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Quick Guide to Independent Study

An overview of independent study describing the types of programs, key legal requirements, written or master agreements, local board policy, funding, and attendance.

Independent study is an alternative instructional strategy; not an alternative curriculum. Students work independently, according to a written agreement and under the general supervision of a credentialed teacher. While independent study students follow the district-adopted curriculum and meet the district graduation requirements, independent study offers flexibility to meet individual student needs, interests, and styles of learning.

In 2008–09, more than 128,140 students participated in independent study. Of the 1,418 schools that served these students, 262 schools had 75 percent or more of their students participating in independent study.

The following list provides a quick overview of independent study in California. The Independent Study Operations Manual (2000 Edition) (ISOM) provides more details, guidance, and examples. Additional support and materials are available from the California Consortium of Independent Study (CCIS) External link opens in new window or tab. .

  1. Variety of Formats
  2. The Essential Elements of Exemplary Independent Study
  3. Key Legal Requirements for Independent Study
    1. Local Board Policy
    2. A Written (Master) Agreement for Each Independent Study Student
    3. Equal Educational Opportunity
    4. Standards Aligned
    5. Teacher Quality
    6. Schools Enable Students to Successfully Complete Their Independent Study
  1. Variety of Formats
    Districts or county offices of education are not required to offer independent study. Those that do may offer it through a variety of formats:
    • As a program or class within a comprehensive school
    • Through an alternative school or program of choice. California Education Code (EC) Section 58500 et seq.
    • Through Charter Schools
    • In a home-based format
    • Short term (not less than five days). EC 46300(e)(1)
    • Through online courses
    • As an accommodation for student travel
    • As special and/or advanced courses

For more details, see Chapter 8, Section P, of the ISOM.

  1. The Essential Elements of Exemplary Independent Study
    The Elements of Exemplary Independent Study provides a detailed explanation of each of the following elements:

    1. Local education agency (LEA) support
    2. Teacher quality
    3. Student admission to, and support in, independent study
    4. Standards-aligned curriculum and materials
    5. Assessment of student academic achievement
    6. School leadership
    7. School culture
    8. Accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges External link opens in new window or tab. for schools with high school students
    9. A-G course approval (A-G Guide, University of California (UC) Policy on Non-Site-Based Independent Study Schools External link opens in new window or tab. for schools with high school students
    10. Legal compliance
  1. Key Legal Requirements for Independent Study
    Legal requirements for independent study are found in the EC and the California Code of Regulations, Title 5 (5 CCR). As a resource, the EISRA Legal Compliance Review Form External link opens in new window or tab. (DOC) identifies the elements that must be included in legal compliance documents, as well as those that must be in practice for a school to be legally compliant.

    1. Local Board Policy. EC 51747 and 5 CCR 11701
      Local boards that agree to offer students the option of independent study as an instructional delivery alternative must make it voluntary. Then they must establish policies as specified in EC 51747(a) and adopted pursuant to 5 CCR 11701, including:

      1. Maximum length of time between assignment and due date
      2. Number of missed assignments that require an evaluation of whether the student should remain in independent study
      3. Current written (master) agreement containing all required elements (see below) on file for each student


      NOTE: Administrative Rules and Regulations may be adopted to implement independent study in accordance with California law. Other policies and procedures may also be listed in the Student Handbook.

    2. A Written (Master) Agreement for Each Independent Study Student
      The following elements must be in each written agreement according to California law:

      1. General student data including the name, address, grade level, school of enrollment, and program placement. EC 51748, 51747.3(b), and 46300.1
      2. The beginning and end dates of the agreement EC 51747(c)(5)
      3. The duration of agreement (not more than one semester or half year) EC 51747(c)(5)
      4. List of subjects/courses in which the student is enrolled and number of course credits to be earned or other statement of credit for short-term agreements EC 51747(c)(6); 5 CCR 11703(b)(2)
      5. The learning objectives for the course(s) and assignments attempted under the agreement EC 51747(c)(2) and 51745(a)(3); 5 CCR 11700(e)(f) and 11702(b)
      6. The methods of study, including the student activities selected by the supervising teacher that the student will complete in order to meet the course objectives EC 51747(c)(2); 5 CCR 11704(c)
      7. The methods of evaluation that will be used to determine if the student met the learning objective(s) EC 51747(c)(2); ISOM Chapter 7 p. 6, Chapter 8 p. 10, and Chapter 11 pp. 7–8
      8. The specific resources, including instructional materials and personnel, which will be made available to the student EC 51746 and 51747(c)(3); 5 CCR 11700(i) and 11701.5
      9. The maximum length of time between the date of the assignment and when it is due, by grade level and type of program (pursuant to Board Policy) EC 51747(a)
      10. The number of missed assignments that will lead to an evaluation to determine if independent study is appropriate for the student EC 51747(b) and 51747(c)(4)
      11. Statement that independent study is a voluntary option EC 51747(c)(7); 5 CCR 11700(d)(2)(A)
      12. Statement that instruction may be provided for an EC 48915 (expulsion) or 48917 (suspended expulsion) student through independent study only if the student has the continuous choice of classroom instruction EC 51747(c)(7); 5 CCR 11700(d)(2)(B)
      13. Reporting/returning assignments to teacher(s) EC 51747(c)(1)

        1. Time(s) for meetings/reporting
        2. Frequency of meetings (can be a combination of online, face-to-face, or lab)
        3. Location (may be a combination of labs, classrooms, face-to-face, and/or online)

      14. Dated signatures for student, parent/guardian/caregiver, teacher, and other assisting person(s). EC 51747(c)(4)
    For more details, see Chapter 8, Section Q, of the ISOM and the Sample Independent Study Written Agreement (DOC).

    1. Equal Educational Opportunity EC 51745(a)(3)
      By law, the independent study option is to be substantially equivalent in quality and quantity to classroom instruction, and shall not be provided as an alternative curriculum.
      1. Funding. Independent study may be used to deliver the curriculum of an alternative school or program of choice. Any alternative school or program of choice shall be maintained and funded by the school district at the same level as other educational programs for children of the same age level operated by the district. EC 58507
      2. Ratio of Average Daily Attendance (a.d.a.) to Supervising Teacher. The ratio of a.d.a. for independent study pupils to school district full-time equivalent certificated employees responsible for independent study may not exceed the equivalent ratio of pupils to full-time certificated employees for all other educational programs operated by the school district. See Instructions for Ratio Calculations. EC 51745.6(a)

        Under Charter School Regulations, charter schools may use one of two methods for computing a.d.a. ratios:
        1. They may follow the instructions for school districts, using as the base the unified school district with the greatest a.d.a in the county or counties in which the charter school operates. 5 CCR 11704
        2. They may use a fixed pupils-to-certificated employee ratio of not more than 25 to 1. EC 51745.6(e)
    2. Standards Aligned EC 51745(a)(3)
      Independent study is not an alternative curriculum so all courses and materials are aligned to state content standards, and textbooks are those most recently adopted by the State Board of Education or, in the case of high school, by the LEA. Supplemental materials may be used to respond to individual student interests and learning styles. Materials that are sectarian in nature are not used pursuant to the California Constitution, Article IX, Section 8.
    3. Teacher Quality EC 51747.5, which recognizes EC 44865 and 44300
      Independent study teachers meet the same professional requirements as classroom-based teachers. Independent study teachers are appropriately credentialed and have demonstrated subject matter competence in all core academic subjects they teach as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. NOTE: NCLB requirements do not apply to independent study in adult education. The core academic subjects under NCLB are:
      • English/language arts/reading (including reading intervention and California High School Exit Exam [CAHSEE]—English classes)
      • Mathematics (including math intervention and CAHSEE—math classes)
      • Biological sciences
      • Chemistry
      • Geosciences
      • Physics
      • Social Science (history, government, economics, geography)
      • Foreign languages (specific)
      • Arts (includes drama/theater and dance)
      • Music
    4. Schools Enable Students to Successfully Complete Their Independent Study
      1. Students are assessed for their potential to be successful in independent study. EC 51746(b); 5 CCR 11700(d)(1)(B)
      2. Students participating in independent study are to have the same access to existing services and resources and equality of rights and privileges as other students. 5 CCR 11700(i) and 11701.5
      3. Students should have contact with teachers as specified in Board Policy (may be a combination of one-on-one, in class or lab, by e-mail, phone, conference, and/or online) on a sufficiently frequent basis for the teachers to provide needed instruction, adequately judge student progress, and make appropriate modifications. The frequency of student-teacher meetings may be increased as needed.
Questions:   Educational Options, Student Support, and American Indian Education Office | 916-323-2183
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