What is a Passing Grade in High School in the US?

During the fall of 2021, the total number of students enrolled in public schools was approximately 49.5 million. The figure includes pre-kindergarten up to grade 12, along with ungraded students. Of all public school students, 15.4 million attended grades 9 to 12. Among them, 4.2 million students were enrolled in grade 9, the typical high school entry point.

Even though the figure is significant, not all high school students will get a passing grade. The passing grade for a high school in the United States will depend on the level of education and what grades are required for high school graduation.

With millions of students enrolled in public schools across the US, it can be not easy to figure out what grades are necessary for high school graduation. The answer varies depending on the level of education and other requirements set by individual states or districts. This article will explore how passing grades work at different levels of education and what is typically required for graduating from high school in the US.

What are Passing Grades in High School in the United States?

A passing grade in high school in the United States is typically a D or a D- if the grading system includes a plus or minus. This means that a minimum score of 60 percent is needed to pass high school. However, certain districts have different standards. These districts may consider grades under C or a score of 70 percent to be failing grades.

Typically, scoring Ds may be enough to pass your courses and earn your diploma or GED. However, it’s advisable to aim for at least a C grade. A score below C is usually considered poor. Although Ds will enable you to pass, they may pose difficulties if you seek a vocational school or college admission.

Grade Point Average

In the United States, academic success is measured using multiple grading scales, not just letter grades. You will receive a GPA or Grade Point Average and class rank along with your grade. When you apply to a college or university, the registrar will review your application, including your grade average and class rank. So, it’s crucial to strive for excellent performance in these areas.

A GPA of 3.0 or higher is considered good. However, if you score a D, it will convert to a GPA between 0.7 and 1.3. This can lead to a low-class rank, hurting your chances of getting into competitive colleges. Local or community colleges may also question your low scores. That’s why it’s essential to aim for higher grades whenever possible.

Grading Systems in High School

The standard high school grading system includes the letter grades A+, A, A−, B+, B, B−, C+, C, C−, D+, D, D− and F, which range from highest to lowest. Occasionally, numerical grades are used as well. It’s important to note that the conversion from numeric to letter grades can differ based on the system, subject, and level.

Typically, a D is the lowest passing grade in primary and secondary schools, although some schools might consider a C the lowest. Based on the grading scale, anything below 60 percent or 70 percent is generally deemed as a failing grade.

US Grading System Facts

The US has a specific grading system used in schools and universities, a standard evaluation matrix for overall performance. Here are some facts about the US grading system.

Grade Point Average (GPA)

Your Grade Point Average (GPA) is crucial as it determines various aspects like scholarships, clubs, graduation, and other school applications. Essentially, it reflects your academic performance. If you aced most of your classes, your GPA is likely close to 4.0. If you had a mix of good and challenging classes, your GPA should be around 2.5 or 3. Lastly, if you had a rocky start but eventually improved, your GPA also shows progress.

US Letter Grading System

Your instructor will grade your assignments with a letter grade from A to F, indicating your performance level. Each letter grade has a corresponding percentage indicating the number of questions answered correctly or requirements met during the course.

The instructor will grade every assignment you complete, using a letter grade from A to F to indicate your level of performance. Each letter corresponds to a percentage representing how well you did on the assignment based on the number of questions you answered correctly or the requirements you met during the course.

The highest grade you can get on an assignment is an A. It’s between 90 percent and 100 percent. A B is a good grade, between 80 percent and 89 percent. A C is in the middle and ranges from 70 percent to 79 percent. A D is a passing grade between 59 percent and 69 percent. An F is a failing grade.

Grading System Has No “E” Grade

The American grading system skips the letter E. The reason is that 1897 E was used to represent the lowest possible grade, just like F. However, students and parents found it confusing and mistakenly thought E meant excellent. Consequently, F was introduced to indicate “Failed,” it has been used to represent failure ever since.

Understanding Grade Reports and Progress Updates

At the end of each semester, you will receive a progress report that shows your grades and GPA. It is essential to read through your grade report carefully for accuracy. You should also stay current on the progress of all your classes throughout the year. Doing so will help you see where you can improve and make changes where necessary.

Advisory Report

a student taking an exam

The progress report does not count as a quarter or semester grade and will not affect your GPA or college eligibility. It serves as a way for the school to give you an idea of your current progress. The grades are based on 2-4 weeks of work, and due to various factors such as schedule changes, pretests, eligibility tests for honors classes, setting up classroom rules and expectations, etc., there is usually less graded work during the first few weeks of the school year compared to later on.

Missing Assignments

Missing multiple assignments can significantly affect your progress report grade. For example, if you miss a 15-point assignment and receive a score of zero, your grade could be lowered by as much as 30 percent. However, this is just a reminder that teachers may allow you to catch up on late or missed work for full credit or a reduced amount of points.

Your child mustn’t miss out on this opportunity. Remember, the points earned during the quarter will add up to the final grade. Even if they only earn 5 out of 10 points for a late or missing essay, it may not seem like much now, but those 5 points could make a difference in the GPA later on.

Schools May Have Different Grading Systems

As mentioned earlier, individual schools may have different grading systems. So, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the grading system your school uses before the semester begins so that you can plan accordingly and set realistic goals.

Educators can use other grading systems besides the traditional letter-based one. These alternative methods have their advantages that are worth considering. They also help students develop their skills by shifting the focus to learning.

Pass or Fail Grading System

The pass/fail grading system is simple – students either pass or fail a class without any grades in between. This straightforward approach means that as long as students meet the minimum standard, they can move on to the next level. By removing the emphasis on earning high grades, pass/fail grading can ease the pressure on students and allow them to focus on learning rather than the grade. This shift in focus also means that learning becomes the reward rather than a good grade.

Mastery-Based Grading System

Mastery-based education is a learning approach that enables students to learn a specific set of skills that match their grade level. When students become adept in mastering one skill, they move on to the next level or new skills. To illustrate, in a math class, students may concentrate on learning the multiplication table. Once they exhibit proficiency in the skill several times, they learn additional skills.


Self-assessments can help students track their progress. They need to think about the goals and learning objectives of an assignment and then evaluate the quality of their work to those standards. By doing so, they can identify their strengths and weaknesses and know where to focus on improving.

Digital Portfolios

Digital portfolios are collections of student work that use various media to showcase their learning and skills. Both teachers and students can choose and display the best work, and students can reflect on their work. Portfolios provide a comprehensive way for teachers to evaluate students’ progress and usually contain examples of work from the entire school year.

Live Feedback

a teacher tutoring the student

Live feedback is a process where teachers provide students constructive criticism and guidance while working on an assignment. This approach fosters collaboration between teachers and students, and students receive input tailored to their needs. The method helps students when they face difficulty in understanding a concept, and they feel encouraged and supported. Unlike traditional assessment methods, students get real-time feedback during the assignment.


Gamification in education means using game design concepts to teach by monitoring students’ progress. This approach turns learning and mastering skills and subjects into a game. Thus, gamification provides an enjoyable and motivating alternative to traditional grading with letters.

What is GPA?

The GPA is a number that reflects your average performance in your courses on a 1.0 to 4.0 scale. It is used to evaluate whether you meet the requirements and expectations of your school.

How is my GPA Calculated?

You need information about the grades and credits assigned to each course to calculate your GPA. However, transcripts may report this information differently depending on the school, district, or state. Therefore, it’s important to standardize this information to make fair comparisons between students and schools.

The most widely used GPA scale is the four-point grade scale. According to this scale, ‘A’ corresponds to four points, ‘B’ corresponds to three points, ‘C’ corresponds to two points, ‘D’ corresponds to one point, and ‘F’ corresponds to zero points. The High School Transcript Study (HSTS) utilizes this four-point GPA scale to establish a standardized GPA for each student.

The GPA is a student’s average grade point for each graded high school course. Grade points are the numerical value assigned to a passing grade per course credit. To calculate a student’s GPA, divide the total grade points earned by the total course credits attempted. Courses where a student does not receive a grade, such as those taken on a pass/fail or audit basis, are not included in the GPA calculation.

Why do grades matter?

Grades are important for college admissions, scholarship applications, and other opportunities. They demonstrate to higher education institutions that you have the academic ability and prerequisite skills necessary for success in their programs. Grades also provide insight into a student’s performance, strengths, and weaknesses. So, striving for excellence in all your classes is essential.

Requirements for Graduation

Most schools require you to earn a certain number of credits or pass specific courses to graduate from high school. The passing grades vary depending on the school, but for the most part, you will need at least a D grade to pass the course. Additionally, some schools may also require that you have a minimum GPA to qualify for graduation.

Pay Attention

Due to this, you should pay attention to your grades throughout the year and ensure that you meet all of the graduation requirements. Keeping track of your progress will ensure that you do not fall behind or fail a class and can graduate on time.

Understanding the Grading System

Understanding the grading system used in high school is essential for students to be successful academically. Grades matter for college admissions and other opportunities, so striving for excellence in all your classes is important. You should keep track of your progress throughout the year. Finally, familiarize yourself with your school’s grading system so you can set goals and plan accordingly.

Supporting Your Child’s Academic Success

happy student in graduation cap

Supporting your child’s academic success requires understanding the grading system and setting expectations for success. Make sure to stay up to date on their progress throughout the year, provide them with assistance when needed, and discuss goals for the future. Additionally, praising and recognizing their successes will help motivate them to continue striving for excellence. With hard work and dedication, your child can achieve academic success.

College and Future Considerations

The grades you receive in high school can significantly impact your future. College admissions, scholarships, and other opportunities often require a minimum GPA or grade point average. For this reason, it is crucial to ensure that you meet all the college admission and scholarship eligibility requirements. Understanding the grading system used by your school will help you.

What grade do you need to enter programs or colleges after high school?

If you plan on going to college after high school, it’s important to understand what a passing grade means. Generally, colleges require a minimum GPA (Grade Point Average) for admission based on your high school grades. Additionally, some colleges have specific grade requirements for certain courses. For instance, you may need to get at least a C in all courses within your chosen major to receive credit.

Furthermore, several colleges mandate that students complete particular high school courses to fulfill admission prerequisites. These courses may necessitate meeting particular grade thresholds, such as earning at least a B in all math courses.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some frequently asked questions about passing grades in high school:

What happens if you fail a class in high school?

If you fail a class in high school, it is possible to retake the course and try to improve your grade. However, depending on the school’s policy, you may not be able to use the improved grade when calculating your GPA.

Do middle school grades matter?

Middle school grades are generally not considered when calculating GPA or applying to college. However, they may be considered if your high school seeks additional information about your academic performance.

What is a passing grade in middle school?

The passing grade in middle school varies depending on the school. Generally, a passing grade is at least 70 percent. However, some schools may use other grading systems, such as letter grades or percentage points.

How many credits do you need to graduate high school in Texas?

In Texas, students must earn at least 26 credits to graduate from high school. These credits will come from passing English, math, science, social studies, physical education and health courses, and electives.

What’s a passing grade in college?

In most college grading systems, the lowest passing grade considered is D, equivalent to 65 percent. However, some courses may require a higher grade, such as a B or C, to pass.

What’s the highest GPA you can get?

The highest GPA you can get is 4.0, which indicates that you have achieved all A’s in your courses. Earning a 4.0 GPA requires dedication and hard work throughout high school.

What is a Passing Grade in High School in the United Kingdom?

In the United Kingdom, a passing grade for assignments is a minimum score of 40 percent. Although it may appear to be a low percentage, it is considered a good score based on the educational system standards of the UK.

What is a Passing Grade in High School in Canada?

To pass high school in Canada, students must achieve a minimum 50 to 60 percent score. The educational requirements for students in Canada vary based on their geographical location, which is similar to the educational systems of other large countries.

Understanding the grading system used in high school is essential for students to be successful academically. Grades matter for college admissions and other opportunities, so striving for excellence in all your classes is essential. The most widely used GPA scale is the four-point grade scale, where ‘A’ corresponds to four points, ‘B’ corresponds to three points, etc. To graduate from high school, most schools require you to earn a certain number of credits or pass specific courses with at least a D grade. Therefore, make sure that you are aware of your school’s passing grade requirements and stay up-to-date on your progress throughout the year if you want to achieve academic success and qualify for graduation.

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