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Elements of Exemplary Independent Study

Outlines the fundamental elements and indicators of exemplary independent study practice.

Whether pupils in independent study are able to achieve the same educational objectives as pupils in the regular classroom, and whether the education they receive is substantially equivalent to classroom instruction, depends on whether some fundamental elements are in place. The following outline summarizes those fundamental elements and indicates the characteristics of exemplary practice.

  1. Local educational agency (LEA)1 support. The LEA is committed to offering independent study that is substantially equivalent to classroom instruction.2 This means that:

    1. Independent study shall be funded at a level comparable to classroom instruction.

    2. The LEA-adopted curriculum is used and content is aligned to grade level standards, including access to all courses needed for graduation and approved by the University of California or the California State University as creditable under the a–g admissions criteria.3

    3. Pupils may only enroll in independent study on a voluntary basis and may not be “assigned” to independent study; enrollment in independent study is continuously voluntary.4

    4. Teachers may teach in independent study only if they have agreed to the assignment and have the valid credential to do so.5

    5. The LEA has adopted board policies that:

      1. Clearly outline the implementation of independent study consistent with applicable statute;
      2. Include a range of quality educational options, including classroom-based, hybrid, and nonclassroom-based programs to better tailor instruction to pupil needs; and
      3. Require pupils and their parent, guardian, or caregiver (if under the age of eighteen) to participate in an independent study orientation to ensure understanding of roles and expectations.

    6. LEAs offer more than one independent study model for short- and long-term participation.

  2. Teacher quality. Independent study teachers meet at least the same professional requirements as classroom-based teachers:

    1. The independent study pupil-teacher ratio is not higher than the pupil-teacher ratio in the classroom6 or, for charter schools does not exceed 25-to-1,7 based on average daily attendance (ADA). A ratio of not more than 25-to-1 is recommended to give teachers adequate time to meet the individual needs of their pupils. This includes providing:

      1. The direction and resources necessary for the pupil to meet academic goals while working independently.
      2. Additional assistance, including direct instruction and support services necessary for individual pupil success.

    2. Independent study teachers are appropriately credentialed employees of the LEA and have demonstrated subject matter competence in all core academic subjects they teach.

      1. At the secondary level, independent study teachers specialize in their area or areas of expertise to provide direct instruction to pupils whether in classes, small groups, labs, or individually; such instruction is provided either on-site or online.

    3. Independent study teachers shall meet the criteria set forth in the University of California, A-G Policy Resource Guide External link opens in new window or tab. to maintain an a–g course list and offer a–g approved coursework.

    4. Independent study teachers have access to, and participate in, comparable professional development, and receive comparable ongoing instructional assistance and support, as classroom-based teachers.

    5. Independent study teachers participate in comparable LEA committees as classroom-based teachers—for example, curriculum development committees and other subject/grade level collaboration.

    6. Independent study teachers possess the attributes that allow them to develop close bonds that foster pupil success.

    7. Independent study teachers are knowledgeable about their pupils’ learning styles, interests, and needs and use this knowledge to shape their instructional strategies.

    8. The terms and conditions of employment for independent study teachers are the same as for the LEA classroom-based teachers; this includes being compensated on a comparable basis.

  3. Pupil admission to, and support in, independent study. Schools appropriately assess each pupil’s potential to be successful in independent study.8

    1. The school recognizes that successful independent study pupils have the motivation, commitment, organizational skills, and academic skills necessary to work independently. As necessary, the school assists pupils in strengthening their organizational and academic skills so they can work independently. Elementary pupils’ success requires that parents, guardians, or caregivers play a significant role as knowledgeable teaching assistants.

    2. The school admits pupils who are not working at grade level to independent study ONLY if it provides appropriate support to enable the pupil to be successful in independent study and to reach grade level performance. Support includes such measures as:

      1. The use of supplemental interventions.
      2. On-site assistance—tutoring, math and reading labs, computer-assisted learning, and small group direct instruction.
      3. School counseling or social work services, as appropriate.
      4. Ongoing diagnostic assessments.
      5. The availability of differentiated materials that meet state standards and the LEA’s adopted curriculum.

    3. Pupils have regularly scheduled meetings with their teacher(s) on a sufficiently frequent basis for the teachers to provide needed instruction, adequately assess pupil progress, and make appropriate modifications. At least weekly interaction on pupil progress, whether in person or by electronic means, is recommended.9 Teachers are available to pupils between regularly scheduled meetings as-needed to ensure pupil success, whether on a drop-in basis on site, by phone or email, in labs for tutoring, etc.

      1. High School pupils taking courses subject to the University of California a–g policy for independent study spend at least one hour per week per course engaged in interactive instruction and/or academic tutoring/advising, either on site or online.

    4. The school provides supports for parents, guardians, or caregivers, and other responsible adults who work with independent study pupils.

    5. All pupils have access to counselors and/or other personnel and services that meet their academic, social, career, and mental health needs. The school provides needed support to secondary pupils when parents, guardians, or caregivers are not available or do not play a supportive role in the pupil’s life.

    6. All pupils have assistance with a personal learning plan to prepare them to meet their academic, personal, and school-to-career goals.

    7. Special education pupils admitted to independent study continue to receive the supports outlined in their individualized education programs.

    8. Pupils who are not performing at grade level, or need support in other areas, such as English learners, individuals with an IEP or plan pursuant to Section 504 External link opens in new window or tab. (TXT) of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Section 794 External link opens in new window or tab.), pupils in foster care or experiencing homelessness, and pupils requiring mental health supports receive the academic and other supports to address their unique needs.

  4. Standards-aligned curriculum and materials. 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.10

    1. Independent study lesson plans are standards aligned and developed by subject matter experts.
    2. The pacing of instruction enables pupils to cover the LEA’s adopted standards-aligned curriculum.
    3. The curriculum and materials used enable pupils to perform well on state assessments.

      1. Pupils performing below the “proficient” level on the California Standards Tests are provided additional interventions and supports to help them to succeed.

    4. Supplemental materials may be used to respond to individual pupil interests and learning styles, but materials that are sectarian in nature are not to be used.11
    5. Independent study teachers participate in staff development focused specifically on state content standards.

  5. Assessment of pupil academic achievement. Teachers and administrators understand that assessment is an integral, vital element in educational delivery. As part of the ongoing assessment of pupil achievement by highly qualified and committed teachers, a pupil-level data system is utilized, and pupil academic progress and achievement are frequently assessed.

    1. Both teachers and the school monitor pupil academic progress and use state assessment data and other measures to shape and modify the school’s instructional program in a timely manner.

    2. Modifications to instruction are also based on individual pupil need.

    3. The LEA identifies pupils who are struggling (e.g., missing assignments, missing appointments, not making satisfactory progress, not participating in live interaction or synchronous instruction opportunities, etc.) and provides tiered reengagement strategies, early interventions and supports that enable pupils to succeed.

    4. The LEA successfully transitions pupils out of independent study and back to the traditional classroom or another educational option if they are not making satisfactory educational progress or are otherwise in violation of the independent study agreement.

    5. All pupils participate in required state testing, unless specifically exempted under state law or regulation. At least 95 percent of pupils complete state tests.

  6. School leadership. The school principal is knowledgeable about independent study and is effective in maintaining support for independent study as a valued and high-quality option within the LEA. In addition, the school leadership team:

    1. Provides the vision and strategies to promote high expectations and achievement for all pupils.
    2. Provides the vision and strategies to promote a positive, safe and supportive school climate.
    3. Employs a wide range of strategies to encourage parental and community involvement, such as an advisory council. Strategies include:

      1. Parents, guardians, or caregivers are supported in sharing a sustained interest in their pupil’s performance, and assure that the pupil has a home environment conducive to independent learning.
      2. Parents, guardians, or caregivers are encouraged to be actively involved in supporting the school.
      3. At the elementary level, opportunities for parent, guardian, or caregiver education are provided.

    4. In collaboration with all stakeholders, evaluates the effectiveness of the school’s program, determines areas for improvement, and makes needed changes.

  7. School culture. The school culture is positive, safe and supportive which contribute to pupil achievement because it is distinguished by the following:

    1. The staff and pupils make up a learning community that cares about and nurtures its members; everyone is treated with mutual respect and appreciation.
    2. The expectations about how the members of the learning community will treat one another are clearly stated and shared.
    3. Pupils feel a sense of connectedness and feel that the school offers a safe environment, both physically and emotionally.
    4. The staff works together cooperatively and is dedicated to the excellence of the whole school.
    5. The entire learning community shares the expectation that all pupils will meet the goals they have set for themselves and develop their individual talents. Pupils are provided with the guidance to help them to set and meet their goals.

  8. Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation (for schools with high school pupils). The school is accredited through WASC.

  9. A–G requirements (for programs/schools with high school pupils). The school’s courses have been approved to meet the University of California and California State University’s a–g subject requirements, or the school has submitted a course list for approval or has been certified as eligible to submit a course list.

    Access to all courses shall be offered through independent study, which may require pupils to take classes through other means, e.g. classroom instruction at the comprehensive school, at community colleges, or through online learning.

  10. Legally compliant program. Independent study is operated in compliance with state legal requirements for independent study, as reflected in the annual audits of the school.12


  1. LEA includes county offices of education, school districts, and charter schools.

  2. California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 5 Section 11701.5 External link opens in new window or tab.. “Consistent with the statutory authorization to offer independent study as an alternative instructional strategy to meet the educational needs of pupils or adult education pupils, (a) the independent study option is to be substantially equivalent in quality and in quantity to classroom instruction, thereby ensuring that a pupil who engages in independent study on a full-time basis, or on a part-time basis in conjunction with part or full-time classroom study, will be enabled to complete the district or county office of education adopted course of study within the customary time frame for completion of that course of study.”

  3. California EC Section 51749.5(a)(4)(A) External link opens in new window or tab..

  4. California EC Section 51747(g)(8) External link opens in new window or tab. “. . . independent study is an optional educational alternative in which no pupil may be required to participate.”

  5. California EC Section 51747.5(a) External link opens in new window or tab. and California EC Section 44865 External link opens in new window or tab..

  6. California EC Section 51745.6(a) External link opens in new window or tab. “The ratio of average daily attendance for independent study pupils . . . to school district full-time equivalent certificated employees responsible for independent study . . . shall not exceed the equivalent ratio of pupils to full-time certificated employees for all other educational programs operated by the school district . . .”

  7. 5 CCR Section 11704 External link opens in new window or tab..

  8. 5 CCR Section 11700(d)(1)(B) External link opens in new window or tab. “school districts or county offices of education that do offer independent study are not obligated to permit a pupil . . . to engage in independent study if school officials given responsibility for the decision determine that independent study is not an appropriate alternative for the pupil . . .” California EC Section 51746(b) External link opens in new window or tab. “The services of qualified personnel to assess the achievement, abilities, interests, aptitudes, and needs of participating pupils to determine each of the following: (1) Whether full-time independent study is the most appropriate alternative for the pupil being referred.”

  9. 5 CCR Section 11701 External link opens in new window or tab. “In setting policy . . . the local governing board shall consider . . . factors bearing specifically on the maximum realistic lengths of assignments and . . . Adopted policies shall reflect an awareness that excessive leniency . . . can result in pupils falling so far behind their age peers as to increase . . . the risk of their dropping out of school.”

  10. Charter schools have flexibility regarding textbook adoption.

  11. California Constitution Article IX, Section 8 External link opens in new window or tab..

  12. Alternative Schools of Choice should also comply with the requirements of California EC sections 58500–58512 External link opens in new window or tab..
Questions:   Independent Study |
Last Reviewed: Friday, September 1, 2023