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Highly Qualified Teachers in Independent Study

Approaches that some districts and county offices of education are using to ensure that all federally required core subjects be taught by teachers who have demonstrated subject matter competence.

Following are some approaches that California's districts and county offices of education are using to meet the federal requirement that all core academic subjects be taught by teachers who have demonstrated subject matter competence. California Education Code (EC) Section 47605(1) defines teacher requirements for core academic subjects.

California law (EC Section 44865) allows independent study teachers to teach any subject as long as that teacher has a valid California teaching credential. However, to be compliant with the federal "highly qualified" requirements, independent study teachers also must demonstrate "subject matter competency."

Charter school teachers of core academic subjects must meet all the federal requirements. Charters may decide, for credentialing purposes only, which subjects they will define as "noncore."

In the approaches outlined below, the role of the supervising teacher is retained. However, in some of the independent study approaches used in California's secondary schools, individual teachers are no longer responsible for teaching all core academic subjects. In most cases, this means that an individual student is taught by more than one teacher, often receiving instruction for specialized subjects in small groups, classrooms, or lab settings. In each of the approaches described below, when existing staff are not able to offer the full range of academic courses, students may take needed classes at a community college, comprehensive high school, or through online courses.

This document also provides a snapshot of various methods for delivering grade-level content via independent study. For an overview of the basic framework for a sound independent study approach, review the Elements of Exemplary Independent Study.


Federal Core Academic Subjects

  • English/language arts/reading (including reading intervention and California High School Exit Exam [CAHSEE] English classes);
  • Mathematics (including mathematics intervention and CAHSEE mathematics classes);
  • Biological sciences;
  • Chemistry;
  • Geosciences;
  • Physics;
  • Social science (history, government, economics, geography);
  • Foreign languages (specific);
  • Arts (includes drama/theater and dance); and
  • Music.

Charter School Noncore Subjects

Core academic subject definitions apply to charter and noncharter schools. However, EC Section 47605(l) states, "It is the intent of the Legislature that charter schools be given flexibility with regard to noncore, noncollege preparatory courses." According to page 42 in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Highly Qualified Teacher Guide (DOC; Updated Aug-2015), "Charters may decide, for credentialing purposes only, which courses they will define as 'noncore'."

Master (Written) Agreement

A commonly used term referring to the legally-required Independent Study Written Agreement (EC Section 51747[a-c]). It often includes subsidiary documents that outline the course learning objectives, methods of evaluation, and other items stipulated in the local board policy and administrative regulations.

Supervising Teacher

The teacher who signs the Independent Study Written Agreement on the supervising teacher line and is responsible for recording attendance, maintaining regular contact with the student, collecting work samples, and performing other duties as outlined in the district’s board policy or administrative regulations.

Subject or Specialty Teachers

May serve as supervising teachers, but also may offer labs, classes, or workshops in the subject in which they hold a valid subject matter credential so that students can receive instruction from highly qualified teachers in all core academic subjects.

Specialized Teaching Approach

Students only take courses from teachers who have demonstrated subject matter competence in those courses. Schools vary in the number of courses that a student takes at a time and in the number of teachers that a student meets with (in person or by submitting work electronically). Schools using the specialized teaching approach include:

Mt. Everest Academy
San Diego Unified School District, San Diego County
Mike Rood, Principal

  • This is a kindergarten through grade twelve (K–12) alternative school of choice with a total enrollment of 210. All students use the independent study mode of delivery. Enrollment in grades nine through twelve (9–12) independent study is 112, and the following information is for the high school program.
  • Students typically take six year-long courses and attend 90-minute study groups/classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, three periods per day.
  • Students attend two 90-minute weekly science labs for biology, chemistry, and physics.
  • Each subject teacher creates and signs a subsidiary course agreement for the subject he or she teaches. While the supervising teacher retains responsibility for attendance and the audit file, the subject teachers are responsible for weekly study groups/classes and academic evaluation in each subject.
  • All subjects are taught by highly qualified teachers.
  • Supervising teachers are assigned by grade level to help with the continuity of content knowledge and the unique milestones that come with each grade level.
  • All secondary teachers have a single-subject credential and are the content expert in their subject area.
  • Students have access to an on-site computer lab with computer workshops offered each week, a fully stocked library, and a response to intervention program which includes CAHSEE support.
  • Some of the specialty classes offered include instrumental music and jazz band, a variety of Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, Spanish, and French.
  • All secondary teachers supplement their weekly study groups/classes with interactive online assignments.

North Monterey County Unified School District, Monterey County
Aida Ramirez, Principal

  • This is a grade 9–12 alternative school of choice with an approximate enrollment of 100.
  • Students meet with their teacher once a week for one hour. Students in lab sciences are required to attend lab classes and complete all required laboratory projects.
  • Teachers only teach core courses they are qualified in (through single-subject credentials, university majors, California Subject Examinations for Teachers [CSET], or Supplemental Authorization Credentials).
  • All certificated staff members may teach elective courses. (Note: Per federal requirements, teachers must be highly qualified for art, music, and drama).

Pacific Coast High School
Orange County Department of Education, Orange County
Machele Kilgore, Principal

  • Pacific Coast High School (PCHS) is a high school within a K–12 county community school. PCHS enrollment typically runs between 440 and 470.
  • PCHS operates like a community college and offers a rigorous college preparation program. It has developed its own on-campus, online, and hybrid (combination of on-campus and online) courses. In addition to the community college format, PCHS offers additional formats to meet individual student needs: the traditional learning agreement format, a direct instruction format, and a credit recovery format.
  • Typically, students take four to six courses at a time to complete 30 units each semester. Mathematics and foreign language courses are spread out over two semesters, while other year-long courses can be completed in a semester. Generally, students take most of their courses at the same time—for example, most students take 10 units of English in the fall semester and 10 units of social studies in the spring.
  • A faculty advisor is assigned to each student, and subject matter expert teachers are assigned to each course. Students interact with their faculty advisor, as well as their individual course instructors, on a weekly basis.
  • The faculty advisor’s signature is the primary signature on the Independent Study Written Agreement; all other course instructors’ signatures on the Independent Study Written Agreement are supplementary.
  • Teachers hold single-subject credentials and/or are highly qualified as individual course instructors who are responsible for teaching courses within their subject area expertise. Course instructors design their course(s), grade weekly assignments, and communicate weekly with each student enrolled in their course(s).
  • Teachers are also faculty advisors (offering guidance and support) for a roster of students.
  • Teachers meet weekly to discuss programs, students, and attendance.
  • Each student is required to take a minimum of 20 units with PCHS, but for their additional credits they also may choose to take community college classes, Regional Occupational Program (ROP) classes, or private classes that may count toward graduation.

Mixed Strategy Approach

Schools use different delivery structures for different students depending on student need. Students may work with one or a number of teachers at a time, and delivery options may include classes, labs, small-group instruction, and one-on-one meetings. Schools using the mixed strategy teaching approach include:

Davis School for Independent Study
Davis Joint Unified School District, Yolo County
Laura Juanitas, Principal
530-757-5333 ext. 153

  • This is a K–12 alternative school of choice with a total enrollment of 167. Enrollment is approximately 100 for grades 9–12. The following information is for the high school program:
  • Supervising teachers have demonstrated subject matter competence in all core academic subject areas offered by Davis School for Independent Studies (DSIS).
  • Students wishing to meet the University of California/California State University (UC/CSU) a-g subject area requirements also attend classes outside of their weekly meetings with their supervising teacher. Higher-level science, math, and all foreign languages must be taken concurrently at a comprehensive district secondary school.
    • For English and social studies courses, students have access to a one-hour per week advisory office hour to help fulfill the requirements for student-teacher interaction set forth by the UC/CSU, a-g policy for independent study. This class provides an opportunity for students to meet with a teacher who has subject matter competence in a particular a-g course.
    • For visual and performing arts, foreign language, higher-level mathematics, and laboratory science, students attend small-group classes taught exclusively by DSIS single-subject credentialed teachers. Other small group elective classes are taught by teachers who have demonstrated subject matter competence. The small-group classes meet anywhere from one to three times a week with an enrollment ranging from 5 to 15 students.
    • DSIS is currently developing online hybrid courses in core subject areas that also meet a-g requirements.
  • Where subject matter experts are not available on staff, students can access courses:
    • Through other institutions via online courses
    • At a comprehensive high school
    • At a community college or the university

Independence High School
Roseville Joint Union High School District, Placer County
Debbie Latteri, Principal
916-786-0793 x 1301

  • This is a grade 9–12 alternative school of choice with a total enrollment of 246.
  • Independence High School offers three different delivery systems, all with independent studies as the delivery foundation.
    • Approximately 20 percent of the students strictly take independent studies courses meeting one-on-one with a teacher for one hour per week.
    • About 80 percent of the students take their instruction through a “flipped learning model” with most of the curriculum and formative assessments being delivered online combined with small group classes for two-to-three hours per week to achieve deeper “Depth of Knowledge” skills, differentiated instruction, and summative assessments.
    • Approximately 10 percent of the students take mostly online classes, but still take their labs and proctored summative tests on-site. Students generally take three courses at a time. Mathematics, art, music, foreign language, and physical education are scheduled for an entire semester. Students can complete other courses at their own pace. When students finish one course, they are assigned another course with another teacher.
  • Teachers who hold subject-specific credentials teach both the lab and non-lab parts of the science courses. Students are required to concurrently attend 10 two-hour laboratory sessions.
  • All teachers hold one or more single-subject credentials and/or are highly qualified within their subject area expertise. All blended learning and online teachers are certified to teach online.
  • All teachers are part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC). PLCs meet in discipline-specific teams one hour a week to review and revise common curriculum, write and revise common assessments, differentiate assignments and curriculum, gather and analyze testing data, and review best practices.
  • Several honors and College Board-approved Advanced Placement (AP) courses are offered online, including AP European History, AP U.S. History, AP American Government and Politics, AP Macroeconomics, AP Literature and Composition, Physics, Driver Education, Music Appreciation, Psychology, and Sociology, with more courses in development.
  • Students who test far below basic on the California Standards Tests (CST) are not eligible to enroll in Independence High School. Students who test far below basic while attending Independence High School are not allowed to re-enroll in independent study. Students testing below basic must attend a two-hour per week Academic Literacy support class until they demonstrate improvement on the next CST.

North State Independence High School
Shasta Union High School District, Shasta County
Guy Malain, Principal

  • This is a grade 9–12 alternative school of choice with a total enrollment of 234. Independent study enrollment is 212.
  • Most students see one supervising teacher for English, social science, and electives.
  • Other subjects/courses are called “augmented classes.” Augmented classes in core subjects are taught exclusively by highly qualified subject matter experts.
    • Classes are offered in a master schedule that allows students to select the day and time of attendance.
    • Classes are 1½ hours long with an average size of seven students.
    • Most students attend school between 4 ½ to 7 ½ hours per week.
  • All teachers have demonstrated subject matter competence in at least one subject and most are highly qualified in multiple subjects.
    • The supervising teacher is responsible for reporting attendance and maintaining the audit file for the student.
    • The augmented class teacher assigns grades and provides work samples to the supervising teacher.
  • When subject matter experts are not on staff, students may access courses:
    • At a comprehensive high school (two periods maximum)
    • At a community college
    • Through online courses

Summit View School
Riverside Unified School District, Riverside County
David Haglund, Principal

  • Summit View shares the campus with Raincross High School, the Riverside Virtual School, and the COPE/Opportunity Program, sharing common curriculum, facilities, and some of the staff. Summit View serves students in grades 9–12 with a peak enrollment of 1,230.
  • Though all Summit View teachers are highly qualified and certified to teach English learners, the staff developed a blended-learning model that includes virtual, traditional, and lab-based instruction.
    • Except for lab sciences and upper-level mathematics courses, the traditional format centers on a weekly one-hour conference in addition to voluntary attendance in computer and tutoring labs.
    • Lab sciences (biology, physics, and chemistry) and math (algebra and above) courses require a two-hour conference and mandatory two-hour labs.
    • Summit View students access foreign language, honors, and AP courses via concurrent enrollment in the Riverside Virtual School.
    • Students typically take two to three courses at a time, completing six courses each semester.
  • Additional labs and workshops include:
    • English/writing lab: Students may get help from a credentialed ELA teacher for reading and writing in any subject area.
    • Mathematics lab: Students may drop in for extra support provided by teachers, tutors, and instructional aides.
    • Social studies lab: Students may get help from a credentialed teacher in any social studies course.
    • Intensive intervention workshops are available for students who are identified as being significantly below grade level in basic ELA or math skills.
    • Scholastic Read 180: Students who need remedial reading instruction are referred to this program and attend four 120-minute sessions each week.
    • Strategic intervention workshops: Students identified as being at risk for not passing the CAHSEE may attend intensive, five-week courses tailored to their specific needs. Students are targeted based on math and ELA performance and/or Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores.
  • Teachers have either single-subject or multiple-subject credentials, but all are English Learner/Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development (EL/CLAD) certified and federally compliant through the High Objective Uniform State Standard Evaluation (HOUSSE) or the Verification Process for Specialized Settings (DOC) process. Most teachers instruct in only the subjects for which they are credentialed; some teachers provide instruction in multiple subject areas.
  • Students who need classes that Summit View does not offer may take those classes at their referral school, the Riverside Virtual School, or the local community college while attending Summit View.
  • Students have access to additional resources, including the following:
    • The English Learner Office, staffed by two aides and a teacher-on-special assignment;
    • The Counseling Office, staffed by two counselors and one clerical staff member;
    • Riverside Virtual School External link opens in new window or tab. ;
    • Riverside Unified School District’s Student Support (with approximately 360 video and PowerPoint tutorials);
    • The Technology Resource Center, with 18 computer stations used for direct instruction lessons incorporating technology, and the Digital Resource Center, with 48 computer stations for students to do research, word-processing, and/or work on their online courses.

Tamiscal Independent Study High School
Tamalpais Union High School District, Marin County
Corbett Elsen, Principal

  • This is a grade 9–12 alternative school of choice with a total enrollment of 109. Full-time independent study enrollment is typically 85 students; part-time independent study enrollment is 24.
  • Students must show evidence of the ability to be successful in an independent study program. Evidence may include previous independent study transcripts, recommendations from teachers or counselors, grades, and test scores. Most students are referred by their comprehensive school, submit an essay explaining their reasoning for wanting to enroll, and go through a paper screening. Students who pass the paper screening have an hour-long interview with the principal and counselor and, if successful, are enrolled. Students must be on track for a timely graduation when they enroll.
  • Each semester, students are enrolled in core classes and up to two electives with their supervising teachers.
  • Students take mathematics and science in small-group classes (usually 6 to 12 students). Mathematics meets for one hour early in the week and again for an hour-long question-and-answer session later in the week. Science classes meet for a two-hour block which accommodates all lab work.
  • Spanish is offered as an elective in a two-hour block once per week.
  • Teachers only teach courses they are qualified to teach, according to federal requirements.
  • School resources include:
    • Library/quiet study room supervised by a tutor four days a week (including 12 computer terminals)
    • Therapist two hours per week
    • College and career specialist
    • Full kitchen/multi-purpose room with six additional computer terminals
    • Wi-Fi throughout the campus
    • After-hours ceramics and photography elective at a neighboring school (same district); art introduction course (graduation requirement) on campus
    • Frequent field trips
    • Curriculum-related films at a local theater
    • AP courses as student demand warrants (usually literature and composition)
    • Access to courses and activities at the comprehensive schools
    • Mandated, supervised independent study for students who fall behind

Small Program Within a Comprehensive High School Approach

Independent study instructors teach courses in which they are highly qualified and recruit classroom-based or retired teachers who are qualified to teach other courses on a part-time basis. Students take core courses that cannot be offered through independent study either in the classroom or through other institutions.

Composite Approach

  • Independent study teachers teach those courses in which they have demonstrated subject matter competence.
  • For subjects in which no independent study teacher is highly qualified, classroom-based teachers may be recruited to teach courses through independent study as "extra duty" after regular school hours or in return for release from classroom teaching duties. (In some cases, highly qualified retired teachers may be recruited to teach certain subjects.)
  • Independent study teachers may teach some classroom-based courses in return for the classroom-based instructors teaching some independent study courses, in their areas of demonstrated subject matter competence.
  • Individual teachers may be working to further develop subject matter expertise so that they can become highly qualified in additional subjects.
  • Students also may take some courses in the classroom, online, or at the community college or university.


  • Preserving the essential component of close student-teacher relationships
  • Providing resources for teaching and learning:
    • Finding space to run small group sessions and labs
    • Finding additional teaching staff with expertise in subject areas not currently covered by existing staff
  • Scheduling:
    • Scheduling courses with multiple teachers
    • Finding options that fit students’ schedule constraints
  • Finding other options for students to take core courses not available through independent study (e.g., comprehensive high school, community colleges, and online)


Elementary and Secondary Education Act Highly Qualified Teacher Guide (DOC; Updated Aug-2015)
This guide provides clarification of both federal and state Highly Qualified Teacher requirements and helps to support California school districts and county offices of education as they continue to implement these requirements.

California’s Verification Process for Special Settings (VPSS) — Subject Matter Verification Process For Middle and High School Level Teachers in Special Settings (DOC)
Outlines program requirements that provide advanced certification for teachers in specialized settings.

Questions: Dan Sackheim | | 916-445-5595 
Last Reviewed: Monday, December 7, 2015