The 3-2 vote by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission capped several hours of testimony by more than 30 people, many of whom expressed concern about the potential fiscal impact, said David Sumner, the commission's executive director.
The panel approved what is called the Pennsylvania Core Standards and assessments associated with the standards, including the new state Keystone Exams for high school students.
The standards require a final legal review from the state attorney general's office before they are implemented.
Students in the class of 2017—this year's high-school freshmen—will be the first to have to demonstrate their understanding of literature, biology and algebra in order to get a diploma under the new standards. Students would have to pass a test in each subject area or complete a project under an instructor's guidance that shows they understand it.
The Keystone Exams replaced the long-used Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, tests for 11th-graders last year. Although passing scores were not required for graduation, students' failing scores were already eliciting complaints from some parents.
The PSSA tests will continue to be administered in the third and eighth grades.
Joan Benso, head of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said the regulations represent a sensible approach to ensure students "demonstrate proficiency of rigorous Pennsylvania Core Standards and are prepared to transition to postsecondary education, 21st century careers, military service and productive citizenship."