The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
I want to know what’s required to graduate from high school in Illinois? Where can I find that information?
The state sets bare minimums for the type and number of courses students must pass to graduate. Schools are free to increase the requirements. It’s possible, but probably unlikely, for a local school to require more than the state’s minimum.
The Illinois School Code is located at Act 5 of Chapter 105 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Article 27 of the School Code covers “Courses of Study.”
Drilling down to Section 27-22 finally gets you to “Required High School Courses.” There, you’ll find what Illinois law requires for graduation: 4 years of language arts; 3 years of math; 2 years each of social studies, science, and “writing intensive courses”; and 1 year “chosen from” music, art, foreign language, or vocational education.
One year of math must be Algebra I, and another must “include geometry content.” A year of the writing intensive course must be in English; another year could be in some other subject.
That’s a total of 12 year-long academic classes specifically required to graduate.
Elsewhere, the law requires all public school students to take daily P.E. (You can be excused from P.E. for being on an athletic team or in marching band, and to take a class needed to get into the college of your choice, or a class needed to graduate.)
So, that’s 16 units of required classes in high school. That’s what the regulations say is the minimum number of units required to graduate.
But, regulations buried beneath the law also require a semester of health education, and a half-semester of consumer education. If those aren’t somehow included in other courses, they add another .75 units of required classes, for a total of 16.75 required units.
The law also says “every public school teacher shall teach character education,” but doesn’t set specific requirements.
The law breaks down the class subject requirements a little bit. One year of math could be an advanced placement computer science course. One year of social studies must be American history, or a combination of American history and government. One semester of social studies must be on civics.
The only test* a student must pass for a high school diploma is one on “American patriotism, the principles of representative government, . . . and the proper use and display of the American flag.”
Nothing clearly says how long a class must last each day to count as a class that counts towards graduation. The lengthy provisions on how to figure a school day for funding purposes hint that 40 minutes is a “class hour.” That’s different from a “clock hour,” of which 5 are required to make a full day for attendance purposes.
Schools must have “on file . . . a description of all course offerings that may comply with the requirements of the law.” Schools must also provide parents with “timely and periodic information concerning graduation requirements,” especially if your kid’s graduation “may be in question.”
*Note: Illinois also requires that all high school students take a statewide assessment (test). Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, the SAT with essay is the required statewide test in Illinois high schools. All public school students enrolled in grade 11 will take the SAT or an alternate test.
Updated: February 2018