Online learning graduation requirements

Updated September 25, 2018

Five states require students to complete an online course to graduate (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia). The growth of online learning has been expanded with the addition of online learning graduation requirements at the state policy level. Starting in 2006, Michigan became the first state to pass a requirement with P.A. 123 and 124.1 Michigan Department of Education. (2006). 380. 1278a: Requirements for high school diploma. Retrieved from In this legislation, Michigan required all students who started 8th grade in 2006 to have “successfully completed at least 1 course or learning experience that is presented online” prior to graduating high school. Alabama followed suit with a requirement similar to the Michigan legislation in 2008.2 Alabama State Board of Education. (2008). Alabama Administrative Code (AAC) Rule 290-3-1-.02(12) for Online Courses. Retrieved from Alabama included an opt-out for students with IEPs – “Effective for students entering the ninth grade in the 2009/2010 school year, Alabama students will be required to complete one online/technology enhanced course or experience prior to graduation. Exceptions through Individualized Education Plans will be allowed.” In 2011, Florida Senate, along with a policy that required all districts offer some form of online learning, either homegrown or outsourced, to all K-12 students, passed an online learning graduation requirement “Each student must graduate from high school having taken at least one online course.”3 Florida Senate. (2011). H.B. 7197. Retrieved from Arkansas passed Act 1280 in 20134 Arkansas Department of Education. (2013). State of Arkansas House Bill Act 1280. Retrieved from [“Beginning with the entering ninth grade class of the 2014-2015 3 school year, each high school student shall be required to take at least one 4 (1) digital learning course for credit to graduate.”], and Virginia passed their online learning graduation requirement – SB489 / HB1061 the same year.5 Virginia Board of Education. (2012). SB489 and HB1061. Retrieved from

Other states, including Georgia, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and West Virginia, have passed rules or legislation encouraging but not requiring online learning. The Georgia legislature instructed the state board of education to establish rules to maximize the number of students who complete one online class prior to graduation, beginning with students entering 9th grade in SY 2014–15. New Mexico’s SB0561 (2007) passed in 2007, requiring that at least one unit of the high school graduate’s 24 units be “an Advanced Placement, honors, dual enrollment or distance learning course."6 New Mexico Public Education Department. (2007). SB209/HB201. Retrieved from The Massachusetts High School Program of Studies, MassCore, recommends additional learning opportunities for high school students to study in order to arrive at college or the workplace well prepared, including taking an online course. The West Virginia State Board of Education recommends all students complete an online learning experience during grades 9–12.

The extent to which online learning graduation requirements have had an impact on the adoption of online or blended learning is unclear. Some states (e.g., Michigan) allow students to have an online learning “experience” in place of a fully-online course. Other states have little or no enforcement of the online learning requirement provisions. Michigan, Florida, and Alabama have certainly been among the states with the most K-12 online and blended learning activity overall, but it is unclear how much of that activity would have occurred in the absence of the online learning graduation requirement, as those states have funded state virtual schools and supported online and blended learning in other ways as well.

In addition, some schools and districts have created online learning requirements. These include Kiel High School (WI); Kenosha School District in Wisconsin (beginning with class of 2016); Lead-Deadwood (SD)High School (beginning with the class of 2014); and Marietta City Schools in Georgia (beginning with the class of 2016). Putnam County Schools in Tennessee requires an online Personal Finance Course for all graduates from SY 2013–14, and Sugar Salem High School (ID) requires one online class of all students, and guides students toward classes offered by the state virtual school, Idaho Digital Learning.