The Intersection

COVID-19 Policy Considerations: Graduation and Grade Promotion During COVID-19 Related School Closures

May 27, 2020

Forty-seven states and Washington, D.C. have closed schools for the remainder of the school year in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The states have had to work diligently to figure out how to provide instruction, food to students in need, and support to families during this time of uncertainty. States will also have to determine what high school graduation and promotion will look like. For some states, the state legislature has the power to set statewide policy involving high school graduation and grade promotion, while others have given that duty to the State Board of Education or State Education AgencyThe 74 million estimates that at least 37 state education departments have issued guidance to districts about high school graduation in the wake of closings.

Determining who graduates and who is promoted will require state guidance and possible mandates in order to avoid unintended consequences, like barring students from graduating. Below is a table of four states who have closed for the remainder of the school year, chosen because of their different approaches to high school graduation and grade promotion. It also includes their revised policy for graduation and grade promotion, where applicable. These state examples are just a few, and as more schools remain closed for the year, plans will need to be developed so that districts have uniform guidance that benefits all children.

State Guidance for High School Graduation and Grade Promotion, Select States


High School Graduation

Grade Promotion


HB 2965 – Allows State Board of Education to grant waivers to districts to allow students who were on track to graduate to still do so. This applies to students from the Class of 2020 or earlier. 

No guidance given.


Georgia Dept. of Education – Those on track to graduate high school will do so and will get numerical grades for assignments. Districts are expected to use a “no zero” policy in these efforts in order to consider student’s home life and technology access. 

Georgia Dept. of Education – Districts are allowed to adopt their own policy for grade promotion in grades K-8 and may use pass/fail instead of numerical grades. 


Executive Order 2020-35 – Each district has options to award grades/credits to those in grade 12 in order to determine graduation. 

Executive Order 2020-35 – Each district is to develop a Response Plan that includes how students will be “evaluated for participation” and they are allowed to use any grading option “with due recognition of the impact of COVID-19.”


Nebraska Dept. of Education – Each district has the authority to determine graduation as long as students have the minimum number of credits, as determined by the state. 

Nebraska Dept. of Education – Each district has the authority to determine grading and promotion.


Policy Considerations

Many states are allowing each district to determine their own practices for graduating and promoting students which may exacerbate issues of equity if they are not pragmatic about what is assigned to students, how those assignments are graded, and whether students have/are provided with the necessary tools and environment to be successful. States should ensure that the guidance they provide to districts are crafted in a way that prioritizes equity and also takes into consideration necessary tradeoffs such as:

  • Rigor
  • Skills for the next grade
  • Postsecondary and career readiness

In order to help states and districts adopt equitable policies to address high school graduation and promotion, they must take into consideration students’ learning experience prior to COVID-19 and their experience now that schools have closed.  Ultimately, states should adopt practices that ensure students are not barred from graduation or promotion due to a lack of resources, now that students are learning from home. They also should consider what supports will need to be in place when the upcoming school year begins and students enter new grades.

Create a Set of Parameters for Districts to Use in Determining Promotion & Graduation | As seen in Michigan, the question of who graduates/is promoted is based on a large set of guidelines in Executive Order 2020-35 that districts are to use. Within these guidelines, districts must create a Continuity of Learning Plan that addresses how students will be graded and what provisions will be made to give them access to the technology needed for assignments or alternative assignments, where applicable. For those in grade 12, the state gives four options, that can be used in combination or isolation of each other, on how to determine graduation eligibility. These options include using a portfolio of student work or awarding credits based on student completion of an interdisciplinary culminating activity.

In Oklahoma, student grades are to be reflective of the grades earned prior to school closures. The state, recognizing that ultimately the decision is left up to individual districts, dictates that grades prior to when distance learning began should not be “negatively impacted,” meaning that whatever grade a student earned in a class before school closure should be the lowest grade received. The state also encourages districts to continue to use numerical grades, as opposed to Pass/Fail, so that in the future, student GPAs are able to be calculated for scholarship purposes. More information about Oklahoma’s grading policies can be found in their FAQs for school districts, issued on April 17th. Guidelines like those in Michigan and Oklahoma, with a special emphasis on considering a student’s home life during school closure, provide districts with necessary mandates and flexibility to make decisions that are best for all students.

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