a campus team or ARD Committee – which includes the parents – agrees that the lesser plan is the most appropriate course of study for the student. Remember, any student receiving curriculum modifications or course substitutions will automatically be placed in the Minimum program

For students receiving special education services, the ARD committee determines the appropriate high school program and ensures that course content meets credit and curriculum requirements for each student. The ARD Committee must consider four graduation options. For an explanation of these Options, see Graduation Options for Students Receiving Special Education Services.


Texas Project FIRST:
TEA Resources:

Guide to ARD Process

Legal Framework for the Child-Centered Special Education Process - Graduation

Texas Transition Network

Futures Planning – Training by ESC 13 & Statewide Leadership for Autism Training

Revolutionary Common Sense Articles used with permission of Kathie Snow, Disability Is Natural:



Texas Project FIRST is an activity of the Texas Continuing Improvement Process (TCIP) under the auspices of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Region 9 Education Service Center, and is focused on helping to fulfill the goals of TEA and the Parent Training Committee
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