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Independent Study Modalities

Provides information on the two independent study instruction modalities that a local educational agency (LEA) may adopt to serve their pupils.

The independent study program was first enacted in 1976. The original and most utilized model of instruction is known as traditional independent study and was designed to serve child actors, aspiring Olympic athletes, and other pupils whose schedules precluded regular classroom attendance.

Commencing with the 2015–16 school year, course-based independent study (CBIS) was enacted by the legislature as an additional independent study modality that LEAs may utilize to serve the growing numbers of pupils and families interested in a learning environment offering a high degree of flexibility and individualization.

Key differences in these modalities are outlined and identified in the sections that follow and are also captured in the Key Differences in Independent Study Modalities chart.

Traditional Independent Study

Traditional independent study is governed by California Education Code (EC) sections 51745–51747.5. Requirements unique to traditional independent study include:

  • Attendance is earned based on the time value of assignments as judged by the supervising teacher employed by the LEA, or the combined time value of pupil work product and pupil participation in synchronous instruction.
  • LEA’s shall document each pupil’s participation in live interaction and synchronous instruction, as applicable, depending on grade level.
  • LEA's determine the level of satisfactory educational progress and the number of missed assignments that will be allowed before an evaluation is conducted to determine whether it is in the best interests of the pupil to remain in independent study, or whether the pupil should return to the regular school program.
  • Procedures for tiered reengagement strategies for:
  1. All pupils who are not generating attendance for more than 10 percent of required minimum instructional time over four continuous weeks of a LEA’s approved instructional calendar;
  2. Pupils found nonparticipatory pursuant to EC Section 51747.5 for more than 50 percent of the scheduled times of synchronous instruction in a school month, as applicable; or
  3. Pupils who are otherwise in violation of the independent study agreement.
  • Notification to parents or guardians of lack of participation within one schoolday of the recording of a non-attendance day or lack of participation.

Course-based Independent Study

CBIS is governed by EC sections 51749.5–51749.6. The following requirements are unique to this modality:

  • Attendance credit is based on enrollment and satisfactory educational progress in courses annually, certified by the LEA governing board or body resolution. Certification shall include:
  1. The duration of the course;
  2. Number of equivalent daily instructional minutes for each schoolday that a pupil is enrolled;
  3. Number of equivalent total instructional minutes;
  4. Number of course credits for each course; and
  5. A plan to provide opportunities for live interaction and synchronous instruction, as applicable.
  • If satisfactory educational progress in one or more courses is not being made, certificated employees providing the instruction shall notify the pupil, the pupil’s parent or legal guardian, and conduct an evaluation to determine whether it is in the best interest of the pupil to remain in the course(s) or whether the pupil should be referred to an alternative program.
  • Procedures for tiered reengagement strategies for all pupils who are not making satisfactory educational progress in one or more courses, or who are in violation of the written agreement.
  • A proctor shall administer exams.
  • Reporting of statewide testing results of pupils enrolled in CBIS, assigned to the school or charter school at which the pupil is enrolled, and to any school district, charter school, or county office of education within which that school’s or charter school’s testing results are aggregated.
  • Statewide testing results for pupils enrolled in CBIS shall be disaggregated for purposes of comparing the testing results of those pupils to the testing results of pupils enrolled in classroom-based courses.

  • In addition to the duration of the learning agreement, the agreement shall also include the duration of the enrolled course(s) and the number of course credits for each enrolled course consistent with the adopted certifications.
  • Courses are taught under the general supervision of certificated employees of the LEA at which the pupil is enrolled, or by a LEA that has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide the instruction in coordination with the LEA of enrollment.

Clarification of teacher requirement: There is no distinction in certification requirements between teachers engaged in traditional independent study and CBIS.  Both require the appropriate credential pursuant to EC sections 44300, 44865, or 47605(l), as applicable. Teachers shall be employees of the LEA at which the pupil is enrolled, except that for CBIS, as provided in the unique elements above, the LEA of enrollment may enter into a MOU with another LEA to provide the instruction.

For differences in ratio requirements in traditional and course-based independent study, visit the California Department of Education’s Instructional Time and Attendance Accounting web page, or send an email to

Questions:   Independent Study |
Last Reviewed: Monday, September 26, 2022