Skip to main content
California Department of Education Logo

Independent Study Program Summary

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


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

Independent study (California Education Code [EC] sections 51744–51749.6 External link opens in new window or tab.) is provided as an alternative instructional strategy. Independent study pupils work independently, according to a written agreement and under the general supervision of a credentialed teacher or teachers. While independent study pupils follow the district-adopted curriculum and meet the district graduation requirements, independent study offers flexibility to meet individual pupil's needs, interests, and styles of learning.


  • Except for the 2021–22 school year, local educational agencies (LEAs) are not required to offer an independent study option.

  • In LEAs where independent study is offered, it shall be a voluntary option chosen by pupils and parents; pupils cannot be assigned to independent study (except in the case of quarantine-related absence precluding regular classroom participation).

  • LEAs are encouraged to tailor instruction to pupils by offering a range of quality educational options that include classroom-based, hybrid, and nonclassroom-based programs. LEAs are encouraged, to offer more than one independent study model (EC Section 51744 External link opens in new window or tab.).

  • There are two Independent Study Modalities that a LEA may choose to offer:
  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 determined by the certificated teacher employed by the LEA, or the combined time value of pupil work product and pupil participation in synchronous instruction.

  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.
  1. Short-term shall be consistent with EC Section 51747(h)(2)(i) External link opens in new window or tab., which provides that some independent study requirements shall not apply to pupils who participate in independent study for fewer than 15 cumulative instructional days in a school year. Once the pupil has participated in independent study for 15 days in a school year, it is no longer short-term.

  2. Long-term shall refer to a pupil’s participation in independent study for 15 or more cumulative school days in a school year. Pupils may participate in independent study on a full-time basis or in conjunction with courses taken in a classroom setting. Classroom-based pupils may take some classes using independent study—often to solve scheduling conflicts.
  • The instruction pupils receive though independent study shall be aligned to grade level standards that are 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..

  • For questions regarding independent study ratios, visit the Instructional Time and Attendance Accounting web page, or send an email to

Pupils Served

Districts, county offices of education, and charter schools reported that nearly 168,000 pupils 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 pupils use independent study on a short-term basis, or on a part-time basis in conjunction with classroom-based instruction.

Because pupils 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 pupils including:

  • Highly gifted pupils who are not challenged in their regular classrooms and wish to accelerate.

  • Pupils who face particular challenges—such as health issues or the need to work—that make classroom attendance difficult.

  • Pupils 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.

  • Pupils who want an individualized approach that allows them to delve more deeply into areas of special interest.

  • Pupils who are at risk of dropping out of school. Some districts use independent study as a dropout prevention or recovery mechanism.

  • Pupils who lack strong connections at school. Often isolated pupils experience an increase in pupil engagement with participation in independent study. This can happen when pupils 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 pupils 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) External link opens in new window or tab. and 51749.5(a)(8) External link opens in new window or tab..

Questions:   Independent Study |
Last Reviewed: Friday, September 01, 2023