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Independent Study Program Summary

Provides information on the purpose, services, outcomes, and students served through independent study.


The legislation authorizing independent study was enacted in 1976, and originally was designed to serve child actors, aspiring Olympic athletes, and other students whose schedules precluded regular classroom attendance. Over the years, independent study has evolved to serve a wide range of students and meet the unique needs of students and families.

Independent study (California Education Code [EC] sections 51745–51749.6) is provided as an alternative instructional strategy, not an alternative curriculum. Independent study students work independently, according to a written agreement and under the general supervision of a credentialed teacher or teachers. 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.


  • Independent study is only available as a voluntary option chosen by students and parents; students cannot be assigned to independent study.
  • For the 2021–22 school year only, school districts and county offices of education are required to offer independent study as an educational option, unless a waiver of the requirement has been requested and approved.
  • There are two Independent Study Modalities that a local educational agency (LEA) may choose to offer to its students:
  1. Traditional independent study. Under the general supervision of a certificated employee of the LEA. Attendance is earned based on the time value of assignments as judged by the supervising teacher.
  2. Course-based independent study. Courses are taught under the general supervision of certificated employees who hold the appropriate subject matter credential. The supervising teachers shall be employees of the LEA of enrollment, or by a LEA that has a memorandum of understanding to provide the instruction. Attendance credit is earned based on enrollment and satisfactory educational progress in annually certified courses.
  • Independent study can be used on a short-term or long-term basis.
  1. Short-term shall be consistent with EC Section 51747(h)(2)(i), which provides that some independent study requirements shall not apply to students who participate in independent study for fewer than15 school days in a school year.
  2. Long-term shall refer to a student’s participation in independent study for 15 or more cumulative school days in a school year. Students may participate in independent study on a full-time basis or in conjunction with courses taken in a classroom setting. Classroom-based students may take some classes using independent study—often to solve scheduling conflicts.
  • The instruction students receive though independent study shall be at a level of quality and intellectual challenge substantially equivalent to in-person instruction.
  • The ratio of average daily attendance (ADA) to school district full time equivalent independent study teachers shall not exceed the equivalent ratio of ADA to full-time equivalent teachers providing instruction in other educational programs operated by the school district, unless another ratio is negotiated in accordance with EC Section 51745.6 External link opens in new window or tab..

Students Served

Districts, county offices of education, and charter schools reported that nearly 168,000 students in grades transitional kindergarten through grade twelve were receiving 50 percent or more of their instruction through independent study in 2014–15.

An additional number of students use independent study on a part-time basis in conjunction with classroom-based instruction or on a short-term basis.

Because students in independent study work closely with their teachers, in one-on-one meetings or small group instruction, independent study can be a highly personalized form of instruction. Independent study also offers a high degree of flexibility and individualization, so it can serve a wide range of students including:

  • Highly gifted students who are not challenged in their regular classrooms and wish to accelerate.
  • Students who face particular challenges—such as health issues or the need to work—that make classroom attendance difficult.
  • Students who, for a variety of reasons, have fallen behind in their studies and need an individualized approach to fill in gaps in their learning or make up credits.
  • Students who want an individualized approach that allows them to delve more deeply into areas of special interest.
  • Students who are at risk of dropping out of school. Some districts use independent study as a dropout prevention or recovery mechanism. Students who lack strong connections at school, often experience an increase in student engagement with participation in independent study. This can happen when students develop close relationships with teachers and peers in one-on-one and small group settings, and when they are able to take charge of their own learning through an individualized approach.

Independent study is not for all students as it requires basic academic skills, as well as a level of commitment, motivation, organizational skills, and self-direction to make the satisfactory educational progress as required per EC sections 51747(g)(4) and 51749.5(a)(8).

Questions:   Independent Study |
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, December 1, 2021