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Form and Template Standards

Requirements for forms and templates that are developed, procured, maintained, or used under the purview of the California Department of Education (CDE).

Standards Home | All Forms | PDF Forms | MS Word Forms | MS Excel Forms
Web Forms
| Templates | Background | Additional Requirements & Resources


All Forms

  1. Ensure forms are logical and easy to use. The navigation order of form elements is intuitive (e.g., The tab order matches the visual order.). All functionality is available when used with keyboard only.
  2. Associate form labels with fields and controls.
    1. Sufficient labels, cues, and instructions for required interactive elements are provided at the beginning of the form or set of fields via instructions, examples, and/or properly positioned form labels.
    2. Use unique and informative label text (e.g., "Student First Name" and "Parent First Name," instead of "First Name" and "First Name").
    3. When labels alone are insufficient, form input elements have helpful text that identify their purpose and match the associated text label (e.g., Tooltip, Help Text).
    4. Exception: Blank cells that allow input, in a properly formatted table with sufficiently descriptive header cells, may be used instead of actual fields.
  3. Related form elements and elements with multiple labels are grouped appropriately (e.g., group name is identified as part of the tool tip of the element; radio buttons have the same name).
  4. Keyboard focus moves to and returns from form elements appropriately.
  5. When a form element receives focus, it does not result in a substantial change to the form, the spawning of a pop-up window, an additional change of keyboard focus, or any other change that could confuse or disorient the user.
  6. When a user inputs information or interacts with a control, it does not result in a substantial change to the page, the spawning of a pop-up window, an additional change of keyboard focus, or any other change that could confuse or disorient the user unless the user is informed of the change ahead of time.
  7. If utilized, form validation errors are presented in an efficient, intuitive, and accessible manner. The error is clearly identified, quick access to the problematic element is provided, and user is allowed to easily fix the error and resubmit the form.
  8. Required form elements or form elements that require a specific format, value, or length provide this information as a text description.
  9. If an input error is detected, provide suggestions for fixing the input in a timely and accessible manner.
  10. It is visually apparent which form element has the current keyboard focus.
  11. If the user can change or delete legal, financial, or test data, the changes/deletions can be reversed, verified, or confirmed.
  12. Do not use multiple-select menus (e.g., multiple-select dropdowns).


  1. Reset buttons should not be used unless specifically needed.
  2. Do not use image buttons.
  3. Do not use JavaScript jump menus.

Additional Requirements when Working with PDF, MS Word, MS Excel and Web Forms

PDF Forms

  1. Form elements are created using the Forms tool.
  2. Each form element has been assigned a unique and descriptive name in the Properties dialog box.
  3. Form elements have a border or underline.
    1. Exception: Form elements in table cells do not require additional formatting.
  4. Save as Reader Extended PDF.
  1. When providing additional information about a form field or group of form fields that can't easily be included in each form field's Tooltip, insert the informational text into a text field and set it as Read Only. The text field must be placed immediately before the associated form field or fields in the reading order. This method will make the informational text available to those using a screen reader in Forms Mode.

MS Word Forms

  1. Use form elements from the Legacy Forms section of the Legacy Tools.
    1. Exception: Use the Option Button (ActiveX Control) from the ActiveX Controls section of the Legacy Tools.
  2. Restrict editing to only allow filling in form elements.
  1. Avoid using dropdown menus and radio buttons when possible.

MS Excel Forms

  1. Form elements are avoided where possible (i.e., Do not use Excel for forms.).

Web Forms

  1. Fieldset and legend should be used when a higher-level label is necessary. They should not be used for any other purpose. Single checkboxes or basic radio buttons that make sense from their labels alone do not require fieldset and legend. Nested fieldsets should be avoided.
  2. CAPTCHAs are accessible in both visual and audible formats.
  3. For form controls, ensure the name and role can be programmatically determined; and values that can be set by the user can be programmatically set; and notification of changes to these items is available to user agents, including assistive technologies.
  1. Online surveys are a type of web form and must follow the guidance for web forms.
    1. Note: Following the accessibility guidance for a fully accessibility-compliant survey software system will be considered sufficient.


CDE defines a template as a file that serves as a starting point for a new document. It may include styles, layout, formatting, or content needed for all files created from the template. Templates, examples of completed files, or samples of partially completed files are often developed since they can be helpful for end users. When templates, examples, or samples contain interactive controls, fields, or cells/space that is required for content entry, they are also considered to be forms and must adhere to the guidance provided in the Forms section of these standards.


Forms and templates require extra care in development to ensure that they can be used on a wide variety of devices and by the largest number of people, including those that use assistive technology. In addition, forms and templates are specified in accessibility requirements as needing to be compliant with State and federal guidelines.

These CDE standards for forms and templates are in addition to relevent standards for specific content file types. For example, a form or template developed as a PDF document would need to meet all of the standards for PDF documents in general (as indicated in the CDE PDF Standards), as well as, the guidance contained in this Form and Template Standards.

Additional Requirements & Resources

  • CDE's Accessibility Standards
    Requirements for all CDE content, including forms and templates.
  • CDE Standards References
    The CDE's Form and Template Standards are built on the guidance of a number of highly regarded authorities in information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility. See specific references used in developing our Form and Template Standards.
Questions:   Web Services Office |
Last Reviewed: Monday, February 05, 2024
Recently Posted in Department Information
  • Form and Template Standards (added 05-Feb-2024)
    Requirements for forms and templates that are developed, procured, maintained, or used under the purview of the California Department of Education (CDE).