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Guide to Independent Study

An overview of independent study describing the types of programs, key legal requirements, independent study agreements, local board policy, and attendance.

The following provides a general overview of independent study.

Variety of Formats

Districts or county offices of education (COEs) are required to offer an independent study option for the 2021–22 school year. Independent study may be offered through a variety of formats, including:

  • As a program or class within a comprehensive school
  • Through an alternative school or program of choice. California Education Code (EC) Section 58500 et seq.
  • Through Charter Schools
  • Short term (fewer than 15 school days in a school year)
  • Through online courses
  • As an accommodation for student travel
  • As specialized and/or advanced courses
  • As a credit recovery method

Independent Study Modalities
California statute provides for two different independent study program options that local educational agencies (LEAs) may choose to administer. Most LEAs offer the traditional independent study option, authorized pursuant to EC sections 51745–51749.3. In 2015–16, a new independent study program known as course-based independent study (CBIS) was codified in EC sections 51749.5–51749.6. This link provides descriptive information to enhance the understanding and awareness of these different independent study instructional modalities.

Key Legal Requirements for Independent Study

Legal requirements for independent study are found in EC and the California Code of Regulations, Title 5 (5 CCR). See Legal Requirements for Independent Study.

Local Board Policy

EC sections 51747 and 51749.5 and 5 CCR Section 11701
Local boards shall ensure that a student’s participation in independent study as an instructional alternative voluntary for the student. The LEAs shall establish policies as specified in EC sections 51747 and 51749.5(a)(1), and adopted pursuant to 5 CCR Section 11701, including:

  • Maximum length of time by grade level, between the time an assignment is made and date the assignment must be completed.
  • Level of satisfactory education progress and number of missed assignments before an evaluation to determine if the student should remain in independent study.
  • Current independent study agreement for each student containing all required elements as provided in EC sections 51747(g) and 51749.6.

NOTE: Administrative Rules and Regulations may be adopted to implement independent study in accordance with California law. Other policies and procedures may also be listed in the LEA's Student Handbook.

Independent Study Agreement

EC sections 51747(g) and 51749.6

The following elements must be in each independent study agreement in alignment with the LEA's board policies and according to statute:

  1. General student data including the name, address, grade level, school of enrollment, and program placement. EC sections 51748, 51747.3(c), and 46300.1
  2. The beginning and end dates of the agreement. An independent study agreement shall not be valid for more than one school year. EC Section 51747(c)(5)
  3. The manner, time, frequency and place for the submission of assignments, for reporting academic progress, and for communicating with the student’s parent or guardian. EC Section 51747(g)(1)
  4. List of subjects/courses in which the student is enrolled and number of course credits or other accomplishment to be earned. EC Section 51747(g)(6); 5 CCR Section 11703(b)(2)
  5. The learning objectives for the course(s) and assignments attempted under the agreement. EC sections 51747(g)(2) and 51745(a)(3); 5 CCR sections 11700(e)(f) and 11702(b)
  6. The methods of study, including the student activities selected by the supervising teacher that the student will complete in order to meet the course objectives. EC Section 51747(g)(2); 5 CCR Section 11704(c)
  7. The methods of evaluation that will be used to determine if the student met the learning objective(s). EC Section 51747(g)(2)
  8. The specific resources, including instructional materials and personnel, and the confirmation or provision of access to the connectivity and devices adequate to participate and complete assigned work. EC sections 51746 and 51747(g)(3); 5 CCR sections11700(i) and 11701.5
  9. The maximum length of time between the date of the assignment and when it is due, the level of satisfactory educational progress, and the number of missed assignments to determine if the student should remain in independent study. EC sections 51747(a) and EC 51747(g)(4)
  10. Statement that independent study is an optional educational alternative in which no student shall be required to participate. EC Section 51747(g)(8); 5 CCR Section 11700(d)(2)(A)
  11. Statement that instruction may be provided for an EC 48915 (expulsion) or 48917 (suspended expulsion) student through independent study only if the student has the continuous choice of classroom instruction. EC Section 51747(g)(8); 5 CCR Section 11700(d)(2)(B)
  12. Reporting/returning assignments to teacher(s). EC sections 51747(g)(1) and (h)
    • Time(s) for meetings/reporting
    • Frequency of meetings (can be a combination of online, face-to-face, or lab)
    • Location (may be a combination of labs, classrooms, face-to-face, and/or online)
  13. Dated signatures for student, parent/guardian/caregiver, teacher, and all persons responsible for providing assistance to the student. EC Section 51747(c)(4)

Equal Educational Opportunity

EC sections 51745(a)(3), 51747(c), and 51749.5(a)(4)
The independent study option is designed to teach the knowledge and skills of the LEA’s core curriculum and shall not be provided as an alternative curriculum. LEAs offering independent study shall provide content aligned to grade level standards at a level of quality and intellectual challenge substantially equivalent to in-person instruction.

High school students participating in independent study shall have access to all courses offered by the LEA for graduation and approved by the University of California or the California State University as creditable under the a–g admissions criteria.

The LEAs shall confirm or provide access to all independent study students to the connectivity and devices necessary to participate in their educational program and complete assignments. EC Section 51747(g)(3)

Ratio of Average Daily Attendance to Supervising Teacher

Traditional Independent Study:The ratio of average daily attendance for independent study pupils to school district full-time equivalent certificated employees responsible for independent study may not exceed the equivalent ratio of pupils to full-time certificated employees for all other educational programs operated by the school district. EC Section 51745.6(a)

CBIS: Refer to EC Section 51749.5(b), and email any questions to the California Department of Education Instructional Time and Attendance Accounting Office at

In addition to the information above, also refer to the Instructions for Ratio Calculations.

Under Charter School Regulations, charter schools may use one of two methods for computing average daily attendance ratios:
  1. They may follow the instructions for school districts, using as the base the unified school district with the greatest average daily attendance in the county or counties in which the charter school operates. 5 CCR Section 11704
  2. They may use a fixed pupils-to-certificated employee ratio of not more than 25 to 1. EC Section 51745.6(e)

Standards Aligned

EC Section 51745(a)(3)
Independent study is not an alternative curriculum so all 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. Supplemental materials may be used to respond to individual student interests and learning styles. Materials that are sectarian in nature are not used pursuant to the California Constitution, Article IX, Section 8.

Teacher Quality

EC sections 51747.5 and 51749.5, which recognize EC sections 44865 and 44300
Independent study teachers shall be an employee of the school district, charter school, or COE and possess a valid California certification document.

Student Success in Independent Study

The LEAs offering independent study shall provide appropriate existing services and resources to enable students to complete their independent study program successfully. Services and resources may include, but are not limited, to the following:

  1. Students shall have access to a designated learning center or study area staffed by appropriately trained personnel. EC Section 51746(a)
  2. Students are assessed for their potential to be successful in independent study. EC Section 51746(b); 5 CCR Section 11700(d)(1)(B)
  3. Students participating in independent study are to have the same access to existing services and resources and equality of rights and privileges as other students. 5 CCR sections11700(i) and 11701.5
  4. Students should have contact with teachers as specified in Board Policy (may be a combination of one-on-one, in class or lab, by e-mail, phone, conference, and/or online) on a sufficiently frequent basis for the teachers to provide needed instruction, adequately access student progress, and make appropriate modifications. The frequency of student-teacher meetings may be increased as needed.
  5. Students shall have opportunities for daily live interaction and synchronous instruction for purposes of maintaining social connectedness, assessing progress and wellness, as well as for the provision of supportive services and instruction. EC sections 51747(e) and 51749.5(a)(4)(C)
Questions:   Independent Study |
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, December 1, 2021